Finance Minister Winston Dookeran made this declaration in response to a question from former National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Tobago East MP Dr Morgan Job, a guest commentator at a post-Budget forum at the Eric Williams Financial Complex in Port-of-Spain on Thursday night.
Job observed the People’s Partnership came to office on May 24 in similar political and economic circumstances to the NAR in 1986 and asked Dookeran if he was concerned the Partnership would make the same mistakes the NAR did in its term of office from 1986 to 1991. Dookeran was Planning Minister in the 1986-1991 NAR government which was led by ANR Robinson. Job was Minister of Tobago Affairs and Minister in the Ministry of Finance from October 22, 1999 to December 11, 2000, in the then UNC-NAR coalition government of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
In response to Job, Dookeran said while there were similarities between both cases, the People’s Partnership has been careful not to repeat the mistakes made by the NAR which did not engage the people in the implementation of government policies.
In contrast, Dookeran said the People’s Partnership held extensive consultations with stakeholder groups in the country ahead of the presentation of the 2011 Budget in Parliament on Wednesday. “No more shall we have secret government,” he declared.
Dookeran dismissed Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s description of the $49 billion Budget as mundane and lacking in substance. The Finance Minister urged the Government’s political opponents to read the Budget “because obviously they would not have been accustomed to a budget with direction.”
Rowley will lead off the Budget debate in the House of Representatives at 10 am on Tuesday.
Stating previous governments pursued strategies which created an economy which was less resilient and more vulnerable to external pressures, Dookeran explained this was why Government will open up some State enterprises to public ownership. This will not apply to all companies, he said, because “we do believe there is a strategic objective to be achieved by many State enterprises.”
Dookeran added Government would maintain a presence even in those State companies which are opened to public ownership because “there is still a need for public direction.”
Expressing confidence the Budget will create a shift from State-directed to people-centred development, Dookeran called upon the private sector to take advantage of this new environment and help trigger economic growth.
Apart from the traditional private sector, Dookeran said Government was hoping to create a new class of entrepreneurs among young people through initiatives such as the development of East Port-of-Spain. He said Government, civil societies, the country’s universities and the communities of East Port-of-Spain will work together to create a development plan for the area.
Dookeran added that to help create a culture of innovativeness in the country, Government has allocated $10 million where citizens who have ideas but no firm plans can receive soft loans from banks once they meet certain criteria.
He was also confident that Government’s strategy to develop business incubators and focus on public sector projects will stimulate construction activity and help to put the country back on a path of economic growth.