What does Dr Keith Rowley’s rebuke of the civil servants and the closure of Chaguanas’ MovieTowne have in common? Are these connected to the car tax exemptions furore? Why is there chatter about the foreign exchange rate and fear of liquidity and solvency for businesses and our Government alike? Our situation is the result of the economic policies adopted, and the poor performance of our elites.
The country has been a major gas and oil producer, but great social and economic disparities persist. It is connected to the global world with major global oil and gas players resident here, but large numbers of citizens experience unpleasant lives.
The main commodities, sugar then oil, were always linked to the global economy through the ownership of the dominant companies and the financial markets.
The government adopted the position of allowing the companies free rein, collecting royalties. The government, and we, saw its job as running the country and sharing freebies.
As a response to the 1970s, the government nationalised and created state enterprises, which largely became pools of inefficiencies supported by the resources that remained at the government’s disposal. Apart from the National Gas Company (NGC), there was little attempt at creating an engine of growth.
In the 1980/90s, we switched to the use of a singular lens—financial—to evaluate the decisions for the society, and were most interested in suppressing inflation, even while inflicting great social costs. Flush with the benefit of the OPEC dominance, we adopted the use of financial measures and stock prices as the main indicators of societal performance. The underprivileged were pulled into a “devil take the hindmost” race.
The distribution of wealth changed dramatically. There was an influx of overseas financial players to participate in what was a happy “perfect storm”—high oil and gas prices meeting new success in exploration.
In so doing, we proved that Joseph Stiglitz was right: growth can lead to an increase in poverty, even while bringing enormous benefit. A core economic principle espoused was “money is no problem” and that one more oil or gas find was all we needed.
By 2008, then-prime minister Patrick Manning and his chief business sidekick floated the idea of a private executive jet. Raffique Shah rebuked the move—“ostentation is not something to be tolerated in a society still riddled with poverty”. The Caribbean Airlines chair incredibly retorted the non-acquisition of the jet would not mean “the immediate acquisition of more hospital beds”!
But we were not outraged. We could afford a hamburger that quadrupled in price when served at MovieTowne, Invaders Bay. Neither did the local manufacturers need exports. Everything good.
This is why we missed the 2014 performances by Drs (Roodal) Moonilal and Rowley, both ably egged on by Mr Colm Imbert, advocating for their right to car exemptions as the Salaries Review Commission got “fierce political backlash... in a rare show of unity”.
The Salaries Review Commission job evaluation recommendation never got support. We were busily and quietly raping the NGC and squandering the dividends paid. “If the priest could play, who is we?” chimed in the public service. Nobody cared about productivity.
How do we fix this? We have to fix the CSO/NSITT. We have to implement the procurement regulations. We could take a page from Jamaica and institute a score card, like them, find the requisite fiscal space.
Discipline, tolerance, and production are still useful watchwords. Who will lead?