The decision as to which party or person to vote for in our General Elections is seldom a single-issue decision. It is folly when our pollsters try to imagine that we vote based on ‘what is the biggest issue confronting us now?’—since many such issues are themselves complex.
In the current fevered environment in which we live, partisan considerations can reduce straightforward facts to either matters of debate or, worse, to issues that can be ignored. Neither route is beneficial to the nation.
The Covid-19 virus has been with us since mid-March. This virus represents more than just a health problem but can turn our best economic and business plans topsy-turvy.
Virtually every respected global institution and media house have warned about this challenge. Unemployment and national debt are scheduled to soar. The inequalities within our society were terrifyingly laid bare in the last month. Our greatest challenges, driven by this virus, still lies ahead of us.
The ill-preparedness of the USA and its attempt to snatch medical equipment and supplies from its own allies tell us that the world is being irreparably changed. The complete upending of the tourism industry in the region strips the customers of our manufacturing sector—the largest non-oil segment of the economy—of their once most viable markets.
Yet in the run-up to our general elections, there is a politicisation of our approach to the handling of this matter. This is not completely unexpected as we saw it unfolding over the past five months in our myriad arguments about the different elements of the plans to manage and mitigate the health crisis.
From the closure of bars to the opening of the borders, the arguments are charged with political posturing. It appears that unless there is explicit law or regulation, we, as a nation, cannot self-govern based on common sense and/or our best interests.
Social media’s rise as an important news source and its penchant for dis/misinformation permits the selective acceptance of facts so as to keep our thinking in line with our political leanings. The challenge to disentangle fact from fiction is complicated, should the facts threaten how we see ourselves politically.
The use of such lens resulted last week in a candidate for the St Joseph seat suggesting that the widely held concerns of the public and business communities, as evidenced in all of the four MFO polls in the May to June period, are the result of manufactured fear by the incumbent administration.
Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, as opposition leader, declined to acknowledge the sterling work being done by Chief Medical Officer Dr Rohan Parasram and his management team and chose instead to affirm that her party has and will use the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
What then was our goodly doctor using?
These two incidents coming on the same night from a viable contending party to form the next administration should cause us to think deeply about our nation’s future handling of the incipient health risk of local spread of the virus.
Will we also see a greater politicisation which will hinder our national effort to contain and overcome the virus’ economic effects?
With regard to the latter, we note that, in Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s latest pronouncements, the NIBTT and the UTC are to be brought in the fray to resolve our future approach.
This proposal is not a reduction of their income, as happened when Republic Bank cut its recent dividend, but appears to be the use of the capital held. This will weaken both entities in what is widely forecasted to be turbulent times, for which strong balance sheets are essential.
Both institutions are key pillars of our economy and represent either our future pensions or our present savings, thereby affecting virtually every household.
Apparently, Mrs Persad- Bissessar missed the sittings of Parliament when the actuarial reports for the NIBTT indicated that there were intrinsic funding challenges ahead. These reports were before the Covid-19 crisis.
The gig economy is a significant threat to the funding of pensions in a time when we are all living longer and so financial prudence on the part of the NIBTT is a top priority.
The UTC boasts rightfully of being the largest and most widely held funds in the country. It was designed to mobilise the savings of the national community and act as a means of allowing us all to own shares.
What do we expect will happen to these institutions should this proposal now touted gain traction?
In considering this new idea, we ought not to ignore the management history of and the recent urgent discussions about the National Gas Company and the management of the Pt Lisas Estate. (See Business Express on 24 June and the Express on June 30.)
The past practices of the UNC and their implication for future behaviour as is spelt out by the 1 July Business Express editorial, which said inter alia:
“For me, the question is: If the UNC were to be returned to office at the upcoming general elections, can the party be trusted to deal with all contracts in a fair and transparent manner, in keeping with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act?
“My gut feeling is no; the party cannot be trusted to deal with so-called PNM contractors and suppliers in the same way it treats with its own ‘people’.”
That Business Express editorial requires our sober consideration in what is forecasted to be a time of short public funds and sharply competing social demands.
As Kelvin Ramnarine said last month, a key issue now is how to generate and manage our cash.
Can we create jobs at a rate virtually doubling the best we achieved at the height of our most recent boom in this guava season? Which ideas and leadership skills are helpful to us in this regard?
We have to face, for the good of ourselves and that of our children and grandchildren, the question of who should we trust to navigate the way forward?
Our answer will haunt us or help us survive the coming storm.