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Finding our economic stasis

Published: 
Thursday, September 8, 2011
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The subtle modification of the name of the Ministry of Planning, Social and Economic Restructuring, etc, to the Ministry of Planning and the Economy signals a fundamental change in the Government’s short-lived philosophy towards economic development and, hence, its planning. The change backs away from giving the Government the lead strategic role in moving this economy towards an on-shore economy that should in its fledgling stages complement our depleting resource-based offshore sector and eventually replace it. A response for proposals (RFP) from the Ministry of Planning for the Invader’s Bay development project states that this ministry’s role is medium- and long-term economic policy planning. Hence, one would expect that with such a plan in place, any economic development that is government-facilitated or -driven would fall within these policies.

Prof John Spence in a recent contribution in the press claims that he was unable to find, for example, on this ministry’s Web site, a concise statement of its economic development plans: the medium- and long- term economic policy plans. The fallback position of this ministry is that it and its various agencies will be guided by the pillars for sustainable development articulated in the People’s Partnership manifesto—general statements that are far removed from policy directives. The Ministry of Planning and the Economy in the Invader’s Bay project is requesting proposals from the private sector on how it (the private sector) would develop some 70 acres of prime and expensive reclaimed government-owned waterfront property adjacent to the current MovieTowne such that the project will:
• provide jobs
• add value to the service sector and contribute to the living conditions in the area
• generate foreign exchange; facilitate the capital’s coastline
• herald a new age in the development of waterfront urban centres of the region (in keeping with, for example, the signature Darling Harbour of Australia and Docklands in London)

The proposed project is expected to assist in making this country a world-class destination for business and tourism, providing opportunities for economic inclusion and facilitating an era of prosperity for all.
Without any planning policy, the successful project proposal will be approved by the Government, as it were, in vacuo. The current private sector which has traditionally been unable to build an on-shore economy, landing us with a government-assisted low risk petroleum-based plantation economy—one that instead of being wealth-generating has been the vehicle to distribute inequitably the rents generated by the exploitation of our depleting natural resources—is to become the architect of our economic diversification.

Economic development is impossible if the present economic system remains unchanged. It has to be forced to adapt, to destroy some existing entities and connections and make others that are conducive to new competitive/innovative activities in this uncertain global environment. However, this RFP by the Government is about business as usual, confirmed by recent comments from the Ministry of Energy that there is oil and gas aplenty—mimicking Patrick Manning, who told us in his time: why worry we know what we are doing.

No change, just exchange. Prof Bo Carlsson (Case Western University, US) warns us that public policy planners cannot design policies and procedures that point to exact outcomes; not in today’s global uncertainty. He suggests that our planners articulate a lead role for government in the building of an experimentally organised economy, which translates into the implementation of a national innovation system. Extending by complementing Movietowne along the Port-of-Spain Waterfront to look like Darling Harbour without Australia’s economic strength is the same kind of window dressing for which Manning was rebuked.

Victor Darceuil
via e-mail