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Category: Trinidad Economy 09 Apr 06

 

The more we bite off the oil boom cookie, the smaller we get. The closer we get to full employment, the tinier our manufacturers get in the international market.

 

The more money people have, the more food prices soar. The more homes are built, the harder it gets to afford a home.

 

The richer we get the less we can afford. Our middle class diminishes as our GDP rises.

 

If we have too many more oil booms, we might disappear altogether. Our economy is growing, yet our stock market is collapsing.

 

It’s easy to forget the illiterate angry men in rags; tethering pensioners making their humble purchases, dying quietly with no health care; and our neglected illiterate children whose mothers are working endless shifts when you are languidly sitting over a glass of wine at lunchtime at a chamber luncheon in an air-conditioned ballroom with hundreds of well-groomed men with hefty salaries who run the country.

 

Vulnerable country

 

If the men in the suits are okay, we’re supposed to be okay, I thought placidly, last month at that meeting, echoing the mood of the room. Checking my make-up and watching the effusive handshaking between the dapper and earnest President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Mr Ian Welch, and the robust Central Bank Governor, Mr Ewart Williams.

 

Between the two of them, the joint power of the public and private sectors, our ship is on course and steered free from rocks.

 

Good times. Right? Wrong. Our ship has hit a rock.

 

Stopping short of actually pointing fingers at one another, the two men start the blame game.

 

The oil boom, marvels Mr Welch, has done the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. Our productivity has dropped.

 

“We are vulnerable. Our GDP growth of 6.54 is illusory, because it is not based on higher productivity, and our ability to be globally competitive,” but on high oil prices.

 

The greedy focus on oil money and subsequent neglect of the non oil sector equal to umpteen leaks in a ship, have almost wiped out our non oil sector.

 

Not manufacturing tradable goods (a mainstay long after the oil dollar dries up) and ignoring tourism (who will come to a country better known for its murders than its beaches?) will sink us.

 

The ship sinking analogy is mine, but to tell the truth, I did feel a bit queasy when I heard all this bad news emanating from this doyen of the private sector.

 

We are neglecting deathly leaks and instead chasing transient sectors, like construction and services.

 

Educate people

 

The countries whose ships don’t sink, warned Mr Welch, are the ones that “educated their people, invested in research, embraced new markets, built critical infrastructure.”

 

We are having none of that, so we’re the walking dead. This decent patriotic executive was sounding desperate in his plea to stop the sinking ship.

 

 

He repeated: To whom much is given, much is expected, throughout his address, as if it were a rosary or mantra that would help bail us out.

 

He practically wept out to the Government that day, calling for urgency to save us. He pleaded: “We need to start running—and fast.”

 

But his lament was in vain.

 

The Government, represented by Governor of the Central Bank Mr Ewart Williams, is taking no responsibility. After cleverly admitting the Government is overspending, threw the responsibility of fixing this ship back to the private sector, blaming them for servicing the local market, instead of expanding; talking to them like they were the little boys in the social service arm of the Government, berating them for being lazy, greedy, catering to the local market, for inflation, for not being sufficiently patriotic and buying too much foreign exchange.

 

There’s probably truth in some of it, but the Governor left out some crucial points, like, where will the labour to manufacture come from when Cepep and Government construction has mopped up so much of it? Where is the infrastructure?

 

Why are we among the lowest-spending countries in the world in health and education, key development indicators? Where is Government steering our ship?

 

Toward the rocks, gentlemen.

 

horizontal rule

 

 

All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur