Queen’s Park Cricket Club Dinner address
on November 22, 2019
I first wrote to the Wooding Constitution Commission around 1974. I was still a university student. I think I told them that the Constitution needed a complete overhaul. Forty years later, it seems I still think so. But other things also need to be done now.
Much has happened in Trinidad and Tobago society over the last 40 years, and not all of it has been good.
The Wooding Commission was grappling with the convulsions of this fractious society, in the aftermath of Independence.
We had had the Mbanefo Commission, the Industrial Stabilisation Act, replaced with the current IRA after the serious labour unrest in the 1960s. Unemployment was high and rising.
We had Black Power and the so-called February Revolution in 1970 in which thousands, mostly Afro-Trinidadian youth marched and protested the society’s systemic discrimination based on colour and class.
With a few other CIC students I had marched, observed balefully by Fr Gerry Pantin who afterwards stopped teaching and went up into Laventille and founded Servol.
We had NUFF, young men from QRC and CIC and at least one young woman, who took up arms and took to the hills, to be cut down in short order by Randy Burroughs Flying Squad, now reincarnated as Super G’s SORT. One of these young men was a CIC classmate and good friend from Petit Bourg, a stone’s throw from where I grew up in Mt Lambert.
The Wooding Commission made important recommendations, including making the case for proportional representation.
But events overtook the WCC. In 1973, the country was flat on its back. Williams had earlier propounded his party’s Perspectives for the New Society (sounds (familiar?) in response to the Black Power and Labour unrest.
But foreign exchange reserves had fallen to near zero, the international monetary system was in turmoil; Telco poops, the phones didn’t work and Williams wanted to fling his instrument into the Gulf of Paria. (We are not talking iPhone or Samsung S10 here!) There wasn’t much Williams could do to begin to realise the “new society.”
Williams thought he should leave, until Hudson-Phillips said he would take over, and Williams decided to stay. Why?
Because God is a Trini and the OPEC countries had decided to take control of global oil prices. Oil prices soared. The first oil price shock, together with Amoco’s earlier finds of oil and gas, produced rising output of oil and gas, “Money was no longer the problem.”
Crawford wins in Montreal; Penny is crowned Miss Universe; Trinis flock to Miami to flaunt their new found wealth; banks lend like money is going out of style; Trinis build big, big houses on variable rate mortgages.
Labour unions demand, and get, huge wage increases. Johnny Walker Red is not good enough; Old Parr drinking better, and on one Old Year’s Night, there was more than enough champagne to sap the head of the President of the newly-minted Republic.
A new economic model is born—Government harvests the rents from the energy sector and feeds the rest of the society. “Who have more corn, feed more fowl!”
Everybody, nearly everybody, turn yard fowl, looking to eat ah food! My friend and mentor Euric Bobb, who had written his PhD dissertation at Cambridge on Fiscal Policy warned that we needed to be careful.
The timing of his report couldn’t be worse; the second oil price shock came along; and oil production hit 225,000 barrels per day.