Bravado comes after the calm


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Category: Trinidad Economy 19 Aug 07


I know it’s 12 years away. And we are asked to be “optimistic” to shun the “naysayers,” to laugh at the “doomsday” voices, to be happy in the sun.

When my son was a newborn, I got caught up in a legal matter that sent me into a panic. The young lawyer looked at me calmly and said this case would be called up by the time your son does his Common Entrance Exam.

I’m free, I thought. I hugged him.

The next thing I knew it was 12 years later, my son was in secondary school and the lawyer was calling me saying:

“It’s time. Your case is called.” My heart sank again. Time passes.

Consider this small item in this week’s Guardian Business Weekly:

“Britain’s energy policy is entering a crucial phase,” says Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks. Approaches to climate change and the geopolitics of energy supply will be as important to national security as the armed forces over the next 20 years.

He says: “No one wants the lights to be going out in 20 years’ time. I’m not saying they will. They won’t. But they won’t because of the decisions we will be taking over the rest of the year.”

That’s why they are First-World countries. They don’t ALWAYS play to the gallery. We know their lights won’t go out. (But ours might).

They take unpopular decisions. They stop people smoking in public places. They send repeat drunk drivers to jail.

A government minister, acknowledging that energy policy is in a “crucial phase,” sends signals that the crisis will be averted.

The most shocking thing about the gas audit done by Ryder Scott was not the report itself.

Remain calm

We all know gas will run out, sooner rather than later. It ran out before. Remember the boom followed by the bust?

Remember the inflation? Remember the devaluation? Remember the ten per cent cut in salaries? Remember the backlash?

It will be 100 times worse the next time gas fizzes and we crash because we have forgotten how to work.

Instead of creating a work ethic, we import it, with health professionals from India, Cuba, Africa, labourers from China, anyone who works.

Okay! So it may NOT run out. We may find enough gas to keep us going 50 years. The point is we should not, as a maturing country, bank on an unknown.

What was shocking was the muffled signal from the Government, seeing as its head was in the sand saying: “Don’t worry; be happy.”

We should be riding high with our status as the second richest country in the Caribbean. And yes, the Government does have a point in remaining calm.

A headless chicken act would destabilise the economy and discourage investors.

But after the calm came a kind of reckless bravado. The populist spending will continue. The signal that we are waiting for, like a stranded dying patient for reassurance, saying:

“Don’t worry. We are covered. We have been using this energy windfall to save, build our foreign reserves, invest in infrastructure, invest in our people, invest in health and education, diversify, encourage manufacturing, agriculture.

Even if gas runs out, our service industry, healthcare, financial services, educational institutions, tourism will keep us running.

Instead they said: “Take it easy. We will find more gas.”

VS Naipaul recently reminded us that our future is written in our present. We can bury our heads in the sand, fix our country now or face up to doomsday.

What did you say? Twelve years is a long way away?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur