YOU TALK AFTER ME: Finance Minister Colm Imbert speaks with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, shortly after the latter arrived at the PNM’s post budget forum in Mt Hope on Friday night. PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI –
THE Prime Minister painted himself and his government as the saviour of the country’s energy industry as well as revenue from oil and gas production, when very early into his tenure as head of government, he flew overseas to negotiate new terms and conditions from foreign oil companies that were more favourable to this country.
He stated this in the context of why the people – despite the hard times at present and the hard and unpopular decisions Government must make now – should “stay the course” and keep their trust in a PNM government.
He spoke on Friday evening at the PNM’s post budget public meeting at the Mt Hope/Mt Lambert community centre.
Rowley continued the tenor of blaming the then UNC/PP government, first started by the speaker before him, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who reminded supporters of being told by the then Central Bank Governor that there was enough money in the treasury to run the country for only a few days.
Imbert then spoke of having to physically run to First Citizens Bank to borrow a billion dollars, back in 2015, so as to be able to pay public servants and keep the country operational.
When it came his turn to speak, the Prime Minister slammed Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s budget response in the House of Representatives earlier on Friday, by describing it as the worst response he had ever heard.
“Today the Opposition Leader stumbled through one of the worst performances I have ever heard from an opposition leader in this country,” Rowley said.
He said Persad-Bissessar spoke about how wonderful her government was and how much money they left in the treasury on demitting office. “So at the end of your government, you had 29 seats in Parliament and the people (still) voted you out of office,” Rowley said.
He called on the country not to be fooled by the claims coming from the Opposition since, “ninety per cent of what Kamla said today was misrepresentation, misinformation and lies.”
His speech was interspersed with the now usual use of terms such as “vodka” and “nightie” – with hearty laughter from the audience – as he sought to paint the UNC political leader in a certain light.
Rowley reminded listeners of deals the then UNC/PP government made with foreign oil companies which, he had to unmake and renegotiate new deals when the PNM came into office in 2015. He claimed had those deals not been renegotiated by him, TT stood to gain not one cent of oil and gas revenue from 2015 to 2024.
Turning his attention to the moth-balled refinery which Persad-Bissessar promised to restart, if the UNC returns to government, Rowley reminded listeners as to the reason why the refinery was closed down.
He said the profitability of the refinery was tied to the amount of crude oil TT was producing from its wells. When oilfields became mature and oil production started to fall, the Government decided to get out of the crude oil refining business since it was no longer profitable.
Rowley said his government was able to dodge a US$850m debt which had to be repaid in 2018, by reorganising Petrotrin into specific entities which are now operating with a profit, and whose profits are being used to service that particular debt.