THERE was a time when the economy was so bad, people could not even buy Crix. So says chairman of the Bermudez Biscuit company, Robert Bermudez, as he insists T&T is not a failed state.
“We have been here before. I remember when you could not sell Crix. That is inconceivable to you because everybody eats Crix.”
Responding to claims by members of the public and the Opposition, the chairman of Massy Holdings and the Bermudez Group of Companies, and Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), said: “I keep hearing people saying Trinidad is a failed state. Trinidad is not a failed state.”
Bermudez was appointed chancellor on April 27, 2017.
He was delivering the feature address at the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas dinner, dance and awards ceremony at the chamber’s Nal Ramsingh auditorium at Camdem Road, Couva, Wednesday evening.
The hall was filled with business people from the 300-plus member chamber.
Saying he was not there to become involved in politics, Bermudez recalled the pre-Independence era and the 1980s recession to show there was a time when the economy was in a worse state.
He said his family came to Trinidad as Venezuelan migrants in pretty much the same way thousands of migrants recently fled from Venezuela to T&T.
“If you were born in the 1950s, as I was, and you remember what Trinidad was like at the time of Independence, the standard of living that the majority of people enjoy and take for granted today was significantly less.
“People were living in mud huts. There was no education available. There was no University of the West Indies with free tertiary education available to any Trinidadian who wishes to apply.”
In the address preceding Bermudez, president of the Couva Chamber, Ramchand Rajbal, disclosed members of the chamber are mostly small and medium-sized business and they were struggling to survive due to the state of the economy and crime.
Rajbal said the closure of ArcelorMittal a few years ago and the impending shut down of Yara Trinidad Ltd, both located on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, resulted in hundreds of job losses which is affecting sales in Couva businesses.
The continuing crime scourge is also negatively impacting the business community.
Rajbal said some businesses have already closed up shop.
But Bermudez urged Couva business people to not lose faith. “Keep focused on your business. As the economy changes, remember that you have to be flexible.
“You have to be able to change with it. It is not a static situation. The economy changes. You can make money in good times and bad times.
“But you have to be constantly playing the game, trimming the sales and adjusting your mindset in order to be successful in difficult times or good times.”
Indirectly referring to Government’s reduction of expenditure to deal with the economic challenges, Bermudez said, “To reduce expenditure is an extremely difficult thing.
“It dislocates people’s family life, it affects the welfare of the community, it makes people believe that you don’t care about them, it causes crime to explode.
“And that’s where we find ourselves.”
But he assured T&T has been there before and gotten out of it.
“And I say to you that we have been there before and we have managed to get ourselves out of it.”
Taking a trip down memory lane, Bermudez traced the different prices of oil, T&T’s main revenue earner, and the impact on the country.
“I am old enough to remember when oil sold for US$2.50 a barrel. That is an inconceivable price.
“And then somewhere, sometime in the 1970s, it went up to nearly US$50 a barrel within a matter of months. It’s called the first oil shock.”
He said T&T was a relatively poor country before the oil boom and there were stories about the government going to some of the larger taxpayers when payday came asking them to pay their taxes in advance in order pay the civil service.