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Letter: A country in limbo
Published on August 30, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

Mr Basdeo Panday, one time prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, is calling for a role for the trade unions in the political management of the country. One way he sees is via the tripartite relationship among the government, labour and the private sector.

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However, the role of the trade unions is governed by the laws of the country and in particular there is an industrial court to settle disputes among labour, unions and the various employers. This tends to suggest that there are formal limits on the trade unions interactions in the socio-economic life of the country.

However, the constitution allows any person or groups to seek to be part of the political discussion by seeking parliamentary representation. Hence there is nothing to prevent the labour unions from forming their own political party to seek the role they desire in the political management of the country.

The constitution does not allow the union any special privileges in our politics – maybe this is why Mr Panday sees constitution reform as the absolute solution to our problems, to their threat to mash up the place.

The major problem facing us today is the diversification of our exports. The trade unions are totally out of their depth in finding a solution to this. Further, the fall in rents earned by the energy sector demands a decrease in the onshore economic activity, which can mean loss of jobs, reduction in make work and social services, which the unions will naturally oppose – not a man must go or we go shut down the place.

The model of the economy is what it is. It cannot support the required onshore activity if the foreign exchange is not forthcoming, especially given that export diversification is not an immediate affair nor can we continue to borrow from abroad and surely not print money.

Still we see the opposition members of Parliament calling for the distribution of land and houses by the government so as to improve living conditions for the middle class. The intent is that if our farmers are given land there will be more produce available for local consumption and export.

Unfortunately this simplicity has no currency in the real world of technology and global competition. One only has to look at how Brazil was able to emerge from being unable to feed itself, into one of the largest exporters of food in the world with a tripartite of government, private sector and the R&D institutions via the formation of a national agricultural innovation system.

Starting with Etzkowitz’s Triple Helix, our pathway out of this plantation economy is a similar helix, which I called the Innovation Diamond consisting of government involvement that supplies the initial funding and the leadership, the R&D institutions via centres of excellence that provide the ideas and intellectual property, which could warrant global competitiveness and a private sector, new or the current one augmented, to build export companies.

Given the history of the present private sector, it is not expected that it would take the lead in the tripartite group. Yet we hear government continually mouthing their aim to diversify the economy via ICT, tourism financial services and marine and maritime services, with little to show except the gallant attempt by the EDAB.

Economic diversification will impose a demand on government for financial resources, on the demand for foreign exchange, which in this deepening recession is indeed a burden. Yet we hear of building a port at Toco and a highway to the port to facilitate the journey to Tobago, the completion of the Pt Fortin highway, all of which will impose demands on government spending but will contribute nothing to economic diversification.

The population is supposed to be pacified, since these projects could provide short term jobs and halt the retrenchment taking place in this recession.

The recent announcement that bpTT has started to produce gas from its Juniper and the prospect of gas from Venezuela raise our hopes that the energy sector may again come rushing in to the rescue. However, it is important to recognise that this does not herald the return of the good times.

The Business Guardian, July 13, published a graph of past and projected gas production, which shows that, even with the expected projects, then in the development phase, with one from bpTT now in production, production cannot reach the 4.4 bcfd required to keep our gas industries fully productive. The chart shows a further steady decline after 2009.

If gas prices improve, we will still see decreasing revenues, gas shortages; there will still be a drop in foreign exchange earned by the energy sector.

The fundamental deficiency in our country is the lack of a national innovation system, though we have many poor models of its components – courses in entrepreneurship and innovation, business incubators, conferences on innovation, talk from UWI about its entrepreneurship push and the plans of the ministry of planning supported by the ministry of trade about, you guessed it, ICT, financial services, tourism marine and maritime services.

The energy sector may simply give us the time to get on with our diversification if we get our act together, if we get our tripartite to perform.

Mary K King
St Augustine
 
Reads: 2921





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