N Touch
Friday 23 August 2019
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More strategic discussion needed

IN NEWSDAY’S reporting and in this opinion space, we have noted the concerns of the Police Commissioner about slow payments for the Police Service. It’s now clear that there are larger issues facing the Treasury as evidenced by the dilemma of councillors at the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation.

Their landlords, rents unpaid for eight months for the buildings used as district offices, now threaten eviction. Indeed, corporation members have been dipping into their own pockets to pay for basics like toiletries for their offices. Even more startling is the revelation by the regional chairman that Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein claimed not to be aware of the situation.

Road crews and infrastructure repair are at a standstill because of a lack of funds, and councillors claim there are more than 100 vacancies attributed to retirement, job abandonment and deaths that remain unfilled. This isn’t a situation that benefits from miscommunication between the metaphorical left and right hands of governance.

The hard numbers on the economy also do not indicate the end to the recession that Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon declared at the TT Manufacturers Association’s AGM on April 2. It was a date that led Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika to declare the minister’s assertion to be an April Fools joke last week.

In a media release, Obika noted that once petroleum and chemical products related to the energy sector are removed from the calculation of local manufacturing sector performance, “the sector has declined by 7.7 per cent since 2015.”

External credit rating agencies have also taken a measured but faltering evaluation of TT’s economic performance. The Standards & Poor’s rating for this country has slipped from A with a negative outlook in 2015 in steady but incremental drops to a 2018 rating of BBB+ with a negative outlook. The country’s rating with Moody’s has followed the same descending spiral.

That fall hasn’t been gentle at all for Tobago, which has been doubly punished by an unfocused effort at winning international visitors and the effective collapse of the sea bridge between the islands for more than two years. The drop in valuable international tourists and the staycation visitors that evened out Tobago’s tourism troughs has been devastating.

The public sector finance strategy could be mistaken for a shell game, moving limited funds around the governance board when fiscal pain points become extreme.

What’s needed now are fewer hopeful declarations of recession’s end and more strategic discussion of how to partner public sector assets with private sector expertise to maximise returns and improve TT’s investment attractiveness.

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