By Raffique Shah
March 01, 2021
I cannot claim to have conducted any scientific survey by interviewing samples of the population the way political pollsters do, but I feel certain if I did, I would find that as many as seven out of every ten adults believe that ‘Trinidad and Tobago gone through’, in the broadest sense of that colloquial term.
Put in standard English, that implies that the economy has collapsed, institutions have imploded, law and order do not exist, poverty is of near-epidemic proportions, and every metric one can imagine shows a failed state on the brink of implosion.
But for the grace of God, they would offer by way of explanation, whose presence in multiple forms in this prayerful society is our only redeeming factor, we would have long reverted to being savages.
As a Trini to my navel-string, which my parents told me was buried somewhere in this soil seventy-five years ago, hours after I was born, I take serious umbrage to my fellow-citizens cussing this country every-which-way, every-damn-day, portraying us as a nation of lazy-good-for-nothings who, in the words of one of its most acclaimed but grossly ungrateful sons, Vidia Naipaul, ‘created nothing’, I have a real problem with neemakharams who contribute miles of bile to the gross domestic product, predicting doom and gloom even as they enjoy royal lifestyles.
It is true that the economy is mired in manure, that if we fail to pull up our proverbial socks and work to produce goods and services that we consume or export in quantities large enough to cater for our humongous appetites for things foreign, we will surely suffocate in our own excreta and die. It is true, too, that the People’s National Movement in government, from way back when it was eminently positioned to influence the nation’s post-independence path, failed to translate Dr Eric Williams’s watchwords—discipline, tolerance and production—into a mantra, or better still, a road march that could infuse in the populace the energies and spirit of Carnival, which, in turn, could see this resource-rich island-state transformed into a phenomenal First World success.
Even diehard PNMites would admit that the party that had captured the hearts and minds of a majority in the nation, a leader who had fired their imaginations, who could unleash their enormous creative energies into transformative factories global in scope and size, fell short of expectations by more than the proverbial mile.
Sure, Dr Williams harnessed the visionary talents that abounded in the oil sector, an alliance that pioneered the downstream natural gas and petrochemicals industries that put this country way ahead of global energy-endowed giants, and which, decades after he died, made immense contributions to the wealth of this small nation.
But simultaneously, he seemed trapped by the detritus of the very Capitalism and Slavery he so eloquently wrote on as an intellectual. In order to retain control of his support-base, he pampered the wretched of the land with make-work programmes which they translated to mean no-work-get-paid, and which subverted the work ethic that the British colonial masters had established. Soon, this malaise spread across the entire public sector, polluted private enterprise, and like a never-ending Carnival fete, enveloped even the managerial class. When political patronage was added to this potent money-for-free cocktail, no one cared to work, and few people actually did.
That debilitating disease would prove to be the bane of the society. It eliminated us from the First World stakes. We sat back and enjoyed second-and third-best, made mediocrity our gold standard, and on the global happiness index, we were numero uno.
Yes, Papa, we reach. As we await the reopening of the Covid-hit world from almost a full year of lahaying in Lochodom, we know that most of the methanol, ammonia, urea and LNG plants will reopen for business, in synch with the rest of the world. Realistically, they cannot open now. They are using the Covid-down-time to threaten to exit the country if they don’t get cheap gas. But as long as profits are there to be made, they will stick around. Our oil production, too, will improve when the industrialised world comes awake and active—I estimate sometime in the second-into-third quarter of the year.
The public debt will rise, inevitably, because we are virtually living off foreign currencies that are difficult to earn when our exports are almost frozen. However, that is not as dangerous a dilemma as it would otherwise be: every nation is owing more than it ever did. As I write this on Saturday morning, the British government has just added 66 billion pounds sterling to its life support package, and new US president Joseph Biden added 1.9 trillion dollars to that country’s huge debt portfolio.
So we will survive, as Gloria Gaynor sang, much to the dismay of those who yearn to see our ship sink.