Greed is killing us not so softly

By Raffique Shah
October 16, 2019

Raffique ShahSome day last week, after I had eaten a very modest lunch, I was snacking on a few locally-manufactured crackers when my wife asked, “You still hungry, nah?” She has noted with unnecessary concern that I eat smaller portions, which I attribute to ageing and my now mostly sedentary lifestyle, the latter imposed on me by my infirmity. I don’t need calories that I won’t burn as I did during my very active pre-Parkinson’s life. That reality notwithstanding, the urge to snack on junk remains undiminished, much to my dismay.

“No,” I replied, “I’m just greedy!” I should have felt ashamed of myself for eating junk, a very unhealthy habit that I have long condemned as wastage even as hundreds of millions of people across the world go hungry for want of basic nutrition any given day, and often, many among them, especially the very young and the old, dying from starvation.

I thought of that simple, seemingly irrelevant episode as I considered the 2019-2020 Budget, the state of the country’s economy, hell, the state of the world that seems to be hastening to its demise, propelled partly by men in leadership positions whom the gods have already made mad, but also by an insatiable greed that has gripped humanity. Man wants more of everything, far surpassing his needs, be it food, clothes, property, vehicles, money, power. And politicians want as much of other people’s money as they can lay their dirty paws on, hence the decade long deficit budgets that drive us deeper into debt, some of it unavoidable, but much of it driven by greed to spend more than we can afford.

Take the total annual expenditure as an example. With an estimated population of 1.4 million, governments were not satisfied with spending no more than TT $50 billion per year, which averages out at $35,000 per man, woman and child. They took it up past that mark from as far back as during Patrick Manning’s last term in office ($53.8 billion in fiscal 2008), made merry during Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s tenure when they spent a staggering $62-plus billion in fiscal 2014 and 2015.

People forget that budgetary expenditure in fiscal 2005 was a paltry $27.2 billion, and the country’s affairs were conducted quite well, thank you. In fact, that year we enjoyed a surplus in revenue of $2.4 billion, a very healthy fiscal position that few countries experience. When oil and natural gas prices surged thereafter, Manning increased expenditure to $37 and $39.7 billion in 2006 and 2007, respectively. The latter was also the year in which the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund was established, belatedly setting aside some of the oil and gas revenues for the proverbial rainy day and for future generations.

Luckily that concept of a sovereign wealth fund was adopted—Norway had set the standards for such savings. It proved to be a saviour when the Treasury almost ran dry in 2015-2018.

The point I’m on here, though, is this: did we citizens see the quality and value of government services improve by 100 percent between 2005, when expenditure was $27 billion, and 2014/2015, when expenditure more than doubled? Serious crimes did not decrease by 50 percent. The health services showed no dramatic improvements, and while it is true that the numbers of students accessing free tertiary education likely doubled, the quality of those graduating remains questionable.

All that money spent and three governments later the highway to Point Fortin remains “a work in progress”. Traffic congestion is ten times worse almost everywhere in the country because none of them saw wisdom in implementing, even in limited ways, mass transit systems. So every man Jack and every women Jenny own vehicles, of necessity, they will tell you. This tiny country has an estimated 800,000 vehicles on its limited, potholed roads. People sit in their vehicles spending hours in traffic rather than on their jobs…and these are merely a few of the more glaring failures we are condemned to endure in spite of the politicians engaging in wild spending and wanton wastage, not to factor in stealing substantial sums of money allocated for public works.

Greed, avarice, that burning desire for material things, always wanting more, never satisfied with what you need to live in relative comfort, is in large measure behind the unholy position we’ve found ourselves today. Before the financial crisis struck in America in 2008, triggering a 30 percent crash in property prices and a recession that almost enveloped the wider world, we were doing pretty well on lower revenues. Oh, for sure greed was there: it has always been, listed as one of the “seven deadly sins” from biblical times.

But before the global crash impacted our bottom line in fiscal 2009, when we experienced our first deficit budget ($6 billion), we actually ran surpluses in revenue in 2008 ($2.9 billion), 2007 ($268 million), 2006 ($1.8 billion). However, once we dived into the debt hole in 2009, we never looked back…

Oil, gas and other energy products prices rebounded post 2010. In fact, with oil soaring above US $100 per barrel and gas fetching US $14 on premium markets where our LNG was sold, revenues also rebounded to unprecedented heights. That did not deter Kamla’s government from spending more than we earned, continuing to borrow and to drive us deeper into debt.

Greed, from top to bottom, from the average public sector worker, to his boss, to government ministers, to contractors kept demanding more and more, with little regard for the state and fate of the nation. To be fair to the incumbent government, it has reined in expenditure to a limited extent, although it engages in projects that are not necessarily priorities at this time.

Maybe there is yet hope that we can salvage something to save us from an IMF-imposed crash. But first we must each deal with our personal greed.

6 thoughts on “Greed is killing us not so softly”

  1. I had a good laugh at the notion that even though you just had a meal, your appetite would still be calling for a snack. Makes me feel that I am not alone in that respect. We are a small country with a big appetite for greed and waste. The budget is only symptomatic of the need to want more and more and ………

    Lets begin with our largest corporations and companies. They do not plan a budget until our national budget is made public. The reason for that is because they do not see themselves making money until they see how our government plans to spend the taxpayers dollars. It is no doubt a universal habit to wait on the government to determine how we hope to ‘develop’ ourselves.
    This brings for us to question do we ever develop? It is reported (based on what we see on Youtube) that we have about ten billionaires in this country, how many of them produce a research and development for their companies and by extension for growth in this country? The reason we don’t see this is because they plan how to earn not how to spend.

    In the last five years, all of the new building and renovations were the work of government. How much have did private industry added into the economy? How many new industrial buildings did they erect? There are those who are hell bent on blaming the PNM for every problem that they perceive. How many of them supported the Manning plans to provide mass transit for short term travel into and out of the main commercial districts? These same people are more satisfied with spending two to three hours commuting to and from Port of Spain because of our crowded highways. Why aren’t we hungry for solutions they way we are for hungry services that are not easy to be supplied? We are expansive on our wants and short on the means to provide. Worst yet, we expect politicians to provide all our needs.

    There are no means (short of an election) to hold politicians accountable. What have we achieved with the 62b budget that the UNC spent that wasn’t attained by the 42b that this current government spent?. Our problem is that we think and speak with our hearts and neglect our brains when objectivity is in play. We deny good when it is done by those we hate and embrace mediocrity when it is performed by those we love. That is NOT development.

    We are better off when we have the temerity to criticize when the need arise and praise when there is need to.

  2. “That did not deter Kamla’s government from spending more than we earned, continuing to borrow and to drive us deeper into debt.”
    Yes another blame Kamla moment. It has been the mantra of the PNM apologist movement.

    My mother used to tell me son always speak the truth. It is one of the principles I live by or attempt to live by. Because even a donkey cannot argue with facts, all he could do is bray.

    When Kamla left office all ministries were well funded, that is a fact. The PNM cannot govern this nation unless there is a lot of money.

    Here are the real facts:
    -the IMF saying this economy grew by 0.3 per cent in 2018 and will have zero per cent growth in 2019, the worst in the Caribbean. 2017 was the worst year for TnT economy in recorded history.

    … And there are no new revenue streams while earnings dropped from $57.26 billion in 2015 to $42.62 billion in 2018. Imbert last budget indicated a $5 billion revenue shortfall the reality is it will be $10 billion revenue shortfall with more borrowing.

    —-Between September 2015 and June 2019, under this administration, our reserves declined by 33 per cent! From US$10.459 billion to US$6.993 or 7.9 months of import cover, the country’s lowest since December 2007. Thankfully Kamla put money every year into those funds. Imbert not a black cent.

    —- Imbert has been borrowing massively and irresponsibly, increasing the external debt by 88 per cent, hastening our demise. Last year, T&T’s public debt was $119 billion.

    —-The 2018 Auditor General’s report says the overdraft of the exchequer account at the Central Bank is overdrawn by $40.3 billion, the highest in the nation’s history. In three years our debt to the Central Bank ballooned by 21 per cent and will go higher in 2019.

    PNM LOANS under Imbert, the worst finance minister in TnT history.
    —-Trinidad Pe­tro­le­um Hold­ings Lim­it­ed (TPHL) to get the US $720 mil­lion loan.

    —-Ac­cord­ing an ar­ti­cle, Mor­gan Stan­ley, Cred­it Su­isse, Pana­man­ian trade bank Ban­co Lati­noAmer­i­cano de Com­er­cio Ex­te­ri­or (Bladex), First Cit­i­zens and Ansa Mer­chant Bank are ar­rang­ing ap­prox­i­mate­ly US$1.2bn-US$1.4bn of loans

    ——With respect to the petroleum sector, the shutdown of the Petrotrin refinery has also created the possibility that the government may reach out to Chinese banks to help secure $1.4 billion in loans to refinance looming bond payments for the refinery, including an $850 million bond coming due in 2019, and a $750 million bond coming due in 2021

    ——T&T’s debt to Chi­na has jumped from $2.2 bil­lion last year to $6.2 bil­lion af­ter Gov­ern­ment part­nered with Chi­na again on two new projects.

    Whilst the writer of this article blames Kamla for increasing the debt it went up $25 billion during her tenure. But what he fails to mention is Kamla left $30 billion extra in the HSF and import cover.

    When Kamla left office the debt was at $57 billion, the
    current PNM has raised the debt to an incredible $119 billion in 4 years borrowing to pay interest on loans or in the Malcolm Jones case of 3 failed projects deferring payments into the future.

    Folks this PNM administration is digging a debt hole so deep that it will take another lifetime to get out of it. The earlier the election the better for the citizens, kick them out!

  3. The death of the energy sector should be the biggest cause for concern. We have seen this government play “footsie” with the energy sector, at a time when LNG is being produce in many more nations. Oil is now in abundance in Guyana.
    Trinidad energy market is being killed from inside as well as outside. They shut down the refinery whilst those they were supplying found other suppliers and now they planning to kickstart it, the dumb question is who will the customers be, seeing the energy sector globally is highly competitive. US shale devouring Caribbean markets where TnT once had a thriving business.

    Trinidad since 2015 has taken a strong downward swing and has not recovered with this current administration. This year people could not get water in their taps. Last year record level flooding and so to the previous year. Most people would say they have never seen that level of water before. The government response would be “why yuh build in the lagoon”. This administration has starved many municipalities of badly needed funds for drainage. I remember seeing trees growing in the middle of major rivers and these rivers overgrown with bushes looking more like drains.

    The PNM after four years of restructuring putting thousands on the breadline deserves a D for the economy. Their restructuring has not help this economy. Thankfully elections are ahead and they have gone into overdrive to steal this one also. The UNC have to stop being naive and realize that the PNM tentacles is in everything. They have to be very vigilant.

  4. “Man wants more of everything, far surpassing his needs, be it food, clothes, property, vehicles, money, power.“
    The Gandhi model for existence is still the best model. And it needs to be taught in school. He went to Britain to study adopted their culture until he came to South Africa and saw how Indians were being treated. He got rid of the British clothing. Spun his own clothing, drank goat milk and lived within his means. That can be done in TnT.

  5. Gone are the days when we used to wait for news, opinions, commentaries, breakthroughs and community notes via print media. In those days we took the words emanating from the Editor as gospel. It meant that editors and news managers had leverage on what we get to know and what was hidden from us. In the age of artificial intelligence, the devices by which we are informed are infinitive. That means we do not need the advice, opinion or commentary to guide us on what is believable or digestible for our consumption.

    Recently, on the Dale and Tony Show on I95 radio broadcast, I was aghast at the suggestion by Dale Enoch, advising that the matter of the attempted murder of the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley is too serious to be discussed at a political meeting. This is nonsensical advice coming from a media executive. My first instinct was to ask myself “who does he thinks he is talking to, little children or adults?”. Why does Dale think that news of political killings should be rationed to us? We need to know who our leaders are and what they are or NOT. Why is it OK to print and discuss disgusting crime news about the people in Beetham, Laventille and Morvant BUT (secretive) to discuss crime among dangerous political players? If not discussed in political meetings, should it be left to be discussed in boardrooms?. How idiotic is this advice coming from people who decides for themselves, what news they should share with us and what they should keep away from us? People need to know who are the wolves and who are the sheeps selling themselves to us. Not all politicians are good and not all are bad, but we need to know the bad ones among us.

    Political killings are not new to us, it’s just something some would have us not talk about in public (because of its ugliness).
    In recent memory there are three known prominent killings of politicians that we should all be concerned about. There is the killing of the former Attorney General, Selwyn Richardson, City Councillor Sumairsingh and Attorney Dana Sitahal S.C. In all these cases there is one thing that is common – we don’t know who killed them. In the case of Councillor Sumairsingh, the late MP Dhanraj Singh was said to be connected. But they were all killed for political reasons and most people believed those giving the orders to kill were politicians.

    Dale went on to advise that a political meeting is not the place to make such pronouncements. What stupidity!!!!!! The politicians’s audience is his supporters, so why should he (or she) not discuss it with them? Although the killing of John F. Kennedy is more than fifty years ago, it is still the subject of interest to many born before, during and after his death. It is in the interest of the population to discuss the ugliness of political wheelings and dealings that temper how we are governed.
    It is in our interest to investigate and be informed about those who come to us and ask for our votes. We need to know who they REALLY are. Many of them mask themselves as do-gooders by promising us goodies but in the back rooms they behave like Bonny & Clyde.

    The times we live in is dangerous. It is important that the news we share about our politicians and political parties be exhaustively examined. We do not want laundered information. We do not want commentators and news editors telling us what we should consume and what we should not. We should not accept laundered news, they gave us the ugliness of the killing of ‘Sandman’ but want us to dilute the news of a hit on the prime minister of our country?. Shame on you Dale Enoch!.

Comments are closed.