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May 17, 2019

It’s still not about the numbers

The national conversation over the past few weeks has focused primarily on numbers— some ‘good’ numbers but also a lot of ‘bad’ numbers.

The ‘bad’ numbers include the increasing number of murders; arrests, threats of arrest, searches of high-profile leaders in our society; and ‘bad’ economic numbers—whether the country should expect positive or negative growth numbers.

In the midst of all of the mayhem, the Minister of Finance presented his ‘good’ numbers in the mid-year review (half way through the Government’s fiscal year) intended to highlight and make any adjustments needed on the Government’s balance sheet.

The Minister’s review began by dissing the naysayers who dared suggest that BPTT’s announcement that it would have difficulty supplying gas to the Atlantic LNG’s Train 1, and this might force imminent shutdown of that Train, were simply being melodramatic.

If such occurred, the naysayers suggest, and following on the heels of the closure of PETROTRIN, there would be more unemployed workers and a ripple effect to contractors, suppliers etc.  It also would result in loss of revenue to the Government from this source.

The Minister also made some other headline announcements—opening of new hospitals, additional funding to several Ministries and government agencies to cover recurrent expenditures such as salaries, continuation of work on various road networks, the procurement of ferries.

The review, not unlike the Budget read in October 2018, was meant to assure the country that all was well, an economic “turnaround” as the Minister has repeatedly said.

I juxtapose the Budget Review against several facts of daily living in T&T—the water crisis that is exacerbated by the prolonged drought, the seeming scourge of domestic abuse and violence against women, the long lines of senior citizens waiting to be attended to outside commercial banks (the same banks that the Minister said are “…enjoying unprecedented growth in income and profits…”) or outside the social welfare offices, the increasing crime rate, the unavailability of affordable health care.

The InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB) recently published a report that looks at the potential consequences for the region of selected negative external shocks—changes in oil and gas prices or in the availability of same, can be considered external shocks.

Of Trinidad and Tobago, the IADB report suggests that notwithstanding significant money that coursed through T&T’s veins over the past few decades, our current state of development—taken to mean quality of life, access to modern and reliable infrastructure—is less than adequate.

The “price of progress is high”. Lyrics from King Austin’s masterpiece, penned by Winsford ‘Joker’ Devine, come to my mind as I think about the mid-year review.

With two elections in less than a year and a half we really need to reflect, collectively, about the path to progress. The numbers game is not the answer; it’s about people. 

That’s just my point of view!