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September 14, 2017

Where’s the development?

by Vernon Khelawan

Ten years ago, our government halted the operations of the more than 60-year-old airline British West Indian Airways (BWIA) because it was a losing entity. They paid off all the airline owed and replaced it with a debt-free Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL). The ‘new’ airline, using the same call signs and the same flight numbers as BWIA, cut several routes, started with less employees and reduced its jet fleet, but it still continues to lose millions.

In 1962, the year we attained independence, the government ventured into the television and radio industry with the National Broadcasting Service (NBS) and Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT). After more than four decades of operation and rich in local content, but very little corporate support, a decision was made to close it down because it was a drain on the country’s treasury.

This closure saw the birth of the Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) as the new government station, which was supposed to lead the charge into commercial television. Now that CNMG and some of its radio affiliates have failed to make a dent in the commercial television and radio markets, a decision has been made to close it down (including some radio frequencies) and recreate the former TTT. Will this work? The pundits have very serious doubts.

Then we have the closure of the Tourism Development Company (TDC), a company which was supposed to promote the tourism industry, making our twin-island destination one of the premier vacation spots in the Caribbean. Apparently, that did not work out well and we were spending money with little returns. So, it was decided to shut its doors, and instead open two new entities to do what one TDC was supposed to accomplish – one for Trinidad, and the other representing Tobago’s interests.

We look at Petrotrin, which is supposed to be the jewel of the energy sector. But that company is owing billions, which it cannot repay without government’s assistance. This company was the subject of an inquiry, but 18 months later, that report has not been made public.

Why? I cannot say but, as he was leaving for California (USA) on his 10-day medical trip, the Prime Minister announced a new board for Petrotrin – the apparent chairman knows the chocolate industry inside out.

I don’t know how well versed he is in the oil industry. How much he brings to the company’s development and aging infrastructure, I cannot say. But we must remember that Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) under the same chairman sold majority shareholdings to Cemex, the Mexican giant. Is Petrotrin going to go that route?

Shall we talk about the inter-island ferry service fiasco or better still, ‘ferrygate’. So much is now being brought into the public domain – about the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT); the Port Board(s) and the Ministry of Works and Transportation – it might just pre-empt the work and recommendations of the Joint Select Committee (JSC). So, we will leave that alone, for now.

These decisions, and there are some more, seem to indicate that the government is going ‘against the grain’ as far as our development is concerned.