No more financial helpouts—or handouts—from T&T. T&T has backed off from Caricom’s proposal to support yet another regional assistance fund while also underscoring  that T&T cannot continue with its previous magnitude of Petroleum Fund sponsorship, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar signalled yesterday.

At a media briefing following yesterdayPrime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar‘s second Caricom summit working session, Persad-Bissessar again telegraphed that for T&T’s new Government, it may not be business as usual in maintaining the status quo regarding funding assistance for Caricom. Yesterday, Persad-Bissessar reiterated that T&T can no longer continue with the magnitude of the past where the Petroleum Fund is concerned due to T&T’s own fiscal challenges. “Where we can assist, it should be tied to some benefit for the T&T people and we’d need to see more details and reviews of project proposals as well as value for money, and the need for accountability and transparency in the way the funds are disbursed,” she said. And in adjustment on a second area of funding assistance, Persad-Bissessar voiced concerns about the US$250 million Caribbean Development Fund (CDF), which was instituted for regional states to deal with economic dislocation, address the adverse impact arising from the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and other issues.

Persad-Bissessar said T&T had made a $37 million contribution to the CDF as well as another input of $9.6 million from the Petroleum Fund, but there is an outstanding balance of US$20 million, which needs to be sourced.Persad-Bissessar said there had been discussions yesterday for T&T to help in meeting the shortfall as some states had not contributed due to financial difficulties. “We were concerned in meeting this US$20 million as T&T is also is also facing its own financial constraints and it would be very difficult for us.” Persad-Bissessar also noted that the fund’s chairman, who is from T&T, had been removed and no answers were forthcoming to T&T questions on this. “I was told T&T did not consent to his removal,” she said.

She said it was important since T&T’s contribution to the CDF is quite significant and, therefore, questions about the US$20 million and the chairman’s removal had to be raised. She also cited the investment management of the fund and the current yield on the fund’s portfolio is less than one per cent—insufficient to meet its expenses. In addition, the fund’s ceiling of US$4 million was removed. Persad-Bissessar said the jury is still out on whether T&T will continue providing help for the CDF. She said many states were not contributing while T&T had gone beyond its contribution. “So to talk about that US$20 million coming again from T&T, we reiterate that we have our fiscal challenges, as well at this time, we will not be able to put that full US$20 million into the CDF at this time—cannot do it. We’ll have further talks on it.”

Persad-Bissessar said the money that was being disbursed didn’t belong to leaders, but to the people and should be used to benefit them and not build mega-projects. She said her concerns were transparency, accountability and that the “handout” situation could not continue.

[Post update via Trinidad & Tobago Guardian]

PM Persad-Bissessar addresses Caricom