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Chamber head: Embrace the current crisis

By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, April 20 2017

Trinidad and Tobago is in crisis. This is the view of new President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Ronald Hinds in his inaugural speech recently.

Explaining his position, he said, “The crisis that is facing Trinidad and Tobago today is no ordinary one. It is not just an economic crisis, but political and social as well – it is multi-dimensional in scope. And it will require a great degree of wisdom and resolve as a people to challenge the status quo and to quite literally reshape our future.”

In a sober and realistic way he sought the permission of the audience, to show them what exactly confronts the nation. He said, “On the economic front, the fall in gas and oil have decimated the national budget and cut foreign exchange earnings. Tax revenues fell from a peak of $57.2B in 2013/14 to $38.7B estimated for 2016/17 (-31%).

“Current expenditure,” Hinds continued, “for the same period wwas $54.4B and $48.4B. A current account surplus of $2.7B becomes a current account deficit of $9.7B. Public sector debt now stands at $11.9B or 56% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). We are grappling with declining economic activity, foreign exchange shortages and lowered business confidence.”

Moving to the political and governance situation, Hinds said we are witnessing the near collapse of almost every institution of governance and service delivery by the State and he specifically pointed at policing and security, health services, transportation, including the inter-island air and sea bridges, and in nearly every aspect of public service deliver was in crisis.

Speaking to the social issues, he said, “This collapse is being increasingly manifested through worsening crime, including increased brutality and violence and crimes against women. This is all side by side with no improvement in detection and prosecution and if we accept the alarming statistics provided in the recent debate on the Indictable Offences Bill, our courts are inadequately equipped to handle the volume of matters that come before it. Add to that a troubled education system struggling with bullying and school violence.”

Despite these failures, we have managed to survive, and at times even prosper… we are running out of options to postpone resolution of these critical issues.”

Using a quote from the American economist Paul Romer “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” he encouraged people to embrace it. “As a country,” Hinds said, “we have failed to transform ourselves because we somehow considered that we had a choice to turn back or not go forward, unless our back is against the wall or as we heard recently, only if the sky was falling in. Well, if we do nothing or simply keep doing what we did before, the sky will fall in. I want to submit that there is an urgent need to change.”

“In changing the course that we have identified today, we hope to attract the energy of our members and indeed new members to the important task of nation building. This is something that we obviously cannot do alone but neither do we want to. Let’s offer ourselves as the first to change and let’s look for the others to follow. That’s what leaders do,” Hinds end.

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