Asked if he would issue fellow ministers with guidelines as to how to seek out a suitable cut of seven percent in spending as instructed by Dr Rowley, Imbert who is the substantive Finance Minister said this would largely come from reining in inflated expenditure which he said was the hallmark of the previou government, under which the cost to build a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) unit doubled. Imbert stood by Dr Rowley’s call for consumers and the business sector to have more local focus, rather than foreign.
Imbert said, Dr Rowley had told him to mandate all Ministries, State Enterprises and Statutory Authorities to reduce expenditure by seven percent and to report back by the end of January, as to the measures they could take.Asked for specific ideas, such as Ministries retaining use of existing vehicles instead of purchasing new ones, he said, “well there was a lot of overspending and waste in the last five years. Some of the vehicles purchased were really top-of-theline, luxury vehicles. So certainly that would be an area that one would look at.”
“I think it’s too early for me to tell you exactly what we’re going to target. But what I could say off the bat is that the cost of contracted services went up exponentially between 2010 and 2015. Let’s take a basic HDC house...the cost (to build) doubled. The cost of paving roads, the cost of building box drains, community centres and schools...these things doubled and in some cases tripled over that five-year period.
“So one of the things we’ll be looking at is trying to get these prices back down to realistic levels because there was definitely a lot of inflation of prices, with people not really looking for value for money and so on.” Areas of wasteful expenditure will be examined, the Ag Prime Minister vowed. “But it’s too early to tell. He (Dr Rowley) simply gave me that directive and I now have to mandate all agencies to comply with it. I think the reason he set the date at January 31, is because it is not a simple exercise.It’s going to take at least a month to get it sorted out.”
Imbert quoted the call in Dr Rowley’s speech on Tuesday for eliminating waste and inefficiency, not relating to job-cuts. “It’s a little too early to say where it (seven- percent cut) is going to be but it will be in the areas where government was not receiving value for money, where they were paying inflated prices for goods and services.”
Newsday asked how realistic was Dr Rowley’s call for both consumer and businesspersons to get on board to pull together for TT, to which ditching foreign importation in favour of consuming and producing local goods, such as foods. Imbert expressed great confidence in both.
TT ‘hooked’ on foreign items Asked if consumers are too “hooked” on foreign tastes to heed Dr Rowley’s call to buy local, Imbert replied, “The fact of the matter is that they are hooked; they have to be ‘unhooked’. Again, that is not an overnight thing. We are trying to switch from a taste for foreign goods to local goods, where they are available.”
As an example, Imbert recalled Dr Rowley’s suggestion that the National School Feeding Programme be mandated to use local foodstuffs, rather than imported.Imbert said local businesses suggested Government instruct that purchases be made from local manufacturers.
“I don’t think it is pie in the sky.I think it’s quite realistic. From my interaction with the business community, they are all on board. They’re on board and I’ll tell you why: they see advantages for themselves, if we give fiscal incentives and so on, to boost local production.” He said if the Government as a major purchaser of goods and services, goes on a “buy local” campaign, it will help the local private-sector to get more sales for goods made in TT and boosts employment activity.
“I’m getting very positive feedback from the business community,” he affirmed. “The manufacturers are being very responsive, and very positive. Even the traders, if they are aware that the Government will be giving preference to locally-manufactured goods, once qualities and standards are met, then the traders themselves will start to purchase locally-manufactured goods to distribute. So I’m getting very positive feedback on this.”
Newsday asked about Dr Rowley’s call for tripartitism. “The purpose for that is to try to introduce a level of wage-restraint from the labour movement that has to be coupled with price-restraint from the private-sector. A discussion has to take place. There is a social-compact, that has been quite successful in Barbados for example, where Business, Labour and Government get together and agree on a framework in terms of salaries and prices, and the cost of goods, and that sort of thing.It has worked well in other countries, and can be utilised here if it is suitable.”