In what seems as a direct response to world-renowned economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Prime Minister Patrick Manning has virtually dismissed concerns over diversification of the economy from oil and gas.
Manning said even though T&T was hit hard from the fall in energy prices after the global financial crunch, he doesn't know there was cause for any due concern. He boasted that Standard and Poors, an international credit-rating agency, had given T&T a good credit rating. The PM's comments came hours after Nobel Economics Prize winner, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, questioned whether investments were being made in the area of sustainable economic diversification versus industrialisation. He was concerned about how long gas reserves would last. He made the statements at the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) Tuesday morning, where he was a key speaker and Manning also was present. At a "gala dinner", hosted by Manning, aboard the Serenade of the Seas cruise ship later that night, Manning centered his address around Stiglitz's comments.
After greeting the professor, among others, who was seated at his dinner table, Manning began: "Tonight, before coming here, I saw Stiglitz in full flight on the news. "He cautioned us (about declining gas reserves) and spoke about the need to begin to diversify from oil and gas." Noting that this was "a hot topic in T&T," the PM then took Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, Director General, Commonwealth Business Council, Dr Mohan Kaul, and Cabinet Members, who were present at the dinner, back to the year 1905. He said: "In 1967, 1970, 1971, I worked with Texaco and had a chance to view some files that I came upon, which were left by the company's then chief geologist. "It explained that oil was about to run out and if the company was to have a future, there was a need to diversify from oil. "That report was dated 1905." Manning further pointed out that, recently, T&T celebrated 100 years in the petroleum industry. "When prices (energy) fell after the financial crisis, we were very hard hit," he informed the business guests.
"Last year, we had a budget of $45 billion and a deficit of $7.5 billion. The deficit this year is $7.8 billion. "But I don't know that this gives us cause for any due concern." What was of great concern, Manning said, was the economic state of our Caribbean neighbours. He said: "Almost every Caribbean country is at the doorstep of the International Monetary Fund. "In contrast, however, T&T has been very fortunate again. Standard and Poors had put us on watch and they have removed the watch. "We ended up with good credit-rating in the midst of the financial crisis. This is something we're very proud of." He said: "To try to assist our Caribbean neighbours, we have put in place a Petroleum Fund. I believe it was US$79 million last year. "I think some of it has gone in assisting our Caribbean partners. It is our intention to take it forward on grant funds." Manning's concerns then shifted to poverty on the African continent. "We made an offer initially to seven countries in West Africa to lend technical advice and expertise at no cost to them," he said. Now East African countries also were interested and Manning said he believed the offer also was made to two countries in this region. "T&T is a small country but we have some very ambitious targets for our own country," he said, before switching to the topic of the country's beautiful women.
"One advantage of T&T's ethnic mix is that we have produced very beautiful women," Manning said, eliciting loud laughter from his guests. He listed T&T's Miss World and Miss Universe wins, and remarked: "I won't be surprised if we win again. "We don't only have oil and gas. We have beautiful women, world class Carnival and a country rich in culture." The recently-completed Academy for the Performing Arts also was given special mention. He said: "Three weeks ago, T&T possessed one of the most advanced opera houses in the world. "Shanghai Construction Company said it exceeded the Sydney Opera House, the concert hall in Shanghai and the national theatre in Beijing.
"I am grateful that Almighty God has smiled on us," Manning added.