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Sunday, August 6, 2017

If I had the luxury to look on as a dispassionate, non-involved observer come down from Mars, I would conclude that T&T is heading for another economic dead end, and social tumult, from which it would be difficult for citizens and institutions to extricate themselves without deep conflict.

But putting on the hat of a Trinbagonian, knowing something about ourselves, our resources, those which are apparent and those beneath the surface that we daily trample on without exploring and utilising, I would say that we do have the wherewithal to ameliorate our condition in the immediate and medium term, to lay down the foundation for future growth, development, and most importantly, to establish the human condition for transformation.

On Friday, the combined trade union movement and others in their Armageddon march and platform of thunder huffed and puffed, and threatened to blow the house down if their demands are not met.

Ironically, as one element of the threat, OWTU President General, Ancel Roget, called for action which would effectively throw thousands of workers on the “breadline”, in the process adding to the havoc being caused, as he would analyse it, by the business community and the Government sending home workers.

Further, the union leaders issued calls for Government to meet back payments, and to conclude outstanding negotiations favourably to workers.

“The workers are not the ones who have caused the crisis; and it is not us who should suffer because of it,” is a call that is familiarly made by union leaders at times like the present.

With regard to making policy decisions about spending, about drafting economic plans, about the direction of economic development programmes adopted by governments, and the follow through on that by the business community, there is validity to that mantra of the unions.

However, unions and their membership also contributed to low levels of productivity as identified by international and local agencies; they too were in “Miss McCarthy party.”

The point I make here without the long detail of mismanagement, poor decisions, the failure of entrepreneurship, the absence of dynamic government policy to transform the nature of the economy, and the malaise of segments of workers throughout the economy, is that we have all contributed to our arriving at the dead end of the road.

Offering some hope, the report of the International Monetary Fund of August 2017 notes that the “economy continues to face challenges stemming primarily from the sharp declines in global energy prices, combined with a fall in natural gas and oil production, the economy may be starting to turn a corner as a result of a projected recovery in gas output”.

The IMF economic and statistical figuring may be correct however, it does not deal with how we have managed the resources and revenues drawn from the “good times,” and our social and political behaviours during the 1990s-2010.

My contention is that even if oil and gas prices were to skyrocket tomorrow, at the end of another feast, we will land ourselves back in the same position that we are in today if there is no transformation of attitudes to social and economic development.

The time for change, if T&T as an economy and society is to move into a period of sustainable growth and development, is now.

But to achieve the potential that lies within our grasp, the IMF has urged further “containment of current expenditure,” especially expenditure that will push the total debt and debt repayments of the economy to unsustainable limits.

But ultimately, according to the IMF, there is “the need for an increase in capital investment to set the stage for a lasting recovery in economic growth and for economic diversification.”

There is nothing startling or original about what the IMF has said. Our local economic thinkers have been saying the same for decades; what is more, what has been advocated is apparent for all to see.

The issue remains with us as a society: do we really have the capacity to make the about-turn required?

In the present circumstances, it seems clear, and the only logical path to avoid the possibility of another doomsday, is that we adopt a collaborative effort.

Early in 2016, the Government, employers and the unions established the National Tripartite Advisory Council.

There is little information on how discussions at the Council proceeded and what have been the difficulties. What is certain is that little has been achieved.

In recognition of the failure to pursue the tripartite route, the International Labour Organisation in the Caribbean, situated here in T&T, has offered its offices to broker the possibility of the three sides coming to the table to work through the problems.

“Tripartism that works is an excellent method to find that sweet spot where consensus is reached among Governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations; but to reach this win-win situation, all the parties must be willing to come to the table and engage in meaningful discussion,” says Claudia Coenjaerts, ILO director for the region.

“In times of economic hardship, such consensus is more important than ever.”

OWTU President General Roget, amidst the thunder, has asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Rowley.

It should be an opportunity for the PM to either widen the meeting to include business, or to meet with labour as a route to restarting the tripartite forum.

The country is running out of options.


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