A friend of mine who was once a part of government of T&T told me recently that when an administration wants to do something it can get it done in a matter of weeks, but when it is forced to act and does not want to, it often sets up a committee.
As I thought about this it made perfect sense why there are so many reports that get done and sit idly while as a country we are diminished for not acting upon them.
In fact, our failure to take the requisite action then leads to a deepening of the problem and another committee set up to look at the worsening problem. In other words, a self contrived and facilitated crisis of paralysis.
In 2015 when the Keith Rowley administration took office it was dealt a bad hand. It had come to power on the backs of a high spending UNC administration that had saddled the country with large budgets, built on strong energy prices and increased debt.
The country had become accustomed to increased transfers and subsidies that started under the Manning regime as the money from Atlantic LNG, larger gas production and petrochemicals masked the inefficiencies in the society and economy and allowed the luxuries of programmes like CEPEP.
Rowley came in a year after crude prices started on what now seems like its permanent decline in value and when the failed bid rounds and limited exploration success was beginning to impact not only the amount of gas available but the margins that the upstream companies were reporting to their shareholders. So yes let’s accept that the government was dealt a bad hand.
Realising the challenge, well at least we thought so, Dr Rowley brought together some of the country’s best economic minds led by Dr Terrence Farrell to look at T&T’s challenges and develop plans on how we can have a sustainable economy.
The Economic Development Board worked diligently and made several recommendations to the government, needless to say that after it was clear the government had no interest in meaningful change and the Finance Minister Colm Imbert would not implement their measures they resigned and the Rowley administration neither implemented the recommendations nor even allowed it to be debated and ventilated in the public square.
You see this kind of behaviour is only possible in a country that sees democracy limited to the ballot box and an administration and ruling party in which the old adage that “not a dog must bark” is alive and well. So Robert Le Hunte disagrees strenuously with the Prime Minister on policy, he suddenly moves from being a highly sought after minister to one that is not good enough to be a candidate in a constituency that he clearly had significant support.
Five years after being dealt a bad hand the Rowley administration still has not articulated a strategy to take the country forward. For a year there was a great deal of interest in tourism, all the talk was about the Sandals and Beaches hotels that were to be constructed in Tobago. The charge was led by the man from Mason Hall and when that failed he appeared to have walked away, as if to say if there is no Sandals then this challenge is either too much for me or beneath men.
Five years passed and all the numbers went in the wrong direction. At the end of 2015 the country had US $9.3 billion in reserves in the Central Bank that came down to US $6.9 billion at the end of last year.
Debt to GDP was 50 per cent it is now 71.1 per cent according to the Central Bank. Government revenue moved from $56 billion to $45 billion. In other words nothing the government has done should give us confidence that they will steer us out of what is a worsening economic situation.
Then came 2020 and the COVID-19 challenge.
Already faced with a weakened economy, T&T is now dealing with a crisis, the likes of which the world has not seen.
The government appeared to initially handle the health challenge well. It communicated with the population, got buy in, worked with the business community and progress appeared to be made. I wrote in this very space that if the government continued to engage the business community and country it will auger well for the future.
It did not appear to last very long. Another committee was again formed. The roadmap to recovery committee. Again some of the nation’s best minds were brought together. Again the Rowley administration got people to serve their country and from all we see again it is likely that their recommendations will be left on the paper they were written.
This brings me to the spotlight on the economy that the government will have next week. This time the country is being invited to sit in their living room and look at TTT, another loss making state enterprise, as the government tells us once again that it has been dealt a bad hand.
For five years it bemoaned the bad hand it had been dealt and the profligate spending of the UNC and did not rise to the challenge of charting a new economic course for the country. Now we are going to once again be told of the challenging circumstances as the government tries to buy time.
This spotlight in the economy, we are told, is not dissimilar to the spotlight on energy in which the country looked at the state of the sector.
Well if we are to judge by the success of the spotlight on energy and expect similar success in the economy then we are in for even more difficult times.
Since the spotlight on energy what has happened?
Natural gas production has failed to recover to the 4.1 billion cubic feet per day that the Rowley administration met in 2015 even though both Mr Imbert and Energy Minister Franklin Khan tried to fudge the numbers in the last budget.
Since the spotlight on Energy Dr Rowley et al made their famous Houston trip and following that we had higher gas prices that has now led to several plants on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate shutting down.
Since the spotlight on energy crude production has not improved, in fact it has continued to fall and the country has seen the closure of the Point a Pierre refinery.
Since the spotlight on energy the country has had another failed near-shore bid round and no deep water bid rounds.
What we need is a spotlight on performance. We need a spotlight on a strategy. We need a spotlight on efficiency and we need a spotlight on government performance.