A happy wonderer

By Raffique Shah
October 04, 2017

Raffique ShahWhen you have lived as long as I have, and for most of your adult life you have had an interest in politics and affairs of state to the extent that you actually pay attention the annual Budget presentation by the Minister of Finance, you will have learnt that you waste valuable time listening to a mostly boring speech that contains little or nothing that is dramatic or surprising, and you’d be better off doing something more interesting (reading a good book, in my case), and await the summary of its salient points as captured by journalists who are paid to do such scavenging, or, if you have the stamina, listen to analysts who more or less say the same things year after year.

Which is why, writing as I am before Colm Imbert’s 2017-2018 Budget, I can safely say that with the national economy at its worst in decades, government after government having squandered the largesse from oil during the good times, and crooks and citizens having aided and abetted them in stealing or wasting the windfalls, Mr Imbert will offer no solutions to the near-insoluble billion-dollar challenges that are baying at our back door, intent on rupturing our sewer main, inundating us with our own excrement.

We are too full of it, I tell you.

Look, we did not descend into this sea of sewage overnight, yesterday, or since 2015 or 2010. It took decades for the decay of this society to yield the mountain of manure that is finally seeking to suffocate us. One-time PNM minister Desmond Cartey famously summed it up succinctly when he said, “All ah we t’ief.” Because even if we did not participate in the plunder or wanton wastage, by our silence we consented to the rape and pillage of our resources.

Given the hundreds of billions of petro-dollars that passed through this country over, say, the last sixty years, there is no explanation for this tiny nation of just over one million wretched souls being in the unholy mess we are in today—drowning in debt, tens of thousands steeped in poverty, inadequate infrastructure, under-performing utilities and services, overwhelming crime, a justice system in crisis, and so on.

If I may wax biblical, like the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah, generations of Trinis have done the impossible—turned a potential paradise into a living Hell.

There is little or nothing that Mr Imbert can do to reverse the slide into the arms of the International Monetary Fund, whose austerity measures can be likened to punishing the poor and middle classes in a purgatory-like inferno which never singes the wealthy. They thrive in any economic climate.

Let’s say Government heeds the experts’ clamour and devalues the TT dollar 10-to-one US dollar, who will suffer? Immediately, the prices of all imported goods and services, which is 90 percent of what we consume, will increase by at least 30 percent. Poor people will starve-no KFC or pizza, since that’s what they eat. Their smart phone services, without which they cannot breathe, will be beyond their now-shrunken wallets. Rents, transport, clothing, school supplies, everything will be priced beyond their pockets.

The wealthy will hardly skip a beat. Their money will not even run low, far less run out.

I don’t think Government will increase basic taxes such as VAT, income, etc. The challenge here is to expand the net and capture all those who are liable to pay or remit such taxes, but who evade them, putting the burden on employees from whose incomes tax is automatically deducted. There are tens of thousands of self-employed, contractors, businesses ranging from vending to large commercial enterprises that pay no taxes, denying the Treasury of billions of dollars annually.

Whatever happened to the tax on the multi-billion-dollar gambling establishments? Are these dens of iniquity above the law?

Government should not even think of imposing new or increased taxes, or hiking water and electricity rates, until its agencies can collect 100 percent of existing taxes. There may well be no need for additional taxes. Oh, and a Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) number should be mandatory for all nationals and residents over the age of 18—a kind of tax-tracker.

But back to the perilous economic times we face: we’d be lucky to escape the jaws of the IMF, as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley promises. To stave off disaster, citizens must be prepared to make sacrifices, and these must be equitably, not equally, shared.

In other words, if workers must endure a wage freeze, then the sub-elite and elites of the society (say individuals earning $500,000-plus a year), must be prepared to take pay-cuts from five percent upwards—for a limited time, until the economy rebounds.

Productivity at all levels must improve significantly. Corruption and nepotism must not only be stamped out, but the guilty brought to justice and punished.

At my age, I’m allowed to dream, not so? If I live to see half of what I suggest materialise I’d be a happy wonderer.

7 thoughts on “A happy wonderer”

  1. Brother Shah, i’m also a wonderer but not a happy one, as you rightly said, the very well off in Trinidad, will not lose much sleep over this budget, that will certainly come across as draconian to the poor. The energy sector is still numero uno in Trinidad, but the ramifications of this said sector, the country have absolutely no control over. Over 5yrs ago the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia, join forces to destroy the economy of Russia, Venezuela and Iran, countries that depended heavily on oil, we have seen the impact of what have transpired, with Venezuela as a clear example, the forced cutting of the price of oil on the international market was beneficial to some and very destructive for others, “SHIT” flows down stream. The importers of foreign goods to Trinidad, sees imported taste of long term economical regression, do they really care? the 1% controlling these acquired taste, will continue to have their way. Banning of all foreign franchises should be on the national agenda, some national holidays will have to be done away with, some aspects of carnival celebrations, will have to be disbanded, Ethnic base political parties, should also be banded. These are some of the measures, if the Gov’t have any “BALLS” will go all out to implement, as a matter of fact, Trinidad have the right population number, at this opportune time to force it through, the future is at hand. As we speak, the price of oil on the international market, might be on an up swing, geopolitics are in the process of significant change, does Trinidad have a part to play? can Trinidad align with the right international groups to exact change? time will be our judge. In the mean time, crime will escalate, together with increase prices, socially, Trinidad will be chipping to the beat of darkness and chaos, “WE MAKE OUR BED THE WAY WE WANT TO SLEEP ON IT” in most cases.

  2. This problem is worldwide. TT have to adjust the std of living to “needs” not “wants”. Imagine 2018 carnival frontline sections 5k-7k and it sold out. Den we do pay de rent for 2 months, ent. So people get priorities in order.

  3. There is one tax payer and that tax payer is you. Diesel gone up meaning you will be paying more for diesel, more for transportation, more for groceries etc. Cooperation tax went up by 5%, they are simply going to transfer the cost to you. The banks are known to make millions in profit and yet increase the cost of doing business.

    The Finance Minister with an engineering degree has done some good things. Like building more housing, paying contractors a cool $100,000 per house for NHA people.. I feel the love there.

  4. STOP PLAYING THE BLAME GAME the job of the minister of finance and government is to fix these issue regardless. I wish I had the luxury of giving my employer excuse like you guys do


    55 Years Old… and this nation still can’t change her own diapers,

    Outside of a few sporting and artistic achievements, some internationally recognized local cuisines, some good rum of course,, a handful of beauty pageant titles, and a couple of regionally powerful privately owned conglomerates, the slap in the face reality is that after 55 years of independence, this nation has little else it can boast of achieving on an international scale that was not imported, built by or managed by foreigners…. Everything we got “that was once working” from our colonialist master, we had to, at some point, return to some foreign expertise to either manage fix or rebuild for us…. The Chinese recently built our new theater, the Brazilians, our south highways, the French our overpasses, , we had to at some point in time resorted to a Canadian Commissioner of Police, Scotland Yard crime investigators, and American Drug enforcement agents to to staff our police or Nigerian and Cuban doctors and Filipino nurses to staff our hospitals, we have decimated our local manufacturing and farming industries to the point that we now import everything we once grew and buy our own seafood from Japanese and Taiwanese trawlers fishing our waters, our top achieving students now come from the American, English or Canadian academic systems operating high schools in Trinidad, our petroleum industry is still in the hands of BP, our cable and telephone industry is dominated by all foreign companies, Flow, Digicel or Cable & Wireless, our retail industry has gone to Amazon and Costco… most of our state enterprises operate in a continuous cycle of bust to government bailout to bust again…. We even made a bigger mess of Clico than Duprey did ….and after 55 years of independence …. we still cannot even manage our own ferry service to Tobago……. even that simple operation, which other Caribbean islands own and operate successfully, we had to put in the hands of some phantom foreign company which we cannot even yet identify the owners of ….. I could go on and on…. but by now you should have gotten the point..

    So I really don’t see what the hell we are getting so excited over celebrating, from Independence to today I think this nation has regressed far more than it has progressed…. it does not seem that we have matured very much at all either. We seem to be stuck in some pre-independence identity crisis with the mindset of pre-adolescent school boys comparing who daddy better than whose daddy, all we are repeatedly reminded of whose father came in chains to whose father cut cane, who work harder than who, who have, who have not, and who have what, who in control, who is oppressed, who living the 1%, who in the lagoon, who born here, who come by boat, who buy their ticket, who is a real Trini, who not, and who really entitled to what…..for 55 years we obsessed ourselves identifying who is Coolie or Douglar, French Creole, Chinee or Syrian, we never really identify anyone as a Trini until they win a medal out there somewhere and we seem to have derailed ourselves from where independence was supposed to take us….who we are and what our independence was really meant to be, and while we were busy fixated on that internal bitching and bullshit…..the foreigners returned to reclaim everything our independence was meant to give us. They now again own, manage and control every major aspect of our lives, our finance, economy and future, so I really don’t know what 55 years of independence achieved.

    Judging from this turnout, we might have fared better had we stayed with the British, but by now, they are probably even happier to have cut us loose from back then …..but I am in no mood to raise that argument today, and my brand of sarcasm is not that easy for many to digest, because I am sure by now I have already pissed off enough self proclaimed Trini to the bone Trinis who take seriously that Trini pride in our national emptiness, failures and mediocrity.

    But lets not discuss how much we fxxked it up…Now its celebration time…..and like every other Trini who “LIKES IT SO”…. I too, enjoy a good day off to celebrate the fact that public holidays are one of a handful of things we Trinis do best in the world…….we really have a shit load more of them lined up to celebrate than anyone else….and without a few horrific murders and some drunk driving fatalities to mar the occasion, we won’t have anything exciting from that holiday to read in the newspapers the following day ….. so, to everyone STAY SAFE ….HAPPY INDEPENDENCE….AND ENJOY THE FIREWORKS

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