T&T PM pledges continuous improvement

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley address town hall meeting in Brooklyn, New York.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley assured nationals Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn that the twin-island republic will “continue to improve under difficult circumstances.”

In addressing a packed hall at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, downtown Brooklyn, Rowley reiterated that, while the country is experiencing financial woes, it will not subscribe to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) prescriptions.

“As difficult as it was/is, we will not seek our way out by accepting an IMF program,” said Rowley, who, on Friday, is expected to deliver his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly, “because, if we do, we’re entitled to the IMF program.

“When I get back (home), the national budget will be presented, and it will be five years without the IMF,” added Rowley at the “Diaspora Engagement.” “It’s not all plain sailing. A lot of decisions had to be made.”

The prime minister said foremost among the decisions was the restructuring of Petrotrin, the national oil company.

“Some people are not accepting that we’re going through a very difficult period,” he said, stating that when he assumed the prime ministership in 2016, the governor of the Central Bank told the new minister of finance: ‘We only have money for three days.’

“However, we did what we had to do,” Rowley added. “The oil company, which we own, was not producing enough. The country was carrying this debt.”

He said Petrotrin had lost revenues to the tune of TT$16 billion in the last three years.

“The company can no longer hide these losses,” Rowley said. “What we did, we broke up the company drastically. We created a new company. We created Heritage Petroleum.

“Since we’ve done that, it’s been doing well,” he added, stating that last week his administration accepted a proposal by the Oilfield Workers Union to run the new company.

“So, a lot of conversation will have to change, a lot of investment will have to change, and a lot of investment will have to change,” Rowley continued. “And we have to support the union. We’ll give them three years, a moratorium of three years. The government will do whatever it is to support it.”

But despite the country’s financial woes, in light of declining local oil production and the heightened cost of importing oil, the Trinidad and Tobago leader said his administration “did not shut down a single support system.”

He, however, said: “When you get a loss of TT$20 billion every year, you had to clean house.”

Rowley also said that “most of the (bad) things you hear about Trinidad and Tobago is not true,” pointing to the republic’s recent hosting of the CARIFTA games as an example to good things taking place in the country.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have challenges,” the prime minister said, “but we’re not out of the woods, but the country did not collapse.

“What we do in Trinidad and Tobago, we do to preserve the Republican status, because when we took Republic (status), we took a decision to paddle our own canoe,” he added on the same day that the country celebrated “Republic Day.”

“Most of our decisions, we make them to benefit our children and our grand-children,” he continued. “Those changes are for the better, but there are people who see them as a threat.

“As long as we make the right decisions, Trinidad and Tobago will continue to improve under difficult circumstances,” he assured.

In the question and answer segment, Rowley told the appreciative audience that the government is doing everything in its power to address the spiraling crime situation, stating: “The level of crime is a problem, but we’re working on it.”

He said all serious crimes but murders are down and that the government has instituted “a lot of legislative improvement” to address the issue.

In addition, he said his administration is moving towards improving the quality of police training and that over 1,000 police officers will be assigned to the streets.

“The most money (allocated in the national budget) is on national security,” Rowley said. “It’s a problem, and we’re dealing with it.”

A section of the audience at the Trinidad & Tobago PM town hall meeting.
Photo by Nelson A. King

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