At yesterday's RBC Financial (Caribbean)'s Breakfast Seminar on "The Trinidad and Tobago Economy: Risks, Opportunities and Outlook", two financial experts indicated that the Trinidad and Tobago Government look towards cutting down various subsidies by the State in order to address economic issues. Well it's only a matter of time really.
For fifty years, since the discovery of oil and later, the sale of natural gas, successive political parties have used the Treasury to induce a welfare state in order to manipulate a voting public. We've had life pretty sweet with subsidised power, gas, free education....the list is quite long. It is instructive to note that Singapore, a mangrove ridden country with few natural resources went from third world to first world nation status in their fifty years of independence. We, on the other hand, invented a musical instrument.
Not that we seem to be in any way averse to getting handouts mind you. We have a huge sense of entitlement, Trinidadians are the first to bleat when anything is taken away, never mind the reasoning. Older people still blame the late Dr. Eric Williams who was alleged to say, "money is no problem". Considering that he never actually said the words, and we've had at least 3 generations who only know of him as a historical figure, this is pretty weak reasoning to continue that school of thought.
The global financial landscape has changed, the world moves in real time due to ever growing access to information and communications. These days all kinds of people are accessing the power of the internet, it is now keep up if you want to compete. Survival of the most cunning and media savvy. And so to the subsidies. There are many reasons for and against.
The current business climate in the country can charitably be described as stagnant. For the last two years we have had negative growth, an oxymoron really, how can you use negative and growth in the same sentence? The Central Bank Governor has gone through great verbal gymnastics not say that we are in a recession, except that everything he's said points to just that. The Business community, some of the most risk averse people around, have said they are not surprised by his pronouncements.
The question then begs to be asked, if you are not surprised, what are you doing to ensure that your business is positioned correctly? How are you engaging the Government to offer meaningful suggestions on tackling the problems? How are you treating with your customers and staff to ensure that they continue to support you? So far there seems to be little evidence of this kind of thinking but I'm always willing to be corrected.
And then there's the Government themselves. Have they clearly articulated plans with attached implementation dates for mechanisms that will stimulate the economy? What about the much talked about Public Sector reform to enable better access to government services? One such mechanism, ttBizLink has been around for more than a year, slowly coming on, one painful module at a time.
There is no doubt that subsidies will have to go, but this will be brutal unless carefully timetabled. Government will have to operate more efficiently, businesses will have to streamline their processes, become leaner, effective and the people of Trinidad and Tobago might finally wake up and realise that, no, God is not a Trini. The irony in this is there are many Trinidadians doing ground breaking things, in science, literature, art, and tourism, but they're mostly doing it on their own, against punishing odds.
Sadly, until there is collective recognition that we need to change; to respect people's time, intellectual property, boundaries, we as a nation will constantly be stuck in a rut. We cannot continue to go along as if life is one big fete. So while the country collectively waits to see the outcome of the next Cabinet re-shuffle, the second in as many years, there will be obligatory "celebration" this week of Indian Arrival Day. Here's a novel thought, perhaps we need less public holidays, less "celebrations" and more concentrated effort.