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Galloping dictatorship or delusional planning?

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Friday, May 8, 2009
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Patrick Manning

While global giants like Mittal and Essar Steel are struggling to stay afloat, and while Alcoa is laying off tens of thousands of workers worldwide, our Government is taking another $2.5 billion loan for a state-owned aluminium company. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea has many questions.
Is the public interest being served if there is no independent cost-benefit analysis? Did we not learn from the 1980s that when Plipdeco flagship companies, like Ispat, were being announced by Eric Williams, US steel giants were folding and merging?

While global giants like Mittal and Essar Steel are struggling to stay afloat, and while Alcoa is laying off tens of thousands of workers worldwide, our Government is taking another $2.5 billion loan for a state-owned aluminium company. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea has many questions.
Is the public interest being served if there is no independent cost-benefit analysis? Did we not learn from the 1980s that when Plipdeco flagship companies, like Ispat, were being announced by Eric Williams, US steel giants were folding and merging?

logoBy the end of the 1980s, these failed state enterprises cost the taxpayers $19 billion, and were sold off for a $1.1 billion total, a loss of $18 billion then. In 1980 the world market was slumped far less than it is now. Every citizen suffered the unimaginable losses caused by a global depression, mismanagement and unaccountability, tender manipulation and feeding frenzy of “an all ah we tief” government. Has anything changed?
With Petrotrin’s declared losses for the year ending 2008 of $2.2 billion when the price of oil averaged US$150 a barrel, it is clear that even in times of worldwide boom, state companies under the PNM lose billions. Is it the will of the people to establish this massive loan for another “private” state company with such frightful human consequences? 

To date there is no private sector partner as was rationalised by Prime Minister Patrick Manning recently. Is it not common sense that one does not invest when there is economic collapse of a global sector? There are still unknown gas subsidies, with only 12 years of gas left and there has still been no credible independent cost-benefit analysis. Should our nation invest and subsidise mounting billions into an ailing and seriously degrading industry, with our eyes closed, without analysis or information?

Promises of “thousands and thousands of jobs” by Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon have fallen on the ears of 9,000 villagers who, according to Alutrint’s own medical monitoring plan, stipulates that the workers in the plant would have to be tested every year for cancer and that some 9,000 people living in La Brea, Sobo, Vessigny, Vance River and Union Villages, including new-born babies, would have to be tested every two years for cancer. How many jobs, and how many sick, and at what cost? Responsible officials should not politicise jobs knowing fully well that the facility planned for Trinidad employs 600 when it is complete, and even this was twice as many people as a similar facility in South Africa. Will our Treasury once again be able to afford to subsidise another overstaffed state enterprise?

The ominous facility is to be managed by the son of a known PNM adviser and party activist. Is this a $2.4 billion family gift to be squandered unaccountably as has happened with UTT? The matter of this approval is before the judiciary. Is that of no concern to the PNM Cabinet? Would a democratic leader not wait until the judicial process unfolds? Are we being led as a nation to take the example of China, which does not have democracy and which bulldozes and brutalises opposition? 

No doubt China will benefit from a readily available supply of aluminium, especially at the market forecast for a depressed cycle for the next 15 years. But how will depressed prices benefit T&T, especially since we will have depleted gas reserves, increased medical costs and sick southerners—and an anchor on the neck of the Treasury? Inevitably it’s the population that is at risk of being pauperised by economic mismanagement and poor planning.
In civilised countries matters of such grave public importance go to a referendum. In galloping dictatorships it is quite the opposite. These are matters for the Truth Drummers who will play for change on May 23 at the St James Amphitheatre.