have discovered a new sleeping pill. It’s wonderful. It works. You sleep
even before all of it is administered. You don’t need a prescription for
it. It’s not expensive. Just a couple of dollars a week will do. But it
can be painful to swallow. It is called “the economists’ rant”.
the exception of the likes of the late William Demas, Frank Rampersad, and
one or two others, our economists (who for some strange reason are
labelled intellectuals) are caught in a time warp along with their
shirt-jacks and insistence on leaning on the broken Berlin wall, fists in
the air, and their embittered petulant expressions as if to say “no one
listens to me.” Damn right no one listens. You know why? Two reasons:
firstly, they complain, apportion blame, instead of offering practical
solutions; and secondly, even if they are brilliant and capable of leading
the way to a brighter T&T, no one would know because no one
understands what they are saying.
an example. Instead of saying the price of bread will go up, they will
write a sleeping tablet going something like this:
economic indicators of the past five months point to the fact that factors
of production relating to flour are somewhat strained due to disruptions
in labour costs and water production.
factor combined with the fact that capital costs relating to the
production of products such as yeast have been in short supply due to the
collapse of the Asian tigers in 1997 indicate that supply has not been
able to meet demand and the law of diminishing returns has come into
the downstream industries have been unable to keep the price of the
product made from flour, water and baking powder down.”
Eliot would have said: “The horror, the horror.” Terrible writing. Are
you asleep yet? I nearly am.
would forgive them for being boring if they offered solutions, but they
don’t. They just bitch about the government and the private sector, and
then squabble with one another in the papers. They are, on the whole,
self-indulgent, repetitive and ineffective. To top it all, after reading
totally contradictory conclusions by Central Bank Governor Winston
Dookeran, who said the economy is comfortable and growing at 3.5 per cent,
and economist Dennis Pantin, who said we are freefalling into recession, I
decided it was time to find out what was really going on.
construction, advertising is a reliable barometer of any economy. So I
asked David Inglefield of Inglefield Ogilvy and Mather for a business
(is) no shortage of projects, but the business community is not investing
as heavily as it should. The main reason for this is a loss of confidence
in the market and a credibility gap in what the business community and the
impending local government elections have contributed to this caution.
Stock movements are slow; people are not trading as much, and (are) being
cautious with projects involving high capital costs.
slowdown in the oil industry in South has also affected a large market
base and downstream industries. What we need is confidence in the
government, and market. Once that is restored, investment will resume.”
a lay person, I understand there is a trend of growth which will continue
as though nothing as changed, so the lack of confidence is
unsubstantiated. Why worry about local government elections because in
fact more money will be pumped into the economy. If the UNC does well,
then there is a vote of confidence in the Government. If not, they will
work harder to create confidence.
seems to be the problem is the indecision. What are we doing about the
loss of jobs in the South, the indecision over Severn Trent in WASA, the
inability to make hard decisions about Caroni. Then I approached Frank
Rampersad. The questions, as I sat next to him, pen in hand, came tumbling
out. Is there a recession coming? Why? If so, what are we doing about
preventing it? What is the economic situation? Is there going to be
ideas come tumbling out faster than I can absorb them, but I trust him
because he can be pragmatic and humanitarian at the same time. He
understands that market forces are necessary but understands that they are
also ruthless, and will discard the poor, the uneducated, the elderly, and
the ill. He understands a need for a safety net for them. He understands
that no economy can survive around angry young men, or in an AIDS
epidemic, which is threatening to blow up in our faces.
thinks as wide as the ripple effects of world economic movements and as
basic as the boy selling green mangoes on the highway. First question: Mr
Rampersad, do you agree with Mr Pantin that we are freefalling into the
abyss or Mr Dookeran who is optimistic? In short, is there going to be a
recession or not?
is no evidence that we are freefalling. Pantin has no empirical support
for his claim. It is true that construction boom is coming to an end, that
the industrial scene in Caroni is dicey, but I don’t see any evidence
that April, 1999, is in any way different from September, 1998.
on the other hand, is wearing rose-coloured spectacles with the statement
that the economy is growing at 3.5 per cent. My own guess is that it will
grow at about three per cent.
is no pressure on the exchange rate. The indications are that output will
continue to rise because of the LNG and ammonia plants, not significantly
but enough to keep us jogging along for a while.
there were a freefall, people would panic and move on. Pantin’s concern,
and it is a very valid one, is that we haven’t made any dent in
people aren’t working in construction companies and elsewhere, things
may get nasty on the social scene which will also impact on the economic
assumed that I was doing the interview, but the inimitable Rampersad
pulled the rug out from under my feet and asked the next question himself.
question you should ask is what will happen if the business community
panics, and stops investing, and further, how can we prevent a
freefall?” Then, he complained: “You reporters never talk
I say, “How can we prevent a recession, and worse, a devaluation?”
I don’t see a need for devaluation. It will only happen if we don’t
get in foreign exchange. Businessmen have to be far-sighted and think
beyond getting fat on domestic markets.
have to adopt the attitude they did in 1995-96 and realise that if they
expand exports, it would bring in much needed foreign exchange and create
referred to Nucor and Ispatt as evidence that the heavy industrial sector
is in difficulty. Why should it be? Just because the Americans are playing
monkey with steel doesn’t mean we can’t find new markets with our
there are danger signals. People are beginning to worry that the Asian
crisis is catching up on us.
course there are danger signals such as the loss of the US market for
methanol. Methanol is a raw material and we have to find by-products and
new markets for it. We have to be courageous and creative, but mostly we
have to get off our backsides and market ourselves.
Asians are climbing out of their crisis and that’s no excuse. Trinidad
and Tobago is a beacon of hope in the Caribbean.
has gone through. Barbados has committed suicide by sacking its Central
Bank Governor, the Windwards are losing their banana industry, and the
Leewards thrive only on tourism.
is in hell and this is the only place which has stability and performance.
There are good prospects. The question is: can we maintain stable growth
and keep our eyes firmly on the performance of export earnings, and at the
same time tackle our social problems?
are contradicting themselves. They must understand that there is a
difference between investing in the domestic economy and in the exports.
are always making excuses like we better wait till elections are over, but
by that time other countries will have marched in and taken away
you did say Pantin had a valid point in that we haven’t made a dent in
poverty. How do we get around that?
Government has to target the social safety net. The Finance Minister was
partially right in increasing old age pensions, but now has to tackle NIS
and social security benefits.
Government also has to deal with women who have nine children for nine men
and bring up boys who have nothing to do and no skills.
have to tackle head on the AIDS epidemic, which will soon shift from being
a social to an economic problem.”
areas do we need to strengthen to maintain growth?
resources development, the service industry and eco-tourism. Instead of
talking about a free-fall, we need to sort out Caroni.
it up and exploit unused assets such as bagasse, rice, and ceramic clays.
Caroni cannot survive because the plantation economy died a long time ago
and it can only exist in conditions of semi-servile labour and we don’t
want to go there.
got to stop mollycoddling our academics and make them work not just to
teach but do research relevant to development.
gone the wrong way with casino gambling. I’d prefer to see us develop
our sporting industries, create a world class golf course, expose
foreigners to the Amazon and Orinoco with a base in Chaguaramas.
vision and goals must be clear. Equitable income distribution, a safety
net for the vulnerable, (a) far-sighted business sector which is creative
with products and courageous in its search for markets.”
is there going to be a recession or not? Is there going to be a
devaluation or not? Is there going to be increasing crime or not? The
answers, it seems, are not “out there”, but in the hands of all of us,
particularly the business community, who has the power to act rather than
Frank Rampersad said, we are the only beacon of hope in the Caribbean, and
if we fail to act individually and collectively, then I suppose it’s
freefall all round. But I do take something back. The fists in the air do
show humanitarian concern, and that should never be knocked, however
I think shirtjacks are quite cute. There is a kind of earnest innocence
about them. Even Rampersad wore one.