Today brings to an end one of the most challenging years Trinidad and Tobago has ever experienced, one that many would like to forget.
2020 will be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic and the 126 citizens who died as a result of the virus.
We have also seen the unfortunate spectre of nationals of this country begging their Government to allow them to come home.
Tens of thousands of nationals have either lost their jobs or seen a reduction in days of work or pay. It has been a hard year.
On a national scale, the country’s economy is expected to have shrunk by double digits, it has run its largest deficit in history and was forced to draw down significant sums from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.
T&T’s debt to GDP ratio has now crossed 80 per cent and the Minister of Finance has warned that next year will be tough with more pressure for foreign exchange and lower government revenue.
When you add to that the challenge of Venezuelan migration and what appears at best a disjointed policy, it is understandable that many would wish the year goodbye.
With the ushering in of a new year, there are at least two groups of people who are likely very worried - those employed in the hospitality and entertainment sectors and those living in south-east Trinidad.
In the case of those in hospitality and particularly in the hotel and tourism sector, there is no end in sight to the closure of the borders. Government has argued that this measure is to keep T&T safe but does not say how this country differs from the rest of the region in keeping its citizens safe from COVID-19.
Barbados has long opened its borders and up until yesterday, had 371 cases with seven deaths. St Lucia has 331 cases with five deaths and Jamaica, which has twice the size of this country’s population, has 298 deaths. In other words, the Government can point to no Caribbean country in which the opening of their borders has led to mass infection or the overrunning of their health care systems and deaths.
It is thus high time the Government puts in place the required safety measures and reopen T&T’s borders. Punishing nationals and favouring others only reduce confidence in our institutions.
For citizens in south-east Trinidad, they have had a public service cut off from them. PTSC has announced that it has stopped the bus service from San Fernando to Mayaro/Guayaguayare because of the poor state of the roadway in that part of the country.
This is particularly vexing, as this is the area that gives so much to this country’s well-being. Every day, almost two billion standard cubic feet of natural gas and 15,000 barrels of oil come from there and yet their roads are deplorable. They have among the highest levels of poverty in the country and if there was ever a case of rural neglect, this is the poster child.
This year might be coming to an end therefore but the problems have only just begun.