This week had two apparently disconnected stories whose link we may not have discerned, but which profoundly affects our future.
The first was the Express’ report on the alleged TT$549M EMBD bid rigging case which noted: ‘…some of the same contractors donated financially toward the current government…’
The second is the global headlines which screamed that the US economy had dropped by 9% in the last quarter, which on an annualised basis, means it will be down by a third!
The link is: no matter who forms the next government, the economy would be battered; and there is a risk that our inequality problem—partially fuelled by persons who feed off taxpayers’ funds—will worsen.
As we go to the polls to elect a new government, we need to appreciate that organised money plays an outsized role. We need to see the feeding of dissatisfaction among the less privileged in an attempt to tilt the electoral balance. Manufactured outrage by insistent trolls, coordinated by a central mind, bombard us throughout the day with spurious stories.
Unashamedly, outlandish promises—that two economists described as ‘questionable and unlikely’ and which have been calculated to require an investment of over TT$5B while simultaneously obliterating the tax base—are trotted out.
Private and foreign investors will fill the gap we are told; a claim that is staggering if one projects the stark economic decline in the US and the oil industry or read any responsible global newspaper.
Why would a foreign investor put money in here unless it is financially worthwhile? How do we make it feasible for them unless we offer superior returns by lowering the costs of operation? We certainly cannot offer enhanced revenue.
How did we get here?
It really began when we, as a country, embraced the notion of ‘every man for himself’ as the organising principle of our economy. When we moved away from the state-run to the private sector-organised approach.
We made that decision a binary one instead of appreciating the need for balance.
Simultaneously, we weakened the public service, a disaster that continues to today. The checks and balances on ministerial actions were therefore removed.
We promoted ‘personal responsibility’ to cover up the wanton greed of some. There was no discussion about what was our ‘social responsibility’ since everyone, other than ourselves, was seen as lazy and unambitious.
This is the point at which the divergence in pay began and property values skyrocketed out of the reach of the man in the street. The private sector became a money machine that provided funds for political parties which gave each of them freedom to do whatever they wanted.
The ‘trust fund’, which is our oil and gas heritage, funded the rise of those who seek to control the economy and the politics. Consequently, we saw a polarisation of the nation—a ‘them versus us’ and a complete blindness to economic realities. We weaponised anger as a means to increase voting.
Today as we stare at the impending grave economic danger, we are seeing the mobilisation of the urban black community as a repurposed tool to increase voting. We and them ignore why that community is the dispossessed and why they have only received baubles from both parties and ‘pretend’ philanthropists, while financiers have made off like bandits (pun intended).
Societal breakup is an imminent threat when this community realises that they gained nothing since we were all flattened by the Covid-19 after-effects. The first at the trough is never the poor. We now ignore at our own peril the noises made which, if joined with our present policing attitude, would bloody the same dispossessed so as to enforce ‘law and order’ in time to come.
The failure to present an alternative plan by the other party is unacceptable. The work to be done by the Watkins team is not a Budget line item. That characterisation will not be sufficient to stem the coming anger or ready us for the future.
We do not have enough money to keep shovelling relief for the sustained period. There has to be another plan.
The constant attacks on our institutions—the Judiciary and the EBC as examples—destroy our faith in them and in our ability to govern ourselves. The destruction of our public educational system destroys dreams. Both incapacitate our ability, now needed more than ever before, to problem solve.
We have to get serious about campaign financing reform. We have to implement the procurement mechanism. We have to question our desire for huge investments in infrastructure ahead of the needs of disadvantaged people.
We have to admit that burning down the place to get elected is not a plan. We must honestly speak to the challenges and not pretend that there are ready answers. There simply are not any on the shelf.
Without a serious long-term mindset, we will not get out of this mess unscathed. We have to create ‘us’ rather than ‘us versus them’. That is a tough job and cannot be done overnight but to try we have to. We will not progress without doing so.
May God help us.