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Destiny in our hands; How T&T can respond positively to falling oil prices

As a nation, we can do nothing about the plunging price of oil except watch with alarm as crude slides below US$30 a barrel.

Photo: The price of crude oil continues to plummet... (Courtesy Newstide247.com)
Photo: The price of crude oil continues to plummet…
(Courtesy Newstide247.com)

Even if we ramp up production, which has fallen by approximately 50 per cent over the past decade, it will make little sense. At this point, it might be better to leave the oil in the wells rather than sell it for peanuts.

Besides depressed prices for oil, gas and petrochemicals, we also watch with dismay as China’s economy stalls—hence less demand for commodities—North America and Europe enjoy a relatively mild winter, which means lower use of fuels for heating, and other developments that signal to us that Trinidad and Tobago faces its biggest economic crisis since the 1980s-1990s.

So what can we do other than sit back and hope for divine intervention?

We could choose the “Burnham option.”

The late Guyanese dictator Forbes Burnham, faced with an imminent military threat from Venezuela, is said to have rallied his troops with the battle cry, “Back to back, belly to belly, we don’t give a damn, we done dead already!”

Photo: Former Guyana leader Forbes Turnham. (Courtesy Guyana Graphic)
Photo: Former Guyana leader Forbes Burnham.
(Courtesy Guyana Graphic)

Or we could play the blame game, point fingers at politicians who looted the Treasury and wasted the oil-bounty when prices were high. Even if we hold them to account or jail some of them, it won’t alter the price of cocoa… or oil.

I suggest we look at things we can do that will make T&T a better country.

With respect to corruption, we the people must start by refusing to bribe any public official for services we are entitled to: from driving permits to land deeds, housing to places in schools that our children deserve based on merit.

We must hold Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley accountable for any wastage or corruption that occurs under his watch. The PNM was elected to office largely because the PP Government was seen as corrupt to the core, and he, Rowley, said that if he became PM, he would stamp out wastage and corruption.

If we eliminate corruption, which has long been considered an integral part of doing business in the country, we can save hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe even billions, annually.

Score one on the positive side of the Exchequer’s balance sheet.

Photo: Former "Honourable" Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former “Honourable” Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Then there is the multi-billion-dollar sleeping giant: productivity and the national work ethic, or lack thereof.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we will admit that among the majority of the workforce—and that runs from the shop floor to executive suites—productivity runs at maybe 50 percent, and I am being generous here.

The national work ethic is defined by us doing the least we can to not get fired or suffer loss of income. Our motto seems to be “least work, most pay.” We take every manner of leave that is available to us, and that on top of enjoying the most public holidays for any country, and an unproductive Carnival month on top of these.

In other words, although most people—managers included—are supposed to render eight hours of work a day, when you factor out leave and “locho” time, we probably do four hours’ productive work.

If we reduce down-time and deliver just six hours work a day—and at some time I propose to argue in favour of the six-hour work-day as being potentially more productive than eight—the economy would boom, GDP would grow and the nation would prosper even in tough times such as we face now.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago soca entertainer Swappi tries to rouse the ground during halftime between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.  (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago soca entertainer Swappi tries to rouse the ground during halftime between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

And you know what? As unproductive as we are, in 2013, a Eurostat exercise that examined GDP per hour worked (per capita), ranked T&T 24th out of 65 countries listed.

Think of what we can achieve if we really apply ourselves.

What we need is for General Rowley to motivate and mobilise the workforce-army, mount a mission to save the country from implosion, call on every working citizen to do his or her duty in the national interest.

This is war. There must be no surrender to collapsing oil prices, no white flag on our economic door.

Crises, it is said, spawn opportunities, but none more so than the current one.

Herein lies the opportunity to eliminate the cancer of corruption, radically reform the work ethic, redefine the national watchword production, and stimulate the kind of patriotism we have seen in the past only when our sporting heroes have scaled global heights.

If we successfully repel this assault on the national economy as a people united, while the General might enjoy some glory, it is we the people who would be exalted.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

No leader, no government, present or future, will ever take us for granted.

Our destiny is in our hands.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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16 comments

  1. Good points Uncle Raf.

    Here what. Since youre an ex-military man I want you to lead the charge to improve the nation’s productivity. Everyman woman and child must do their part.

    I want you to start writing 50% more online articles.

    I for one will be glad to read them.

  2. I am refreshed by your thinking Raffique. It is good to know that someone is given to deliberate and positive reflection of our current realities and potential future without being a doomsday evangelist.

  3. As a matter of fact the USA, has the largest oil reserves in the world, and they have reduce their expenditure on oil, and are making provisions to start selling there oil…..#crapaudsmokingit

  4. ..Destined forever to be Fourth World..

  5. Either we address that or crapaud smoke “we” pipe.

  6. It have no WE in Trinidad and Tobago. It have “I” though and that’s the mentality that guides us.

  7. The question is what are WE going to do about it?

  8. Honestly at the time of the National budget 2015, i was hoping for a conservative figure of 35 USD a barrel…..i felt the govt was not vonservative enough, in light of the massive shale oil which is a substitute good….

  9. We have to learn soon. I agree with Raffique Shah. Nobody is going to make things right for us. We must all chip in.

  10. In TT we are still in denial so it will be difficult for a lot of people who do not feel that they have to adjust.

  11. Look for the Saudis to reduce output as the Iranian entry will hurt them especially since they are now resorting to unheard of taxes.