Missed opportunity for a cure


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Category: Trinidad Politics 03 Jan 16

“We have already used up almost US$2 billion of our foreign exchange reserves in 2015. Actions could have been taken earlier in the year to minimise this decline. Unfortunately, the Central Bank saw it fit to make foreign exchange cheaper in the face of falling export earnings and reduced inflows of foreign

exchange and also opened up new channels for outflows of foreign exchange other than the traditional channels through the commercial banks. Government expenditure continued unabated and even accelerated in the run-up to the general election, thus fuelling even greater demand for foreign exchange in a period of heightened political uncertainty. Today, it is painful to hear the expressions of concern on these matters and the voluminous questionable advice spewing from those who had the opportunity to not worsen our already challenging situation but who chose instead to

splurge in the hope of winning an election, even as they lied to us about the very things that disturb us now.”

—Dr Keith Rowley, PM of T&T

“Dr Rowley has placed the nation in intensive care but he has not prescribed any appropriate medication to take our country to economic recovery.”

— Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The recession could be the best thing to happen to T&T. Falling oil prices is an opportunity for this country to finally grow up. Dr Rowley’s speech was thankfully expertly pitched. Sobering—not alarmist.

His panacea for the flailing economy:

   Split the billion-dollar Heritage and Stabilization Fund into two “distinct parts” and utilize one portion of it

   Merge T&T Mortgage Finance and the Home Mortgage Banks to help provide financing for new homeowners

   Stimulate the economy with housing construction

   Reduce operating expenses in all government ministries including the Tobago House of Assembly, by seven per cent by “eliminating waste and/or inefficiencies, not related to job cuts”

   Restore Land and Building taxes from January 2016 and implement a revised VAT regime from mid-January

   Urge the nation to conserve foreign exchange

   Warn that “if we fail to adjust now, we will find ourselves as we did in 1986 with an economy with insufficient foreign exchange reserves and having to restructure our debt under a series of IMF programmes”

I see very little evidence of belt tightening here. I see coasting until we crash. Given that the Government, as in the Prime Minister’s words, “already used up almost US$2 billion of our foreign exchange reserves in 2015,” what we face is a dying patient who was given a near fatal blow by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar government and is given a band-aid while bleeding to death under Keith Rowley, while billions of funds for life-saving surgery are being flung at Cepep.

Think back to this time last year when we saw the symptoms of gratuitous excess borne out in the images of Persad-Bissessar handing out mindless toys (not books, never books) in her red Santa costume to children, to feed a culture of momentary ratification which soon rust in one of our putrid dumps, leaving children mentally impoverished. The bellicose handing out of laptops to schools (which pushed T&T to the top ten users of pornography worldwide) ignored principals who were crying out for qualified special needs teachers, and teachers who were begging for principals; the spending on mediocre chutney and soca, on Carnival, on PR. All the while stealthily bleeding the Treasury, leaving us bleeding on the floor.

This recession speech was a missed opportunity for the Prime Minister to make an impassioned call for a strong work ethic, to dismantle many criminally run Cepep gangs, to banish a Carnival culture, to reduce the dependency culture so ingrained its part of our DNA, to look at a developmental model that works, such as Barbados.

The UN ranks developed country status on the percentage of GDP a country spends on health and education. Despite our former wealth we constantly tail behind Barbados, a tiny island with its humble resources of sea, sand, and a people who recognize that service is a two-way gift.

Imagine the change in the national psyche to hear our PM say he is going for sustainable development, diversification of the economy. That he would take the billions filtered down the drain through criminal gang leaders to Cepep and invest half in education and the other half toward those who need it the most, young men, women and children.

We are considered a matriarchal society, less by choice and more by circumstance. Many of our children are brought up by impoverished mothers and grandmothers. Why not put the same Cepep funds into the hands of women, with built-in conditions that their children are nourished, educated and safe?

Instead of throwing a billion dollars down the drain, why not create a small army of social workers who monitor the progress of each child? This will reduce teenage pregnancy, crime and increase literacy. Why not use the Government Information Services to do what it is meant to do, educate the population on multimedia—show us the value of hard work, of education, of service industries, of self reliance, of entrepreneurship, of preventative healthcare, of standing on our own two feet, of finally growing up?

The Prime Minister’s speech was timely, but sadly a missed opportunity for a nation desperate for a cure.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur