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Thursday 24 May 2018
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Commentary

Should we smile?

CLYDE WEATHERHEAD

“Do you know how many people are upset that the oil price has gone up? Accusing the Government of wanting to live off the oil price, as if we should apologise for that? If the price goes up, shouldn’t the citizens have a smile on their face?”

– PM Dr Keith Rowley

OIL PRICE rising. Should we smile?

The world prices for oil are rising for every quality of crude. For TT, this means that Thursday’s price was about US$74 a barrel.

Well, that’s good news, isn’t it? Certainly, our Prime Minister thinks we should not apologise for “wanting to live off the oil price.”

In a way, he is right, isn’t he? After all, oil and gas are the country’s biggest sources of value and revenue.

We are in an economic depression, caused by the steep fall in the very prices of oil and gas since 2014, they say.

So, any bounce back in the prices of our most precious commodity should mean that “we might be coming out of this rough patch,” as our PM says.

Well, one problem is — we are not producing more oil.

The oil price rise, then, means more revenue, but actually no better production. But as the Finance Minister told us on Thursday, gas production is increasing, though gas prices are not.

Therefore, revenues are increasing because of oil and gas. This is good news, the logic goes.

Notwithstanding that despite increased gas output growth is still negative (our GDP is still falling), though slightly less so. And despite increased gas revenues (from more production) and oil revenues (from price rises), the budget is still in deficit by over $4 billion and that because we are topping up with one-off asset sales (like Clico assets) and mounting public debt (now more than 70 per cent of GDP).

The economy is still in bad shape. But it is “stable” and “on track for recovery,” the Finance Minister says, “as long as we as a people are disciplined and productive.”

All official speak for endure more offloading of the burden through increased taxes, higher prices, higher debt burden, no pay increases etc.

So should we still smile?

Not being, individually, owners of oil or gas fields, refineries or processing plants, perhaps we may not.

But we must consider why oil prices are on the way up. Is it just another point in the cycle of boom and bust, of rising and falling prices due to “market conditions?”

If it were that simple, perhaps it would not be of too great concern.

But there are other issues. The simplest is that current oil prices are only where they were in January 2015. And given a number of factors, they are not likely to increase much higher. Nor are the increases likely to last.

Examining matters more deeply, the recent increases have come with the threat or the actual unleashing of missiles by the US and Israel against Syria.

And more recently in anticipation of the US pull-out of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Thursday, missiles flew into Syria from Israeli and Iranian rockets were launched from Syria, it is reported.

Does our economic fortune depend on wars and rumours of war in the Middle East? Is the potential or actual unleashing of missiles and bombs and the attendant destruction and death to be regarded as our “good news?”

Or should citizens not “have a smile on their face” — “if the (oil) price goes up,” as our Prime Minister suggests.

Should we smile? Should we, if our fortune depends on the misfortune of others?

Should we, as citizens of the world, not have a care or concern if the cause of our “good news” is but a continuation or new round of destructive and murderous war against fellow members of the human race?

Or are we to be so uncaring and smile at our good luck?

We are already numbed at the daily news of murderous death within our shores.

Let us not, for the sake of “good fortune,” not now become unconcerned for the well-being of others.

Let us not lose our humanity in rejoicing at the smallest, even temporary fleeting or even illusory improvement in our condition which may even be a mirage in the desert of our economic crisis and the inability of our present societal construct to provide for our most important needs.

For our sake, I join John Lennon ... and imagine.

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