THE ONLY thing more frightening than this budget is the confederacy of dunces dispatched to defend it. Comments and justifications from the Government offer a cross-section of the brainpower responsible for wrangling the complex challenges of our time.
For the past week, I've been trying to scrub my mind of the song Sacrifice by Elton John, accompanied unmercifully by images of Shamfa Cudjoe. This is distressing as I'm a fan of neither.
Overtaking the Prime Minister who had an early lead with his counsel on beating the traffic and saving gas, Cudjoe had the bit in her teeth and blew past her fearless leader's flank.
The problem, as Cudjoe identified, was our inability to sacrifice in tough times. “Everyone wants everything for nothing.”
Listening to a politician talk about sacrifice and then rolling up the window in a chauffeur-driven SUV is bitter satire brought to life. This haughty contempt for the public is, unsurprisingly, not isolated.
Speaking on gas hikes, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon surmised citizens choose to buy gas guzzlers. She must have been talking about the same demographic referenced by MP, avid cyclist and soon-to-be-roadkill Keith Scotland. He talked about citizens who expect hampers from the Government and want free cooking gas too – because we're all the same; one featureless monolith.
According to Scotland, we should cook on a coal pot instead of a stove. Perhaps I'll also go wash my clothes down by the river. That's after I've salted the soucouyant's skin hanging in the silk cotton tree.
Us ingrates all drive luxury vehicles, want everything for nothing, cling tenaciously to benefits and perks regardless of declining fortunes, and – wait, who are these politicians describing again?
It's important to cut through the nauseating spin with some inconvenient facts. There's no such thing as free education or free healthcare. These services are funded through taxpayer dollars and revenues derived from the national patrimony – oil and gas. The Government's role is to manage and allocate resources in the best interest of all the people of this nation, not just party supporters and financiers.
That's where management comes in, or, more appropriately, exits. The Prime Minister and others in his cabinet repeatedly peddle the narrative that they've done well to stabilise the economy despite an unpredictable war and pandemic. It might be distasteful to say, but both calamitous events couldn't have come at a better time for this government. The pandemic and Putin allowed them to hide the fact that the cost of living was on an inexorable rise long before anyone heard of Wuhan.
Food prices were inching up steadily before covid19 disrupted the global supply chain. Additionally, the Government started removing fuel subsidies before the conflict in Ukraine. Putin has a lot to answer for but the consistently catastrophic mismanagement of the TT economy isn't one of them.
The Government has spared no effort in painting citizens as coddled, staying at the breast well into adulthood. Since independence, our politics has engineered the dependence of vast swathes of the population. This was done to secure the fealty of voters for generations to come. Citizens were taught to see their vote as currency to purchase life's necessities. Housing, employment, healthcare, grants, food cards, you name it.
The Government has also consistently chided the population for expensive tastes in imported foods. Successive administrations deliberately undermined agriculture, increasing our reliance on imported foods. Money is no problem! The proliferation of food franchises was great for the economy, even as they drain our coffers of foreign exchange.
Now, many will not agree, but this is PNM country. Other political parties had brief turns at the tiller. They invariably carried on with policies entrenched by the PNM and were guilty of their own crimes of corruption and incompetence. By and large, however, the PNM must take ownership of the state of this country today, having held power for the majority of TT's independent life.
Former prime minister Patrick Manning could have started the process of removing fuel subsidies during the last significant energy boom when the impact would have been less severe. Instead, we've endured six fuel price hikes throughout prolonged economic stagnation.
For all the resources once at our disposal we should be better off, more resilient and future-facing than we are. Maybe we can still get there if we can only follow minister Marvin Gonsalves's advice and stop going to the cinema three times a week and eating ham once a month.