Ralph Maraj

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

The term “Absurdistan” satirises any nation where absurdity is the norm in government and politics. The prime minister’s interview last weekend in the Guardian and the absence of appalled reaction are proof we are in that place. We better wake up.

Dr Keith Rowley is obviously trying to cover up the five wasted years of his last administration. Seeking to scapegoat the pandemic, he said, “Covid-19 came at a time when our oil and gas prices were already softening.”

Patently and deliberately false! Covid-19 came in 2020. But by 2016, in broad daylight, our energy revenue had already plummeted permanently, moving from $19 billion to under $2 billion. And both Rowley and his finance minister, Colm Imbert, acknowledged the new reality.

Our plight was in plain sight, but for five squandered years, these flat-footed men pussyfooted, waiting for a return to higher prices, clinging to the anachronistic “our oil our gas our future” while the nation’s strength drained away, foreign reserves, the nation’s economic security, now heading for depletion by 2022 or earlier. They therefore plunged this economy into crisis before Covid-19 came, producing economic contraction for five consecutive years and burdening the future with massive debt.

Wake up, Absurdistan! If we are fooled about the past, we will also be duped in the present. Therefore, whenever the prime minister engages in rank revisionism of his past five years, the duplicity must be immediately and forcefully countered. It is the only way to ensure protection from continuing incompetence and insufficiency.

In that ridiculous interview, Rowley says, “We don’t have a strong enough revenue stream to sustain the servicing of the country.” What an epiphany! Wasn’t he at the helm for the last five years when new revenue streams were the indispensable imperative?

Four years ago, Moody’s echoed the sentiments of all analysts when it called for “economic diversification”. Diversify or die, I said. But the prime minister raged at the “annoying” term and, in his voluminous verbiage, Imbert hardly mentioned the word. They cannot now hide from the consequences of their scandalous irresponsibility.

Covid-19 has exposed the disastrous state into which we have been led by Rowley and Imbert. Worse, these two are now leading the nation in its darkest hour. Pity Absurdistan!

The prime minister now seems to be a born-again believer in agriculture. But in his last term, Rowley opined this country did not have enough land for commercial agriculture.

He left the sector to languish, allocating less than one per cent of the annual budget and producing a minuscule 0.4 per cent of GDP. But with the pandemic threatening our food security, he finds it expedient to say in that woeful interview “there’s a lot of fertile, unfarmed agricultural land in this country and we plan to invest heavily in agricultural expansion”. And Absurdistan does not bat an eyelid at this volte-face, does not query whether there is the conviction and commitment needed to develop this long-neglected sector.

We must never stop thinking in this country. Have we asked why Rowley and Imbert didn’t act during their last term? Do we realise these two “leaders” were so completely out of step with global developments that they expected a return to boom times while the global energy revolution unfolded before their very eyes?

Doesn’t their inadequacy unnerve you, especially now when we need grit and far-sightedness at the top? Will we remain forever in Absurdistan?

Today, Rowley repeats the bankruptcy with impunity that “the energy sector remains our best bet!” Worse, he claims he has been “improving production volumes”. What is this man talking about? Oil production has fallen by 27 per cent since 2015, sliding to 55,685 barrels per day in February—the lowest since the 1950s. Natural gas production declined in 2019, and average production to May 2020 was -4.2 per cent lower than 2019.

The prime minister also claims he has been “strengthening our revenue stream, including revising contracts which will boost revenue”. Preposterous! The exact opposite happened.

Rowley did massive damage when he took it upon himself to conduct negotiations with up-streamers.

He produced the higher gas price for down-streamers which led to a full-blown crisis at Point Lisas, five plants closing and three idled. The estate now faces complete collapse. But Rowley seeks to blame the pandemic. Hear him in that interview: “Covid-19 had the effect of further reducing consumption of methanol, urea, ammonia. Some plants in Point Lisas have shut down.” Utterly absurd!

The problem at Point Lisas had nothing to do with any “further” reduction in global consumption. Indeed, before Covid-19, demand for petrochemicals had soared all over the world, especially Asia. It is Rowley’s gas price and his dwindling gas production that put this country in a bind.

And there is more. And worse. The prime minister committed the festering sin of closing down the Petrotrin refinery, delivering a death blow to our energy sector.

After all that damage to the economy and hurt to the citizenry, thousands impoverished on the bread-line, suicides and families destroyed, Rowley claims in that outrageous interview he is “providing quality business in the energy sector”. Wake up, Absurdistan!

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“The work of the desireless doer can rightly be expected to be better than that of one driven by desire for the fruit.”

—The Gita According to Gandhi

At the beginning of last week, a disturbing video began to circulate on social media.

During the last administration I warned “when you lead a nation, you can’t be intellectually lazy”.

You then fail to recognise critical issues, like cancerous social decay eating at the innards of the society; the endemic institutional dysfunctionality cheating citizens of their just due; and the global energy revolution transforming the world economy and reshaping modern life. Your ignorance hurts your country. “When you govern, you have a duty to know.”

When I look back at it, my life that is, the many sharp, unpredictable turns I made that often intersected with the history of my country, I cannot help but feel fated to its destiny, inextricably linked to its history.