THE EDITOR: There was a seeming sense of humility in the presenter in terms of the limited resources we now possess and having a country to run where profligacy, waste and misplaced priorities were, only yesterday, the order of the day. One editor would have seen that humility in terms of “staying the course and keeping one’s head down,” but the question to ask is whether we are closing the stable when the horse has already bolted.
True, covid19 has done its damage, as it has done the world over, but, like the rich child who is never able to see the challenges ahead until it is too late, there was a time when we were virtually swimming in gas and oil money and this to serve a little over a million people. However, we never foresaw the vulnerabilities of our lifeline in energy and the need to diversify for the future.
There was, and still is, tremendous potential for agriculture in terms of small farms run by small farmers supplying the food we seem to so desperately need now, creating in its wake the attendant agro-processing enterprises which in turn would have given rise to a network of employment filling the gap precipitated upon us by the failing energy sector. And there are areas with similar potential like cottage industries and the like, but space forbids me.
The life of any nation is its population at work, for salaried workers can buy and businesses can thrive as a result. But the result of this lack of vision and enterprise is High Street in San Fernando looking like Sunday on a Monday and the once dynamic and thriving Marabella and environs no less. And so many young people bright in their youthful ambition are now without jobs and facing foreclosure, and the average individual is scrambling to make a penny just to live and send their children to school.
The whole rhythm of society, already in the throes of covid19, has been thrown out of compliance by the lack of vision in politicians who indulged their egos and their false sense of security of being an “oil and gas” nation, with no thought of tomorrow and a possible covid19.
But the budget has shown that they are now seeing the error of their ways. Even as they must resort to filling the national coffers off the backs of the people, the most dreaded being the phenomenally jacked-up property tax and a possible indiscriminate hike in fuel price inevitable with private ownership, inter alia – which incidentally is the height of irony since rampant unemployment, etc has diminished the population’s capacity to pay to its barest minimum – they must now turn to the lowly agriculture for our survival.
But is this emphasis on the latter merely words as it has always been and would the funds promised be divested in a way as to produce the desired results? Can you, for example, see a government official visiting farms and observing the technologies in agro-processing or overseeing access roads and bridges and other infrastructure, or ensuring market accessibility for farmers, or promising compensation for losses though floods and the like, or incentivising the workers to become involved in agriculture, as against wearing hard hats and visiting offshore platforms or installations at Point Lisas?
The two can complement each other, but knowing the psychology of oil and gas in this country, can agriculture become the new normal?
As usual, I leave the answer to you.
DR ERROL N BENJAMIN