Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday alerted the country that the school-age population had been badly affected by the existence of the Covid pandemic.
He said the concern the pandemic had over children’s education had become a priority for the government’s political and budgetary attention.
He said that coming out of this period, driven by the demands of Covid, the government had legacy elements that may have to find their way into budget lines, “not the least of which is the generation of school-age people who are now carrying a request for further assistance due to what has been lost over the two years of the Covid response”.
Speaking at the Spotlight on the Economy at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Rowley said the United States, the world’s richest country, had just said that the performance of well-to-do children had fallen by 3% and that the performance of children who are not in the upper cohort economically had declined by 13% in English and mathematics.
“And I think Trinidad and Tobago has similar, if not worse, conditions that can’t be left unattended and therefore it’s a new challenge for us – not just having a regular school year, but have a school year in which this is an additional budget requirement.
“As a Jamaican prime minister said, ‘you always want a benevolent government, but it takes money to care about it,'” he said.
The prime minister said the Covid pandemic has also upended the government’s intention and ability to align spending and revenue.
He said just as the government was beginning to close the gap between spending and revenue, the pandemic hit, “injecting this weak environment with the need for huge borrowing”.
He said he wanted people to keep these facts in mind – that the country had come from a place where incomes were suddenly reduced, as well as having to deal with demands for increased spending in the health sector – as they wondered if the country was on the right or wrong track and what the future realistically holds.
He said the government’s aim was to do more with less, “knowing that it is quite easy for people to demand more with less”.
In this context, he said the government holds itself accountable to make better decisions in what continues to be a difficult situation, but not as difficult as it was in 2020 when the country was in the midst of the pandemic. .
The economy did not collapse
The prime minister said the government must “stay the course” because failure to do so would undo much of the good work it had done.
“I would like to say that the fiscal behavior of the government of Trinidad and Tobago has been exemplary,” he said. “We lost a few friends along the way, but doing this was the responsible thing to do, and it continues to be the responsible thing to do because it makes us all stronger,” he said.
He pointed out that the T&T economy had defied opponents since it had not collapsed. “You would have heard some experts predict the collapse of the economy consistently.
“Today, I can tell you, without fear of being contradicted, that our economy has not collapsed. In fact, in the darkest times of the pandemic, when our retail business was closed and people of little faith thought it was a symptom of collapse… Today I can tell you that our retail business is almost as vibrant as it has always been, and it is thanks to the responsible action taken by the government to ensure that we preserve our hope in the future, and when that future has come, we we were able to grow seeds from very hard, possibly infertile soil,” he said.
The Prime Minister praised the private sector for “getting up, taking our beds and moving on to a future”.
He said that was why he expected the finance minister to be able to deliver good news to the country “that some things are going well”.
“The international market has been good for us in terms of prices, but beyond the drop in income and the pandemic, there has also been the war in Europe injected into the order of things, driving up inflation. , which we couldn’t escape because of our connection to the outside world,” Rowley said.
Noting that wealthy European countries had declared 9.1% inflation, he said he did not believe the finance minister would declare such an inflation rate in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, he conceded that inflation has been one of the injectors in the basket of challenges the country has faced.
The prime minister said he was eager to hear what the finance minister had to say.
He said he was confident that facing the experience of the last 36 to 48 months, Trinidad and Tobago did well and that the positive spirit and “a good spirit of high morale” were the best positions to take. to be as the country moved forward in this battle in the local and international community.