Our governance arrangements and political style have left us in an uncomfortable void. Our country is not nearly as well managed as we could make it. We have not employed an enlightened combination of the country’s resources, citizen commitment and fairness.
There are not many countries that have achieved satisfactory levels of management and fairness or that are free of bitter contention over the allocation or use of resources. However, there is currently much tension all around us and I have two questions:
Is the contentiousness present in our society at a flashpoint? Secondly, how will we hold the society together going forward with vastly reduced revenues—an economy badly damaged by the pandemic and a population seething with discontent at perceived unfairness?
There is also no ability left boldly to declare that ‘we jammin’ still’. Pandemic closures have snatched away poor people wages and the space and time for recreation have been curtailed.
The traditional safety valves, habitually fuelled by freeness from the public purse, and perhaps encompassed within the prime minister’s phrase ‘freedom partying’, have been suppressed.
In what manner will the steam eventually blow as a consequence of the suppression of the habitual zest or escapism provided by boat cruises, block parties, all-inclusive fetes and many other activities, collectively enjoyed by many sectors of society—including those offensively dismissed as ‘cockroaches’ or ‘zessers’?
I have made previous references to instability; I now raise the above questions frontally. Distinguished economists have frankly described the deep hole we are in and the further disadvantages that the pandemic is piling on the already disadvantaged.
Dr Ralph Henry, for example, has recently described the new burden of the pandemic as follows: ‘There are the unemployed youth faced with no openings during Covid-19, primary and secondary school students who have lost a year of schooling and could not avail themselves of virtual educational programmes, women in occupations and sectors with limited or no social security. All these deserve immediate attention.’
There is no room for more lame excuses and castigations of the citizen body, taking into account how little we have to show in the key area of the creation of sustainable employment without dependency on government make-work programmes, given the resources we have had since Independence.
Dr Henry has also described the employment void: ‘The government has been propping up employment, with programmes such as the URP and CEPEP. What we see today is a function of what we have been doing years ago. We are preparing the poverty of tomorrow.’
Against this background, I return to the remarks made at the ceremony for the proposed new Despers’ panyard, which grossly undervalued the capabilities of our steel orchestras and the development of the potential for attendant industries, which would undoubtedly constitute diversification.
At that ceremony, we the people received a dressing down for our ‘foolishness’ in protesting the Sandals project for Tobago and the aluminum smelter plant in Chatham, in South Trinidad. Startlingly, the prime minister saw the resistance to these projects as resistance to diversification.
I await the assessment of distinguished economists whether those two projects were truly diversification projects. Common sense tells me that the smelter was tied to our country’s capacity to supply natural gas to it.
Could such a project represent an investment outside the energy sector or movement away from using high volumes of a depleting supply of natural gas like the plants in Point Lisas?
As to Sandals, it was likely that a disproportionate amount of the capital risk might be borne by the Treasury if the government provided the land and bore the cost of building the resort.
That would have been an excessive price to pay to induce a flagship name, which might also have been permitted to manage the resort on terms whereby its management fees would have been a preferential call on revenues earned by the resort.
Why is the government still blind and insulting to the reasonable skepticism expressed at the time of proposal of those projects?
One should be very scared if the government has nothing new to promote and continues to exclude all but politically partisan or submissive citizens from reshaping our future.