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Sunity scrutinises Gov’t approach to recession, Carnival 2016 and Marlene

She might be a woman just hurting for her country. But the image of a tearful Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon pleading for loyalty to country in this time of recession, personifies the psychology of helplessness that poses additional risk to the economy.

Photo: Falling oil prices have damaged the Trinidad and Tobago economy. (Copyright CommodityOnline)
Photo: Falling oil prices have damaged the Trinidad and Tobago economy.
(Copyright CommodityOnline)

While reduced revenue could send an economy into recession, intensified fear kills confidence and petrifies a country’s capacity for risk-taking. Just when we need to imagine our way to solutions, we hesitate and seek comfort in retreat.

In the 44 days since the Central Bank called the recession, the government’s message has been singularly focused on cost-cutting and belt-tightening. So emphatic is this message that we might even believe that less spending alone will lead us back on the road of recovery.

Apart from cutting and belt-tightening there has been only sketchy discussion about the rest of the economy beyond oil and gas, how these sectors make the economy move and might be encouraged into becoming active agents of a recovery.

Not all spending is equal. A seven per cent budgetary cut across the state sector could have a differential impact on economic performance depending on what the money foregone was to be spent on.

What purchases are being cancelled? Utilities, products or services? Was the product or service imported or domestic? Was the supplier a big company with many employees or a small or family business? What geographical spend will be affected? And so on…

Photo: A Tribe masquerader enjoys herself on Carnival Tuesday. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: A Tribe masquerader enjoys herself on Carnival Tuesday.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

While the budget deficit is a critical economic indicator, the figures for income and expenditure contain a whole number of variables that require a discriminating approach to cost-cutting if we are to avoid pushing the economy deeper into recession.

The Carnival economy is a prime example of a sector that required a different response in this period of downturn. With its broad community of economic interests, many of which earn rather than consume foreign exchange, the government should have been unequivocal in supporting Carnival as an economic stimulant.

The government may be seriously short on cash, but the country has an expanded class of millionaires and profitable private corporations that should be encouraged to come out and spend, especially on local products. Prize money could even be linked to local content.

In appearing at fetes, the Prime Minister should be emphatic in stating that he is not there on downtime but to support the Carnival as a foreign exchange earner and as the livelihood of thousands, from corn soup vendors to big band businesses.

Simply reducing the subventions to Carnival risks crimping both the Carnival experience as well as its economic potential.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) poses with soca star Machel Montano during the 2016 Carnival period. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) poses with soca star Machel Montano during the 2016 Carnival period.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

A more discriminating approach, based on a more acute understanding of how Carnival works and where it wastes, could achieve much more with far less by a more strategic redistribution of funding.

But no government needs any more advice on this. There are enough studies and reports done on the sector.

With just three weeks left in the season, it will be interesting to quantify the impact of economic belt-tightening on the Carnival economy.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge in confronting the recession will be the culture of the PNM and how it defines the culture of yet another of its administrations. The party’s stated commitment to decentralisation and local government reform indicates an effort to break with its past of highly centralised power.

But culture is never easy to change.

In the absence of clear policy, strategy and structures to ground change, entities return to what they know best. Already, there is a leaden-ness to this administration which is in sharp contrast to the arbitrariness of the previous government.

Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on September 7, 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on September 7, 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Somewhere in the middle—between these extremes—lies the agility and accountability that good governance requires.

It also takes moral authority, trust sometimes being the only reason that someone will take your hand when even logic fails. In this regard, the government is doing itself no favours by going on the defensive over the matter involving Housing Minister Marlene McDonald.

With the Opposition having filed a complaint against her with the Integrity Commission, the Prime Minister and his Attorney General should simply leave the matter up to the Commission’s investigation. All of us would benefit from allowing the IC to define undue influence under the Act.

Given that the matter involves Ms McDonald’s actions in another government, AG Faris Al-Rawi should advise his colleague to get herself an attorney and stick to his responsibility as the attorney to the Government of T&T.

It was simply outrageous for him to have brought the full authority of his office to her defence in this matter.

Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. (Copyright Elections.TT)
Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(Copyright Elections.TT)

The allegation of undue influence against Ms McDonald, which also raises questions about former cabinet member, Emily Dick-Forde, is one that needs to be fully investigated and determined in the public interest.

We have been paying a very high price for failing to allow our institutions to work and to set the standards of behaviour by those in public life. Here is an opportunity to be embraced.

After his tough talk on the platform, and given his need for public trust in this time of recession, the PM should know what he has to do about Ms McDonald’s pending investigation.

AboutSunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj
Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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17 comments

  1. Don Don M Bennett you are so right…NO shame at all…allowing and encouraging….great choice of words..is really an old pic …hope he stays with PP……robbed us too many times with SM

  2. The PNM went on the rampage on blaming everything on the PP Govt for political points. It worked so well, they took it too far. Now that they have scared off the foreign investors and are placing a choke hold on small and medium business enterprises (in favour of their filthy rich/Syrian financiers), they have found themselves – whether they realise it or not – in a quandary. They’ve ‘shot themselves in the foot’. they are placing more pressure on lower to middle income earners who would have assisted in employment and use of local products during the recession.

    It is right to reassess spending, particularly on Carnival. The Govt has had to give too much to shows and artists. What is the profit earned by the private company for the Int Soca Monarch? why can’t he pay the winners?

    Too much free rides for persons who can pay. Auditing is good, wisdom is better.

  3. The government may be seriously short on cash, but the country has an expanded class of millionaires and profitable private corporations that should be encouraged to come out and spend, especially on local products. Prize money could even be linked to local content.

    And how exactly is this going to work? How will the rich be encouraged to buy local?

    This sounds suspiciously like another excuse for State spending to encourage the private sector to buy local.

    In other words…it is yet another boondoggle to spend money we don’t have

  4. MM has NO shame. Then again it’s what you allow and encourage.

  5. he used to hug Kamla the same way !!

  6. Agree with the sentiment in the article; interesting analysis and questions raised re: budget. What workable recommendations are the business community, the ECA, the union/NATUC, Chambers of Commerce, etc bringing to the table? Gov’t cannot go it alone; they need co-operation from all but their continued defense of allgations of wrong-doing and fall back on cost cutting is actually a hindrance to buy-in from the population. Trust requires consistancy in words and deed. U telling me to tighten my belt, no jobs would be lost, I would not be flying like the past admin. What does the record show?

  7. Thank you! On campaign trail, it painted a realistic picture of what to expect and helped to manage expectations. Now they are in the driver’s seat, for ppl who have added burden of increased food prices (no semantics here; even if there is a drop in price, nothing dropping in the grocery); increased transport cost, ppl losing jobs. With high crime rate, how attractive does this make TnT to investors? For ppl who losing jobs daily, what hope is there? What answers is the gov’t providing to the nations on health, education, the economy, crime? It cannot be the PP leave us so. Ppl need re-assurance so work together with the gov’t to get country moving forward. Instead all this anti-PP rubbing many the wrong way and helping to intensify the political divide.

  8. In the end, at least I can rely on the insightful opinion pieces

  9. This did it for me: “But culture is never easy to change.
    In the absence of clear policy, strategy and structures to ground change, entities return to what they know best. Already, there is a leaden-ness to this administration which is in sharp contrast to the arbitrariness of the previous government.”

  10. I appreciate the parity in holding this government accountable as well.

  11. Excerpt: “Given that the matter involves Ms McDonald’s actions in another government, AG Faris Al-Rawi should advise his colleague to get herself an attorney and stick to his responsibility as the attorney to the Government of T&T.

    “It was simply outrageous for him to have brought the full authority of his office to her defence in this matter.”

  12. I feel we have all too often seen the announcement of a recession, quickly become a reality. Timidity and fear makes it so.