Portrait of the economy

Paolo Kernahan. -
Paolo Kernahan. -

THE PM was back to his typical fiery form in Parliament. In a spirited rebuttal of the Opposition Leader’s claims about a collapsed economy, Rowley said rather cryptically, “She knows her time is near…”

I’ve been trying to figure out what that means.

Is there a political rung below the opposition benches? The only fate worse than the purgatory of opposition, that I can imagine, anyway, is actually getting into office.

More interesting, though, was the PM’s yardstick for economic prosperity or stability.

Rowley thundered thusly, “The people of Trinidad and Tobago who are ‘oppressed’ can’t find their next meal (according to the Opposition Leader). Try and get a park in the Savannah tomorrow night. Two reggae fellas singing there tomorrow night. And all these people who are so ‘oppressed’ and can’t find their next meal, can’t buy the next schoolbook (will be at the concert).

"Stop pretending. Where else do you see that brand of deeply flawed argument?

“People doh have money but watch the line in Stahbox every mornin’.”

Comments like this are nothing a pound online. Recently, I saw a TikTok of an average Joe disputing the notion of Trinis struggling to keep their heads above water. He was at the Piarco Airport during the long weekend.

“Dem saying Rowley ha’ the pee-eeple sufferin’? The cahpaak full! Everybody flying out!”

That’s average Joe mathematics; out of roughly 1.5 million people, a carpark with 500 or 800 cars is basically everyone.

This quality of monolithic thinking – lines at KFC are long, so mankind have money, Machel sell out so things booming – you’d expect that from ordinary people without access to the hard data on the state of the economy. In the absence of facts and figures, there’s a tendency to rely exclusively on what you see.

But they just opened a brand new mall in Trinicity! Sure…right next to one that’s on life support, if not already in the morgue. The same people lining up for food cards are the same people jumpin’ up in a Carnival band. It’s the classic false equivalence powering most junk arguments in the public square.

It’s reasonable to expect a measure of performative flourish from the PM.

However, as a leader, the PM has access to statistics, economic trends and information not generally available to the public. As such, there should have been a more insightful, data-driven analysis on the health of the economy; at least something a bit more nuanced than “try and get a park in the Savannah…”

A more illuminating examination of our prospects was contained in Mariano Browne’s column on the recent IMF report on TT. The report suggested a gradual, sustained economic recovery, with GDP expanding by 2.1 per cent in 2023.

Also registered was a drop in inflation due to cooling global food price inflation – a side effect of external factors, not domestic economic policy.

Even though global food prices have gone down somewhat, the prices consumers pay are either the same or higher from one week to the next. That’s because several factors – increased transportation costs, higher wages, crime, harsh weather patterns, etc – influence food pricing. With consumers paying more for everything, many are far more conservative with their spending. This bears grave implications for the fortunes of the private sector and entrepreneurship as a whole.

As the former finance minister noted in his column, even though the IMF is upbeat in its predictions for continued growth (post-pandemic recovery?) it expects a decline in energy prices and exports.

Current Finance Minister Colm Imbert, in an impassioned argument for the TTRA (TT Revenue Authority), volunteered a frank prognosis of the economic landscape. Imbert stressed the importance of “additional tax revenues,” given that we can no longer rely on oil and gas production as in days past.

This is a bracingly honest departure from what we’ve long been told by this administration about the energy sector and its prospects.

Unfortunately, raising additional tax revenues to sustain recurrent expenditure and infrastructure investments is hardly economic policy. This holding-pattern accounting won’t stimulate the growth we need to escape the gravitational pull of a dying energy star. An undernourished, zygotic economic diversification push has left us with few robust sources of forex earnings to lift this country out of stagnation.

Granted, this column isn’t as folksy and rousing as the PM’s reggae concert economic breakdown – you can’t really thump a desk to it. It’s kind of like King Charles's recently unveiled portrait; you have to take it for what it is.


"Portrait of the economy"

More in this section