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Category: International 01 Mar 09


“The world economy is now entering a major downturn in the face of the most dangerous shock in mature financial markets since the 1930s... The major advanced economies are already in or close to recession.” The IMF's biannual World Economic Outlook

“I have, in some way, been where you are, because, I didn’t come into this position with a lot of wealth, with a lot of resources. It’s real important for young kids, particularly kids who come from communities without resources, to see me, not the First Lady, but to see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles. There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or on Barack's head. We were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and to work hard and harder when somebody doubted us.

With every little challenge like that, and every little success, I gained more confidence. Life opened up. No matter what you do, you can’t pass a law that makes somebody do the right thing. You can’t pass a law that makes a parent read to their child every night. You can’t pass a law that you treat your neighbour with respect and decency. That comes from all of us deciding in our own communities, in our own individual lives, in our own families, who are we going to be.”

US First Lady speaking to teenagers in Washington

When I was a little girl my grandmother told me a story of a huge iced cake in the shape of a castle that was baked especially for her parents wedding anniversary. It was delivered three days in advance of the celebration. Every night while the household slept, she and her two brothers and sisters would sneak into the kitchen and pull out bits of cake from underneath. On the anniversary when her parents cut the cake in front of a large gathering it crumbled. The guests got only crumbs, if that.

It’s no different from our international global crisis—US$8 billion fraud schemes lashing little Antigua and troubled Venezuela the worst; echoing the $50 billion fraud by Wall Street king Bernard Madoff. Even as Wall Street crashed and was being bailed out by government, executives collected about $18 billion in bonuses, something US President Barack Obama called “shameful.” In the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is angry that top bank executives received bonuses up to £1bn at RBS, despite presiding over a financial crisis so bad it forced the Government to buy up Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley and large chunks of Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS.

It’s no different at home, where our corruption index is rising and where the Udecott inquiry revealed an executive receiving up to five salaries. No different from unanswered questions over accounting and transparency in Clico Investment Bank and Clico, the “invisible” haemorrhaging that brought the company to its knees. It’s no different to “community leaders” and “gangs” whose guns are merely the tools to hack away at the cake that belongs to the rest of us. So now we’re left with crumbs. Even if we could, there is no escape to anywhere: A cavern in America where 28 banks have collapsed since the recession and up to five million have been laid off in what President Obama calls the worst recession since the great depression.

In the UK, up to two million people are jobless and Europe lies like the new open gaping financial wound. Citigroup Inc, the second biggest US bank, revealed plans to cut 52,000 jobs by next year, the second-largest corporate lay-off plan in history. British banks have been tumbling faster than humpty dumpty. Japan’s biggest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, announced that its profit had tumbled by 64 per cent. Automakers have been hit by a collapse in consumer spending, triggered by a housing crash and worsened by rising unemployment. At home Tobago’s tourism is down to 30 per cent, and everyday news items signal the loss of jobs in manufacturing.

The oil and energy sector in Point Lisas is shrivelling silently as methanol collapses, Petrotrin downgrades; Essar Steel aborts operations. A few months back I said it to the Central Bank Governor who was being interviewed by Jeremy Matouk for CNC3 to “speak not to technocrats, but the woman who is ironing her clothes in front of the TV. Both smartly suited men, brilliant in their own right, raised their eyebrows.” Did I want them to dumb down? I was unabashed. Not at all. I wanted them to be relevant.

The way Barack Obama is every time he opens his mouth. He talks about people needing jobs, homes and affordable health care and money to send their children to college. That’s always the bottom line. The woman ironing her washed laundry in front of the TV is every woman—she is a mother, wife, domestic worker, grandmother, student, mas player. And she is determining how we respond to what has become the mother of all recessions. Most importantly, she is the most likely in any household to manage the family’s finances.

The Obamas are signaling that the days of talking down to people are over. Ordinary people robbed by the thieving executives are pouring back more of their own tax money to pull their nations out of its failed casino culture financial institutions. The people have had enough. It’s time for our Government to recognise that frustrated people can bring nations down. Equally, if governed Obama-style, they can rise to the challenge, tighten their belts, take their fate in their own hands and rally in what will be some of the most trying times in the history of the world. Finally, it’s time when the mas is over, for our leaders to speak to our people, to acknowledge that governance is about the people, should have been about us all along.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur