The government sets this country to sail on a $57.7 billion budget (($56.2 billion revenue), hoping that things “will get better” soon. Government foreign exchange is living on the fluctuating fortunes of oil and gas, with no firm fall-back safety net yet, further weakened by increasing non-productive expenditures.
Plugging one hole seems to open others. Repeated gas price increases generate severe downstream hardships, with the candle costing more than the funeral. This is like putting the country on a leaking lifeboat heading for receding shores. The lifeguard, IMF, is not yet around.
Reminds me of Winston “Gypsy” Peters’ famous political calypso Captain, the Ship is Sinking. Or even my famous friend, Hollis ”Chalkdust” Liverpool’s The Driver Cyar Drive. Maybe we need a new political calypso entitled Man in a Leaking Lifeboat.
But joke aside, and as the government itself knows, the country is in trouble today, so much so that it wouldn’t mind if the “one per cent” chip in to help, especially with housing and agriculture. We can’t continue to use excuses from covid and the Russian-Ukraine war.
Special-purpose companies galore: $200 million to the new Secondary Road Rehabilitation and Improvement Co Ltd for fixing roads, a “further $250 million loan” for Programme for Road Upgrade and enhancement (PURE), “$1 billion and increased allocations for road repairs” to the Ministry of Works: also modest allocations for road repairs to regional corporations. Duplicating costs and confusing bureaucracies. Why not your put money where your mouth is and put these secondary road repairs under the 14 decentralised corporations? If reform and efficiency are the objectives, why not also put URP and CEPEP under these localised corporations too?
Then, forgetting the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) itself is a special-purpose company, government now establishes three more companies to do what the HDC is supposed to do, and at a whopping $1.5 billion loan financing. Again, candle costing more. No wonder the lifeboat has so many leaks. Such politically-driven companies are well known to have failed in efficiency and proper accounting.
It is a political and psychological tragedy when a government seems not to understand the multicultural, mixed-economy society it is elected to govern. Or maybe it understands, but apparently prefers to seek its own political survival more.
If the population is expected to “sacrifice,” the politicians must sacrifice too. Among the many voices is social media writer John Smith: “As long as Govt can still find themselves spending on wasteful projects and receiving fat perks, then they are unjustified in removing fuel subsidies.”
Rigvaldo Shillingford: “They say the money will be better spent elsewhere. But it will just be squandered through mismanagement and corruption.”
The debilitating shortage of social and psychological capital required for the country’s economic progress opens space for civil disorder. Fear of crime has caused rural families, rich and poor, to buy cars for their children to reach university safely. Opening the UWI south Debe campus is also a public safety measure.
The population is expressing serious concerns over several other aspects of this budget: food import bill from $5 billion, failed promises, expenditures without positive results to trivial references to agricultural development, duplicate expenditures and insufficient accountability, etc. This is in a psychological context of lack of trust and credibility.
These widespread worries overlook the concessions made to VAT, GATE and even the $1,000 “one-off” payment to pensioners, etc for transportation. Part of the public “misbehaviour” against the government arises from public psychology; that is, they believe that since this is largely an oil-and-gas country, they should derive some benefit from it rather than be repeatedly punished at the pumps.
Worsening public worry arethe sudden shutdown of Petrotrin, the consequent social, psychological and economical fallouts and the continued sporadic, make-up compensation to laid-off workers.
Minister of Energy, the eternal optimist Stuart Young, promised this Petrotrin matter would have been settled by the “end of April.” Several expensive trips abroad so far fail to obtain a buyer for a company that was promised “not to be shut down.”
The TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce president is right when he noted that this country is now at a crossroads economically. It is also at a crossroads between legal authority and moral authority. Will the leaking lifeboat sail to safe shores?