While a pandemic distracts us poor state-enterprise governance continues

TSTT House on Edward Street, Port of Spain. - FILE PHOTO
TSTT House on Edward Street, Port of Spain. - FILE PHOTO

A headline in the morning paper contains a prediction that the economy will return to 2019 status by the end of the year. I read and I pause. What does that mean exactly?

One of the things carefully not included in the school curriculum is how to distinguish opinion from facts.

An example is that there will be enough vaccines for all citizens in TT by the end of May. Another is that the vaccine will protect you from getting covid19 in the first place. That our economy will return to 2019 levels by December 2021. What are the facts on which that opinion is based?

As I am sure every Trini with even a tangential interest in our declining economy knows by now, the price of Brent crude has gone up 97 per cent this year over the same day last year.

But maybe people don’t know. There was a time when checking the price of Brent crude was a habit parallel to checking to see if rain was forecast, because everyone was so concerned about how the economy affected our lives.

Since the energy ministry decided oil was on the decline and local energy companies were no longer profitable, tax revenues were not worth the cost of production and the answer was to pay workers severance and close down the companies, I no longer check.

Few people do; we have all been seduced into checking how many people were tested for covid19 yesterday instead, although no useful figures are released relating to community or age spread that can be used by businesses that want to devise growth areas in the economy.

Certain essential services have not lost income, such as electricity and water, health, telecommunications, as their charges are fixed by government regulations. Their employees have not been sent home because of covid. But their service levels have not improved.

Let me give you a small example. Where I live there is a widowed woman in her eighties. She fell recently, as people her age sometimes do, and damaged her foot so she could not walk on it.

One of her children calls her daily to check on her and see if she needs anything. But as phone bills are not sent in the mail any more by TSTT, she got behind in her payments and the phone service was cut off. When her daughter could not get a response by phone, she panicked and went flying over to see her mother, discovered what the problem was and promptly paid the bill for her.

The service will be restored within 48-72 hours, she was assured. That was five weeks ago. The service has not been restored, although it was reported on five different occasions. Every time she has been assured that it would be restored within 48-72 hours.

“It is a technical problem,” her son was told when he went in person to report it. “It will be corrected within 14 days."

So they bought their mother a cell phone and registered it with Digicel. It works well. Problem solved and they don’t really need bmobile, which is government-owned and run.

There's a growing realisation that Dr Trevor Farrell was right about the collapse of the energy industries when he said: “All have their roots in state-enterprise governance driven by political and not by economic or business imperatives.”

The real function of these state entities is not to produce an efficient service but to distribute the "rents."

It seems to be everything from licensing to the port to customs to immigration to CAL to the seabridge. Everything that is needed to support business or commerce.

Dr Farrell went on: "So the logical question is: why don’t our governments fix the state-enterprise governance system? The answer is partly because it sustains political patronage and corruption, partly because it buys off the trade unions, and partly because of inertia..."

One might well ask: haven’t we been warned about the pernicious effects on society of poor state-enterprise governance?

Well, we have, of course. Over and over. But we look for help from those in high political office – who created and sustain the governance system – for solutions to the problems they caused. And then we wonder why nothing changes. Could it be they do not know how?

The energy organisations that generated the vast incomes TT once earned have been sold. We are no longer an oil economy producing that rapidly escalating Brent crude income; we are now trying to reverse history by hoping to generate that lost income through gas, but led instead into the transfer pricing that ensured that that could never happen. You will remember the legendary claim that doctors don’t get punished for their mistakes, they bury them. Government-appointed negotiators don’t pay for their mistakes, either. There are attempts to cover up poor judgement, but no penalties are ever applied.

WASA has lost the country and its people at least as much over the years and as the man in charge said in another context: “Nobody rioted.” He is right. Nobody did.

Fortunately the pandemic came along and distracted everyone’s attention to opinions on life, death, the seriousness of flu symptoms and government’s opinions on issues surrounding health.


"While a pandemic distracts us poor state-enterprise governance continues"

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