IMF ‘ranking’ blinds us to poverty amidst plenty

By Raffique Shah
May 20th 2007

FinancialNobody should be surprised that international agencies like the World Bank and the IMF have rated Trinidad and Tobago among the leading countries with respect to economic development. It would have taken a complete fool in government, or a big-time bandit so placed, to have done otherwise given the high levels of revenue we have enjoyed over the past five years or so. So our GDP and GNP will have grown in tandem with the steep increases in prices of oil, gas and downstream energy products that account for most of our revenue. These and other indicators used by such agencies will also show a major reduction in poverty levels and almost zero unemployment.

But Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his Government should take little comfort in the rankings these agencies have assigned us given their chequered records. It was no accident that a few weeks ago Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez literally kicked the IMF out of his country. The IMF’s track record, the draconian measures it imposed on countries across the world that reduced them from ketch-arse to failed states, remains uppermost in the minds of many, especially its victims in Latin America and Africa.

The IMF and World Bank can hardly point to a single success story among the countries in which they intervened. Indeed, for many years, even as this country prospered when compared with its Caribbean neighbours, these very agencies rated Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, St Kitts and others to whom we generously gave concessions or granted loans as being far better off than Trinidad and Tobago.

If this were true, then we ought to have seen migration from mismanaged and poverty-stricken Trinidad and Tobago to Eastern Caribbean countries. While our businessmen and professionals have always roamed freely through the region, in general migration has been the other way round.

I have long argued that the institutionalised yardsticks for measuring the state of the economies of countries, and more important, the social distribution of their wealth, are flawed.

The per capita GDP, for example, a standard benchmark for these agencies, does not tell us how many poor people there are in any country. To use a simple example, a country that has, say, 100 billionaires and 100,000 poor people, will register high on the GDP scale. In contrast, Cuba, in which there are few if any wealthy people, but where everyone gets a fair share of the country’s limited food resources, is ranked among the poorest in the world. In the year 2000, every Cuban consumed daily levels of food amounting around 2,600 calories: the FAO standard is 2,400 calories. How many countries that are better-rated can boast of that, of superior health and education programmes?

But I digress. What do the new “rankings” we received, on the strength of which the PNM is likely to wage its general elections’ campaign, mean to the majority of citizens of the country? As far as the opposition parties are concerned, the IMF “cooked the books”. In fact, they see nothing good coming from the PNM Government.

To hear them tell the political story of the past six years, you’d think that the country was moving backward. Only they, who stand accused of gross corruption (and don’t tell me the American courts in which those Piarco accused plea-bargained are controlled by the PNM), can do better. Yeah, right! Does Panday really believe the people of this country are prepared to trust him again with the nation’s bulging coffers?

I am not arguing that there is no corruption emanating from within the PNM government or its cronies in public office. I am only saying it would have been 100 times worse with people like Panday holding the nation’s purse strings, or worse, dutifully handing them to his wife in accordance with religious tradition. Still, the sinners in opposition in no way absolve the PNM in Government from taking care of its most vulnerable-the aged, the unemployable, the children. And whatever the IMF may say to the contrary, this country has too many people living below the ever-rising poverty line for a nation that is enjoying the kind of wealth we do today.

The working poor, those who can barely eke out an existence on sub-standard salaries, can turn into our worst nightmares. They see their employers making untold profits and paying themselves six-digit “packages’ while those who labour suffer in near squalour. Isn’t it tempting for them to be conduits to crime, people-in-the-know who can set up their bosses to be robbed or kidnapped or even killed? Aren’t their children, seeing the unjust, uneven distribution of wealth, be drawn towards the quick-buck-fixes offered by criminals rather than work hard like their parents and get nowhere?

Inequality in any society breeds hatred. In a wealthy country like ours in which conspicuous consumption-luxury mansions, limousines, exclusive clubs-stands like a wall between rich and poor, it can trigger social upheaval. Manning will do well to ignore the IM -flattery and break down the walls of Jericho before the angry masses do it themselves.

2 thoughts on “IMF ‘ranking’ blinds us to poverty amidst plenty”

  1. This is a well written article about a much talked about dichotomy between growth and development in T&T. It’s qual;ity is tempered by Shah’s personal dislike for Panday and his blindness to the excessive levels of corruption under this PNM government. While he makes a good case for equity, I believe that Mr. Shah contradicts himself in opposing the Opposition viewpoint – if it be so – that the country has in fact regressed over the past few years- the evidence in terms of social services, social infrastructure, non energy sectors particularly agriculture and the growing poverty to which even he refers. If that is not regression then what is? The importation of slave labour from China, India and elsewhere to replace locals, crime etc? Are these not symptoms of regression?
    Mr. Shah’s apparent hate for the Oppositon seems to be greater than his social obligation as a fair commentator and former politician and labour leader. He would do well to conceal his clearly visible petticoat.
    Unfortunately the

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