“[…] Lacking in creative ideas or solutions, the government has decided to accelerate the process of privatisation and free itself of responsibility for the people’s welfare, wherever it can.
“In NJAC’s estimation, what needs to be understood is that with privatisation, there are certain core concepts such as trimming the fat (retrenchment) and maximisation of profits (inflating costs to the public), with the absence of consideration for a sense of social responsibility.
“In fact, what inefficient business organisations do is pass the cost of their inefficiencies onto the public, in order to maintain profitability, which is then interpreted as being efficient…”
The following press statement on Trinidad and Tobago’s 2021 Budget was submitted by the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC):
The National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) does not agree with the commentators who have expressed the opinion that the 2021 National Budget lacks any direction or economic philosophy.
To the contrary, the philosophy or direction of the 2021 National Budget was given by the prime minister a few weeks ago in a television interview, when he stated: “We have to find a way to encourage the rich to get richer, because in getting richer they create opportunities for the poor.”
What Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was in truth and in fact stating, was that the state should be abdicating its responsibility for the well-being and happiness of its people. This responsibility should be given mainly to the rich and wealthy elites of the society.
We ought to be reminded that in 2016, Dr Rowley also told the country: “You better begin to get weaned off the government because the government’s shoulder cannot carry the weight anymore.”
The problem with both of these statements is that they both represent the basic principle of ‘Reagonomics’ or ‘Trickle Down Economics’, as was practiced by both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the USA and Britain respectively, during the 1980s.
This system of economics, however, benefitted a rich few at the top echelons of the society at the expense of the majority of citizens. It proved to be a failure as far as development of the wider society is concerned.
The privatisation of the gas stations and the port operations as stated in the 2021 National Budget, is a clear manifestation of the direction in which the Government intends to take the country—as indicated by the prime minister. As we go along, we must therefore expect moves to privatise major sectors of the economy. Efforts have already begun with some areas of our energy sector.
It is of even greater concern that all of this is taking place in the absence of the enactment of the Procurement and Disposal of Public Property legislation. It is worth mentioning that all the assets referred to are 100% public assets.
NJAC asks: ‘In such a scenario, where would be the measures of prevention and control that would guarantee the protection and preservation of the public interest?’
The resultant effect of taking the country down this path, would be a considerable increase in the cost of living for the majority of citizens—as the economic environment becomes more and more exposed to the vagaries of market forces and the controllers of economic wealth.
The government’s privatisation policy will also have the effect of reversing opportunities for social mobility which were created with the expansion of the state sector during the 1970s.
In the budget, the government makes much ado about the tax relief measure that would impact on 250,000 individuals through an increase in the personal tax exemption from TT$72,000 to TT$84,000 per year. This however, is very much like the proverbial Trojan’s Horse.
The small benefit that these individuals would receive would be cancelled out by the increased costs of goods and services in many areas. The net effect would be a greater burden to be borne by the masses of people. As a result, this would lead to a greater level of unhappiness throughout the society, with substantial social fallout.
The bottom line to all of this is that, as a result of inefficiency and mismanagement and the promotion or encouragement of practices and policies detrimental to the economic and financial well-being of the nation, serious economic and financial problems have come about.
This has been compounded by the Covid 19 situation. Lacking in creative ideas or solutions, the government has decided to accelerate the process of privatisation and free itself of responsibility for the people’s welfare, wherever it can.
In NJAC’s estimation, what needs to be understood is that with privatisation, there are certain core concepts such as trimming the fat (retrenchment) and maximisation of profits (inflating costs to the public), with the absence of consideration for a sense of social responsibility.
In fact, what inefficient business organisations do is pass the cost of their inefficiencies onto the public, in order to maintain profitability, which is then interpreted as being efficient.
Poverty is a consequence of inequalities in the system. Privatisation worsens the inequalities in the system and increases poverty.
To eradicate poverty, the poor must be empowered and there must be greater equity in the system through real transformation. This can only be achieved through a process in which the people are involved and thus be part of the solution.
That is why NJAC has stated in its ‘people’s declaration for the development of a new Trinidad and Tobago’:
‘The people must be involved in all areas of the planning process. Economic planning is not just FOR people, it is ABOUT people, as much or more so than it is about physical resources like land and minerals…….The plans must combine the specialised data needed with the knowledge, experiences and desires of the people so that they will be an expression of the people’s will.’
To achieve this, there must be a process of effective consultation, participation and mobilisation. This is essential to addressing the critical and chronic weaknesses in our economy.
As such, the 2021 National Budget fails to adopt a more fundamental, creative and people-centred approach to dealing with the more vital issues of the economy and by extension the society.
It is NJAC’s view that when the people are involved, they would make whatever sacrifice and adjustment is required to get our nation on the right footing. However, instead of being involved in such a process, they and the nation are being sacrificed at the altar of privatisation.