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Raffique Shah


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Half truths and manifestos

By Raffique Shah
August 23, 2015

I don't know that the majority of people in the country are influenced in any way by the manifestos presented by various parties-in our case two, one from the UNC/PP and the other from the PNM.

In fact, I believe few people, likely less than ten percent of the electorate, read these voluminous documents. In my case, I sought the synopses of the presenters because I know they will have highlighted what they saw as the fundamentals of what they would implement if elected, and certainly their most marketable offerings.

Hopefully before polling day I get around to scanning the full manifestos for the salient points they are making. That way, I can call to account whoever wins the election and fails to implement vote-catching promises. Not that it matters to them or their core supporters: they simply ignore me, brand me an agent of the other party.

I have held that in so far as the 2015 general election goes, almost everyone who intends to vote will have long determined what party he or she will support, which is contrary to what pollster Nigel Henry has been telling us since the beginning of this year. Indeed, his 30 percent "undecided" has remained unchanged. If they continue in that vein, they will be sitting on the fence long after the polls close on September 7.

No, I think these people have decided, but they are not talking: come election day, they will quietly cast their votes and leave the pollsters and politicians to wonder where and why they went wrong in their projections.

While the manifestos won't influence the outcome, they allow us to peer into the wiles of those who are seeking office. Many commentators and professionals have questioned the costly commitments both parties are touting, if elected, given the state of the economy. Certainly over the next year, at the very least, revenues from the energy sector will decline, maybe even drop precipitously. And while there are other streams that contribute to the coffers (taxes on companies and individuals, VAT, excise duties, import duties, etc), the harsh reality is that we remain dependent on energy products.

In 2014, for example, of $75.5 billion in export earnings, a mere $11.4 billion came from non-oil products.

So, I ask, as I did last week, where will the money come from to fund increased pensions and social services grants, tax reliefs and other goodies both parties are promising? There are other inconsistencies in some of the wild claims or promises being made.

The Prime Minister boasts that in her five years in office, her government has "refurbished or built over 100 new health centres". But that's the total number of such facilities in the country listed on the Ministry of Health's website. So, did she "build or refurbish" every health facility? Surely, that is "pigwash". But her supporters believe it, and maybe even she does!

As for the 100 new schools constructed, maybe she would list them all so discerning citizens can determine if the PP government increased the schools-stock by 100 percent. Or the 11,000 new businesses established in the past two years (her words, not mine), I ask: really?

Even if you add every doubles and souse vendor who started selling during that period, you will hardly find more than 2,000 new businesses in the specified period. What the PM probably meant was that 11,000 companies were registered at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is not unusual. Only a miniscule number of these actually start operations, and even fewer survive beyond a year.

I shan't even dwell on the "hundreds of new roads" (how many roads are there in the country?) or "thousands of new houses", ninety percent of the latter being HDC units that were constructed under the previous government, completed by the PP, and conveniently distributed on the eve of the election. Nor will I harp on many more such units and public buildings that the PP met under construction but never touched in their five years in office.

Regarding PNM promises, I have already had my say on the proposed rapid rail. I add only this: Colm Imbert insists he can complete the system from Sangre Grande to POS and San Fernando to POS for $10 billion. I say we citizens give him $15 billion (cost overruns) and five years-go for it!

If he fails, lock him up, not behind bars, but behind rails!

And I am tickled by Keith Rowley's proposed plywood factory at La Brea. He argues: "We don't have wood, but we have the electricity and we have the hydrocarbon adhesives and we have Caricom neighbours that have plenty wood!"

Huh, Keithos? Don't we all have good wood?

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