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Dollars and sense
This period of reduced economic and financial activity challenges our claims to nationhood, to being resourceful as a people and community, and our ability to cohere in the interest of not merely seeing this one through to a successful end, but being able to build resilience and comity through it all.
On every previous occasion of challenge in the post-independence period, the national community as a whole has flunked the test. After the boom of the 1970s, we ended up almost penniless; inevitably the wastage and wanton living with no regard for constructing a sustainable economy led the country to the International Monetary Fund. It required another recovery of oil prices on the international market to rescue us. The one nationally based macro-economic initiative came with the monetisation of natural gas and the expansion of the petro-chemicals industry; but this was again energy-based, restricted to one segment of the economy and foreign direct investment.
For the rest of the economy, the dominant initiatives were corruption, gross mismanagement of billions, the failure of the private sector to diversify its operations, the enhancement of productivity in the economy, and the exercise of political ignorance by successive regimes. We are here at the crossroads yet again.
To retain and advance the independence achieved in 1962 requires leadership from the political directorate, inclusive of all political organisations, economic institutions, the labour movement, the national and regional universities; vitally important are the non-governmental organisations and faith-based denominations.
The macro-economic initiatives taken by the Government, by the private sector and state enterprise system will not be the only actions to count; there is the absolute need for widespread dynamic leadership and co-operative action in which people and their communities must be a part.
There is need to rearrange our lives and priorities, and spending must be conceived of as investing our financial and human resources in our collective best interests.
Playing a $3,000 mas’ instead of donning a $6,000 costume makes dollars and sense. It is also in our collective interest to force fete promoters to provide fare for a $600 all-inclusive instead of one for $1,500. Such adjustments will retain economic activity; provide Carnival workers with income, and assure the commercial sector of continued business activity even if at a lower level, but with the commitment to retain jobs and incomes to families.
One good place to start adjusting to the new realities is for the Government to convert its pre-election relationship and understanding with segments of the labour movement (expanded to include all labour groups) and the obvious goodwill it received from the private sector into a viable tripartite agreement. The working relationship must include the credit union and co-operative sector and all segments of the business community to commit to exercising maturity, economic and industrial relations good sense.
Prevailing amongst the groups must be an appreciation that the actions they take can lead to economic sustainability, independence and new vistas of human development, or to another round of bruising unproductive conflict from which no one will emerge without deep scars.
Increased productivity levels of workers must be traded for corporations/business companies to have a reason to accept a cut in profits in the expectation that higher output levels will eventually redound to the interest of the workers themselves, the corporation/company and small and medium-sized enterprises.
While the voice of labour resonates in the negotiating halls, the credit union and co-operative movement must intervene to inform, educate and present workers/citizens with purchasing alternatives. Such creative and responsible action will provide the banking, trading and commercial communities with the kind of competition that will best serve the interests of citizens.
I think of a young Hazel Brown informing and energising home-keepers to purchase wisely; who will replace her?
Transforming tastes and habits from purchasing foreign goods and services will take time and involve a range of activities not least of which will be the production of quality replacements. The reality of the present is that our foreign consumption patterns have provided jobs and the private sector with investment and profits; those lifestyles cannot be immediately withdrawn without leaving tens of thousands of workers without jobs and companies without markets.
As challenging as it obviously will be, there must be an increase in internal savings by individuals and corporations. Those savings will have to be channeled into sustainable economic and financial investment. The financial investment sector must provide savers and investors with opportunities to purchase shares, bonds, and other financial instruments which must be put to productive investment as opposed to imported consumption.
For workers who will inevitably lose jobs, there must be retraining to fit them out for new forms of employment. So too is there the need to make those with jobs and those standing ready to come into the workforce aware of the need to create their own jobs. Transformation of social welfare programmes into productive ventures is a must.
The primary and secondary school education curriculum and university programmes must be transformed to more adequately fit the needs of the workplace. Research and development at our tertiary level institutions have to service this open and dependent economy to become capable of replacing imports and increasing exports.
Fifty years after political independence the challenge of nationhood and self-sufficiency arises again. We cannot sit and wait for a return to high energy prices while we engage in disruptive political and industrial behaviours and personal irresponsibility.
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