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Distinguishing opinion from ‘fact’

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

THOSE leading troops into battle learn from bitter experience to distinguish opinion from “fact,” given the high cost of error.

The proposition that natural resources are a “curse” is not opinion. It is informed by the experience of many countries.

The analysis educates us that, to quote the authors of a recent book entitled Escaping The Resource Curse, that “countries with large endowments of natural resources such as OIL AND GAS often perform worse in terms of economic development and good governance than do countries with fewer resources.”

Authors Humphreys, Sachs and Stiglitz carefully add the caveat “often,” since there are exceptions, including the UK and Norway.

Why do most fail to capitalise on hydrocarbon windfalls?

The easy answer is to blame governments. The more honest explanation is that it is society that is responsible, certainly in democracies, since it takes two to tango!

People who have a deep, compelling need for office will do anything within their power (and the law, most times) to gain and/or retain “high” office.

They opportunistically evaluate what will induce electorate support? If this means promising and delivering (if elected) temporary improvements in living standards, then so be it!

Natural resource-rich countries can raise living standards by squandering windfalls from booming exports. When the boom ends, so do the good times.

The fault lies not with the politicians, or in the stars, but, dear readers, with you and me.

The solution will come when the majority understands that it is “penny wise and pound foolish” to acquiesce in the “blowing” of our temporary inheritance.

Many in T&T now understand this: after the trauma of the 1980s economic bust. Most are not as clear as to the detailed economic choices.

It is the responsibility of those with the professional background and time to learn lessons from the past and share these with the country.

It is the mass media’s responsibility to provide opportunities for such analysis to be disseminated widely.

There is no guarantee of unanimity in proposed solutions to the resource curse. This is healthy and legitimate.

Military commanders do allow debates on strategy, on the condition that contesting strategists show that they have done their homework; amateurs offering just opinion clearly cannot be taken seriously—the stakes are too high.


Constitution reform

It is too easy to seek to replace a sitting government by revealing corruption. This will not persuade the intelligent and conscious voter, educated on our political history, unless there is simultaneous indication of proposals for constitution reform to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for others if elected to do the very same thing.

The PNM’s 1956 electoral victory, for example, was heavily-influenced by the “the Caura dam scandal.” In fact, one of the three pillars of the founding PNM was “Morality in public affairs.”

The NAR’s 1986 victory could be explained to be the outcome, inter alia, of revelations of several scandals during the PNM’s long rule.

The “All ah we tief” 1986 statement by PNM minister Desmond Cartey probably did it for many floating voters.

The UNC’s defeat in 2002 cannot be understood without reference to revelations on corruption in the Piarco Airport project, now vindicated certainly in the USA.

So the PNM gets elected in 1956 on anti-corruption; so does NAR in 1986 (together with unrealistic promises quickly reneged upon), and so does the PNM again in 2002.

Yet, none of these parties has embraced party finance regulations.

If the society is to blame, the solution lies in our taking responsibility for bringing about changes in the nature of governmental decision-making processes to facilitate proper use of temporary hydrocarbon windfalls.

The Constitution Reform Forum (CRF), for example, has identified party finance regulations as central to constitution reform, and has now finalised its proposals (available by e-mail: [email protected] or at

Note: CRF members are not running for office, and have no personal benefits to gain from its proposed constitution reform measures that would not be available to everyone else.

Next Saturday at 2pm, the CRF meets at the Institute of International Relations, UWI, St Augustine, to discuss the way forward.

All are invited.



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