THE post-covid19 recovery period will present unique socio-economic challenges and opportunities to TT. To gauge the youth perspective on this recovery period, Newsday spoke to three young leaders in three separate fields of study.
With a history of working with marginalised groups through various volunteer efforts and drawing on their areas of expertise, the young leaders shared their feelings on the lack of youth inclusion in post-covid19 planning and what their hopes are for post-covid19 policies.
Chrisette Benjamin – National Youth Parliamentarian and NGO Founder
Aspiring social policy analyst Chrisette Benjamin, 20, studies international relations and social policy planning at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine campus.
In March, Benjamin acted as the Opposition Chief Whip in the 2020 Young Women in Leadership Parliamentary Sitting.
From a social policy perspective, Benjamin said TT’s post-covid19 planning must address disparities amplified during the pandemic.
These disparities include a digital divide, socio-economic inequalities, high dependency on food imports, nepotism, and the negative impacts of a mono-product economy.
“It is imperative that we critically analyse the weaknesses in our social, educational, health and economic institutions prior to and during this global pandemic.
Referring to the government’s post-covid19 Road Map to Recovery team, Benjamin said any true “road map to recovery” must lead the country along a path of sustainable development and start with diversifying TT’s economy.
“It is becoming overwhelmingly evident that having our main source of revenue fixed to an unstable (oil and natural gas) industry is not viable.
“We should revitalise our agricultural industry, improve our export of goods and make further investments in tourism, entertainment and ICT (information and communication technology).”
Benjamin thinks that once the economic benefits from a diversified economy are realised and the prosperity is distributed equally, it can help alleviate socio-economic inequalities, low living standard and the digital divide.
To Benjamin, young people are an important part of TT’s knowledge pool, and their expertise can help in the post-covid19 recovery.
But, with the absence of young leaders in the government’s Road Map to Recovery team, she thinks the pandemic amplified the continued under-representation of young people in national decision-making.
“Our national leaders do not place youth and youth perspectives as high priority on the agenda.
“They hold the notion that youths are the leaders of tomorrow not appreciating that we are also the leaders of today.”
Benjamin said it must be acknowledged that covid19 has placed young people at a disadvantage given its immediate impacts on education, employment, and overall social welfare. She said this alone shows the need for TT’s national post-covid19 planning to reflect the view of young people.
“The United Nations, Commonwealth Youth Council and even TT’s National Youth Policy continuously echo sentiments on the integral role that youth play in developing societies.
“Our youth therefore deserve to have an amplified voice and representation in TT’s post-covid19 recovery.”
Founder of the I Believe in Success (IBIS) Foundation, a student development NGO, Benjamin is working towards someday being the vice present for America and the Caribbean Region at the World Bank.
Ruqayyah Scott – president of the UWI Economics Society
President of the UWI St Augustine Economics Society, Ruqayyah Scott, 20, says the goal of any post-covid19 macroeconomic policy must be to drive consumption and production away from traditional revenue streams towards alternative revenue streams.
In simpler words, TT’s focus post-covid19 should be economic diversification by investing in sectors such as agriculture, technology, alternative energy, entrepreneurship, education, tourism, arts, and culture.
Doing an undergraduate degree in economics at the UWI St Augustine Campus, Scott is head trainer of the Rotary Club of Central Port of Spain’s Model United Nations and writes articles for the Commonwealth Youth Council.
“To achieve economic growth moving forward, TT cannot operate in the same way (before covid19). There is the need for a new normal.
“Covid19 paints the reality in front of us all that now is the time to take serious steps towards diversification.”
To drive the paradigm shift, Scott said now is the time to engage young people in multiple essential productive and skill-driven areas such as agriculture.
Scott is calling for the country to change its attitude towards agriculture and said a reformed skills-driven education sector can help.
“Simply put, we need to become more productive. It requires new ideas and more involvement from the people of TT.
“It requires us to change our system of governance and politics that has us in this economic downfall.”
With covid19 pushing TT towards further technological advancement, Scott said the pendulum swing towards a more technological society should not be temporary.
TT’s “new normal” must see the integration of technology into business processes, education, and the justice system to help further development.
“Covid19 is an opportunity for us to create more resilient economies to future external shocks and take pride in building a nation.”
But Scott notes for diversification the government must be prepared to make bold moves, such as regulating inflation rates to ensure goods and especially raw materials are affordable. This can open more avenues for local production ranging from agriculture to technology.
With a passion for international and development economics, Scott said no country should be left behind due to covid19 and with proper planning, covid19 can chart a new course for many countries.
“I believe that through efficient and effective economic policies we can alleviate much of the world’s economic problems that trickle down into our societal problems.”
Khaleem Ali – UWI Guild Faculty of Law Representation, Youth Parliamentarian and NGO Founder
Khaleem Ali, 21, calls on TT to use its post-covid19 recovery period as a springboard to economic diversification through sectors like technological innovation, and agriculture.
A 2019 National Youth Parliamentarian and a law student at the UWI St Augustine Campus, Ali said post-covid19 TT cannot continue to focus its efforts on oil and gas production.
“We must not merely diversify by adding another industry but by adding more industries in relevant areas to ensure maximum opportunities for economic growth.
“Some of these industries include creative arts, green energy, agriculture and technological innovation. These areas should be on the mandate for where we invest and increase our efforts.”
Ali said socio-economic fallouts from the pandemic can be the catalyst for a Ministry of the Future and Sustainable Development.
The ministry’s purpose will be to assist public and private institutions to make their operations more sustainable in areas like technology, operating cost, and energy-use.
Focusing on TT’s future through the lens of sustainable development can see greater efficiency through digitised government services, reduced socio-economic disparities and greater food security with reduced food imports.
On the post-covid19 Roadmap to Recovery team, Ali does not think it sufficiently represents a youth or grassroot perspective.
To Ali, covid19’s effects move beyond the short-term and into the long-term which underscores the importance of planning from diverse perspectives.
“The committee is comprised mainly of male, businessmen who are high ranking officials in society.
“Youths should have a say in the future they are to inherit. It is often said young people don’t do anything, but we are excluded from the discussion, most times.”
A former president of UWI’s Law Society and the current faculty of law representative on the campus’ Guild of Students, Ali has future political ambitions.
“My passion for politics stems from the idea that we must be the change that we want to see.”
Ali is also the founder of Project Smile, an NGO with a focus on developing youth leadership.