Three women snatched the headlines this last weekend: President Paula-Mae Weekes, TTMA president Franka Costelloe-Mackenzie and UNC ‘One Corridor’ coordinator, Jearlean John. Reflections on their contributions tell us what is wrong with our nation.
President Weekes, at the Red House, cautioned us all that ‘neither the government nor the opposition is hearing … or they are ignoring … [the people] are hurting!’ She further urged: “… but at the end of the day … fidelity to … our vulnerable women, our defenceless children, our angry young men … must be the primary and paramount concerns of parliamentarians”.
Martin Daly on Sunday warned: “the elites have fed off of the profligacy of successive governments … without a radical change in our governance, we are headed for a ‘breakdown in ordered legal control’”. Ira Mathur, quoting from a report, said: “While some live in affluence, others are deprived of basic needs such as sanitary infrastructure … gun violence is a response to the status quo”.
We are ignoring our historical knowledge—of 1970 and 1990—with our moral choices today. This is dangerous.
The headline of a Sunday paper shrieked: ‘Brace for more job loss’ with the sub-text: ‘thousands could face breadline’. Men who should know better manipulated the neophyte TTMA woman president into a false narrative that conflated radically different types of industries into the ‘light industrial customers’.
The needs of a Trinidad Cement Ltd for gas is not the same as for those companies in the food and beverage sector. It is the latter that employs the thousands referenced by the headline, not the large industrial companies. In the light industrial customers group, the gas price, as an input, is not a significant line item. To conflate the two sectors is misleading.
The 120 companies in the light industrial customers group had a flat price arrangement, which was a source of contention for many years with Jamaica, and was for the period 2012-2016. The intention was to provide the group with the ability to grow export markets. There was always going to be the need to renegotiate after that period ended.
In 2004, the NGC and the TTMA created an Innovation Fund, which was intended, inter alia, to support the purchase or modification of equipment or activities such as research and development, which might increase the efficient use of natural gas in the manufacturing sector for small and medium manufacturing firms. The NGC would presumably have greater sales as the smaller manufacturers blossomed. The reality? No firm ever drew down on it and the agreement came to an end in 2008 and was to be renegotiated. Has any small manufacturer been helped since then?
If this price is ‘the one competitive advantage’ as stated, then this explains why we were not able to grow exports—we are spoilt babies. The real story was buried in the reported details: this is about a lethargy that has come home to roost. They wish to go to Jamaica and South American countries? That is like asking me to take a run against Usain Bolt. A very different race.
Gary Aboud asked the pertinent question: “Can our nation afford to further subsidise … industries that already enjoy a wide range of confidential contract incentives?”
Why scare people with threats of job losses? Do the puppet masters not care? Do they not read world news and see that the common global factor with social unrest—from France to Chile to Hong Kong—is economic inequality? In our local context, why are they playing with the matches? In 2017, businessman Gregory Wight said: “… it is no comfort living in the penthouse if the floors below are on fire”. Stick break in their ears or what?
Jearlean John’s two-page interview showed clearly that the cupboard of ideas to fix our deep social ills is bare. President Weekes’ caution: ‘… if acrimony, contempt and divisiveness is the example … you cannot be surprised when those attitudes and behaviours are replicated’, is applicable. Trinidad and Tobago is tired of ‘bad-john politics’, our problems cannot be solved by ‘whoever wins’.
Ms John misunderstands or ignores basic issues like educational inequality, fails to provide a vision for employment, cites Machel Montano’s work for the then government as an example of professionalism. Did he ever finish the song? Hmm … She minimizes the complexity of the modern family breakdown and speaks to truancy measures as a salve.
There is no expressed sorrow for the waste under the previous UNC administration, as damned by the IDB in a September 2018 report. She simply protests her personal purity. The bigger the budgets were, the less we got: our quality of life declined. The poor among us increased by 50% between 2005 and 2014. The larger the tenders, the more corruption. The IADB estimates 26% of project costs are paid in bribes and padded budgets.
The least that should be done is to say ‘sorry’ and let us move on. But one cannot be forgiven if there is no request for forgiveness. But facts, figures and reason probably never won an election in Trinidad. Those who stand the least to benefit are the most vociferous at the rallies and on Facebook.
She waltzes past the drop in global gas prices and its impact on our budgetary estimates and its relation to job creation while making believe that job creation is easy to do. She ignores the unresolved local issues arising from the ‘Panama Papers’ 2016 report and its hints of our money being stashed away from our shores. ‘Nobody eh get charged, so nobody do anything.’ But money cannot appear out of thin air and cannot disappear.
Professor Cudjoe should be disappointed that, after two years in ‘Gaza’, Ms John can describe the dire situation well but remains clueless about the solutions.
‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ We have to do better. We have to examine all the folk who desire to lead us. No time to party or for blind party choices. We have a nation to save.