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Time for austerity

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Last week (September 8), the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission here in London hosted a Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony as part of our celebrating 50 years of independence. Kudos to the team at the High Commission who put together a varied and entertaining programme in which our multicultural identity was acknowledged.



It was the perfect evening to reflect on the situation in Trinidad and Tobago. I was also pleased that the keynote address included among other things, a recognition of the role played by Dr Eric Williams in the independence movement. Awards were given to people and organisations that were deemed to have positively contributed to the promotion and development of Trinidad and Tobago. It was truly a good evening.


In terms of those helping to promote Trinidad and Tobago internationally, Nicki Minaj is now a name on everyone’s lips. Recently however, my wife drew to my attention some online chatter about her political affiliations. On Lil Wayne and DJ Drama’s new mix tape, she apparently endorses GOP candidate Mitt Romney. I found that to be quite interesting because it is so counter to our Trini mentality.



In the US and the UK, the two main political parties are more or less distinguished by their left vs right leaning. While in sweet Trinidad and Tobago, the two main political parties are both traditionally left leaning. It probably surprises some outsiders that both political parties actually campaign over who will give away more stuff once elected.


I may not necessarily agree with Minaj’s presumed political stance but it is hard to argue against the need for austerity measures given the present global economic situation. Most will agree that if President Obama loses November’s election, it would primarily be due to the state of the economy.



In neighbouring Caribbean islands there are governments struggling on a month-to-month basis to pay public sector workers. There are neighbouring islands being downgraded by the international rating agencies for their weakening economies.  Earlier this year there was also the spectre of a neighbouring island losing full control of their own airport.



For those who are unaware, earlier this year the financial difficulties of the government of Grenada made international news as the EXIM Bank of Taiwan obtained judgment against that country for outstanding loans in a lawsuit filed in the United States.  The bottom line was that airlines operating on the Grenada route were asked to pay monies owed to the Grenada Airports Authority directly to the Taiwanese.


So contrast this wider context with the rhetoric expressed by some in the local labour movement. It all, of course, makes sense in a society where the notion that salary increases, should be in any way tied to actual productivity, is considered absurd. I will probably get my fair share of angry emails for even suggesting this apparently insane concept.  Just to be clear, I am not speaking about allegations that the negotiation process itself is being disrespected. Rather, I am disappointed that the rhetoric of the unions include demands for increases without a clear connection with actual productivity.


This absence of a connection with productivity has the potential to worsen the already double digit inflation rate.  Overall inflation hovers around 10 per cent or 11 per cent and food price inflation in particular, which is the primary driver, seems to be consistently over 21 per cent.  In this climate, the Government obviously needs to be careful about exacerbating the economic situation which will definitely cost them the next election.


Moving away from wage demands, it comes as no surprise that downsizing Gate is rumoured to be among the coming cuts.  Here in England, I was quite disappointed when the new coalition government eliminated most tertiary education subsidies and actually raised the fees payable. With three sons, should they decide to attend university here, it would not be a cheap process for us. But given the worsening economic situation, I do not believe that the government here had much of a choice, and for the most part, it is accepted that there must be sacrifices.


My theory is that most reasonable people have no problems with any government cutting spending.  What people have a problem with, is when they perceive that they carrying an unfair share of the sacrifice. No one wants to feel cheated.  So my suspicion is that like in the US where the Occupy Movement promotes the idea of greater equality, in Trinidad, a large part of the frustration is the perception that there is a business and political elite that appears to be unaffected by austerity cuts and the double digit inflation rate. My name is Derren Joseph and despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Read more on


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