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Sobering after the fete

Thursday, January 5 2017

As a country, we face 2017 with a mixture of hope and apprehension; hope that this year would provide us with opportunities to seize on, and apprehension about the many developments which could have an adverse effect on our lives. To start the year, there are two issues to which we should pay attention: one relates to the specifics that should be contained in an economic plan to derive economic growth in the non-energy sector, and the other is the labour impasse at Petrotrin the.

Perhaps the first may be considered more of a medium-term project. Certainly, the key principles must include diversification of the economy henceforth removing dependence on oil and gas. However, emphasis has to be placed on getting both the manufacturing and services sectors engaged. In this regard, consideration has to be given to providing incentives to the non-energy sector that allow them to target the local market, reduce the carbon foot print in production and introduce new technologies and processes to attract customers. Indeed, the involvement of the tertiary level institutions to adapt technologies both to local needs and the environment, is essential.

It would also be useful to provide incentives to businesses to be part of the green imitative from every sector allowing tax free exemption of capital equipment as well as imports of raw materials for the first year. Consideration can be given to provide incentives to substitute intermediate products with locally produced ones. Such backward linkages have to be exploited. This means establishment of enterprises which do the detailed research and provide advice on sourcing materials as well as information about goods and services that are in demand. Understanding linkages requires government support as markets are not efficient at making information available in a timely manner. This is just one example but the idea can be extrapolated across the non-energy sector. The potential, with consultation, is staggering.

The other area that needs our attention is the Petrotrin strike which should raise serious concern for us all. This is by no means an attempt to make comments of negotiating strategy or posturing. The Union, Petrotrin’s Board and the Government are charged with various responsibilities. It is here that questions arise. What is the debt profile of Petrotrin? Is the company solvent? What is the state of finances of this company? What are the salaries in this company compared with similar skills operating in other sectors? Is Petrotrin overstaffed for a company of its size? Is employment creation using state entities a requirement in 2016? Has there been a paradigm shift? Of course, for the government, what is the national plan and how does Petrotrin fit into this plan? The answers to these questions are important. This must not be a case of the cement company all over again. A company burdened by debt, whose finances are bad, must attempt to address wages in the context of their ability to pay. One expects reason and good sense to prevail and not, as is the developing point of view, holding the country to ransom. That is not to say that the workers as citizens must not ask what is in their best interest. We need to answer the question as to whether “incentives” to the energy sector, which already experiences higher than average wages, fit in to the drive to diversify away from oil and gas? At a time of low energy prices and a debt-ridden company - is this the time for this approach. Are increased wages the only focal point of a union? The government also has to respond with an appropriate wages policy. Is there a standard wage increase policy? Indeed a sober start to the year.



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