Right, wrong, but spot on

By Raffique Shah
March 29, 2021

Raffique ShahLast week, dealing with the new vaccines that are unfolded almost daily to fight the Covid19 pandemic, I unfairly targeted the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation as having betrayed countries like Trinidad and Tobago that have adhered to the rules of engagement, quietly awaiting their turns to the first allocations of whatever brand of the vaccine the global and regional health organisations have secured.

The Government said it had paid up a few million in US dollars towards research and development through COVAX, and even as it awaited the first shipment, it was checking other vaccine manufacturers to see what may be on offer. It also had an arrangement with an African Union group of nations to secure more of the now-precious vaccine. I now know that like the PAHO member-states that had signed on to the COVAX agreement, when the initial production-run began with what must have been hundreds of millions of the vaccine, Oxford/Astra-Zeneca didn’t have us in mind.

And there was nothing that PAHO or WHO or whoever could do about it. This was a case of naked power-display. So I apologise to the two organisations I headlined last Sunday. But the bacchanal over this vaccine controversy has only just begun. As I argued previously, the politics of the pandemic and now the vaccines is where we shall see the true colours of politicians, of nations that are well-placed to secure vaccines by the millions of doses, of ‘smart men’ who see the opportunities to rake in loud cash—millions, maybe billions of US dollars—rear their ugly heads.

Mark my words: if you think you have seen politicians dribble in anticipation of using any aspect of this pandemic to steer them to power, watch their unrehearsed circus acts closely over the next few months. Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley and the PNM harvested the first crop when they retained power in the 2020 general election, and stayed in control of the regional corporations and city councils, albeit with reduced majorities.

There can be no doubt that their handling of the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic worked in their favour. They had faced a huge challenge when they took office in 2015. The economy was in decline that could have turned into a disaster, what with the Kamla Persad-Bissessar partnership government having spent handsome oil, gas and petrochemicals’ earnings on more and more freeness rather than rein in all unnecessary expenditure, hence move to less dependence on the energy sector, more realistic prices of goods and services that were already subsidized, and so on.

The rule of thumb in economies like ours that enjoy most of their revenues from volatile product-prices, as was always the case with oil and gas, is to cut excess spending, excess fat, when the going is good. The PNM in office for long spells before 2010, and the UNC for some years, expanded transfers and subsidies from millions to billions, in almost reckless binges. Persad-Bissessar, in her term, took wild spending to another level—quite literally: she raised government’s budgetary expenditure above the 60-billion-dollar mark, casually dismissing voices of reason that called for reining-in the gravy train.

Anyway, by the end of her first term, the fifty thousand or so electors who decide what party will govern, booted her out of office and installed Rowley. As his Finance Minister, Colm Imbert tells the story, almost with relish, two days after he took control of the Treasury, the then governor of the Central Bank informed him that he had two days’ money left to run the country.

He was forced to do some fancy footworks, chip here, chop there, borrow, etc, to survive. Grassroots freeloaders and up-high contractors—this country has the most contractors per capita in the world, I swear—had to have nothing to do and fees or wages to collect every month. The Rowley government also resisted chipping and chopping expenditure in spite of serious shortfalls in revenues and advice from eminent economists and other experts appointed to advisory committees. The moaning and groaning continued and election approached: not good portents.

Then came Covid-19, a threat of uncertain proportions that required all hands on deck and a good general to lead the troops. By some mystery, a dream team that resided in the Ministry of Health, captained by ‘General Ice’ in the person of Dr. Roshan Parasram, materialised. Somehow, Dr. Rowley was inspired, became the general who took control of the battle, which, by then, had exploded as the biggest crisis in a century. He and
Dr. Parasram, seeming to work together well performed magic in a population that normally would panic, or erupt into Carnival-like revelry that could torpedo the country into a wasteland. In general, the masses reacted responsibly. They saved the day. And they saved
Dr. Rowley when elections came around in the peak period of August 2020.

To be continued: what happens next….

3 thoughts on “Right, wrong, but spot on”

  1. “The PNM in office for long spells before 2010, and the UNC for some years, expanded transfers and subsidies from millions to billions, in almost reckless binges. Persad-Bissessar, in her term, took wild spending to another level—quite literally: she raised government’s budgetary expenditure above the 60-billion-dollar mark, casually dismissing voices of reason that called for reining-in the gravy train.“
    The blame Kamla movement never cease to amaze me.
    It is a fact when Kamla left office she left over $30 billion extra. And the money spent was spent on identifiable projects.

    This is how the PNM spent money.
    Over­runs
    —Ch­agua­nas Cor­po­ra­tion ad­min­is­tra­tive com­plex–over bud­get by $10 mil­lion–24-month de­lay.
    —Chancery Lane com­plex–$300 mil­lion over bud­get–24-month de­lay.
    —Gov­ern­ment cam­pus and Le­gal Af­fairs tow­er–$300 mil­lion over bud­get–18-month de­lay.
    —Wa­ter­front project–$1.3 bil­lion over bud­get–six-month de­lay.
    —Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry tow­er–$300 mil­lion over bud­get–20-month de­lay.
    —Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre–$234 mil­lion over bud­get–one-year de­lay.
    —South PRC–$238 mil­lion over bud­get–13 months over­due.
    —- Bev­er­ly Hills Hous­ing–$106 mil­lion cost over­run–65-month de­lay.
    —-Lara Sta­di­um–sev­er­al mil­lion cost over­run–41-months de­lay.
    —-Diplo­mat­ic Cen­tre–$700 mil­lion cost over­run–five-month de­lay
    Joseph Ra­hael–de­lays and cost over­runs on sev­er­al of those projects–Cou­va Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($172 mil­lion), Barataria Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($149 mil­lion), Pleas­antville Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($150 mil­lion)

    Trin­i­ty Hous­ing owned by the Ra­hael group con­struct­ed 138 units at Or­chard Gar­dens, in­cur­ring cost over­runs of $50 mil­lion. He claimed an­oth­er de­vel­op­ment at Corinth Hills was done by the same com­pa­ny, in­cur­ring cost over­runs of $128 mil­lion. Trin­i­ty Hous­ing projects with cost over­runs in­clud­ing East Grove in Curepe ($64 mil­lion), Bon Air (an orig­i­nal $13 mil­lion con­tract with $19 mil­lion in cost over­runs) and Green­vale Park ($156 mil­lion in cost over­runs.)
    Broad­way Prop­er­ties–whose man­ag­ing di­rec­tor is list­ed as Joseph Ra­hael–which was con­tract­ed to build schools. De­lays and cost over­runs on sev­er­al of those projects–Cou­va Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($172 mil­lion), Barataria Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($149 mil­lion), Pleas­antville Ju­nior Sec­ondary ($150 mil­lion).

    In addition to all of that there is Petrotrin..
    Petrotrin the facts:
    2002 -Debts $3 1/4 billion
    2010- Debt rose to $12 1/2 billion. (3 failed projects under the PNM)
    2012-Profit $1.8 billion. (the last year to make a profit)
    2013-2015 Loss $2 billion
    2016-Loss $2 billion
    2002 Petrotrin debt was $3 1/4 billion, it rose to $12 1/2 billion in 2010.
    Petrotrin borrowed by putting out 2 bonds to finance 3 failed projects. They borrowed US $750 million in 2007 and US $850 million in 2009. Those bonds have to be repaid…

    Billions disappeared and continue to disappear under the PNM.
    Imbert spent more money than the PP in 5 1/2 years with no flagship projects to show. Nobody knows how deep the PNM sinkhole can be. There is nothing wrong with subsidies because the national patrimony belongs to the people.

    This reporter is a staunch PNM so I don’t expect him to produce facts on anything when it comes to the wastage, mismanagement and pilfering of the the treasury by the friends, family and financiers of the PNM. He must sing for his supper.

  2. We come to expect something of substance from Raffigue Shah, as usual he’s a prolific writer. But the comments that followed by Mamoo with all the statistics of cost overrun in the tune of billions of dollars depiction is no supervise, even though I believe they are better than the the old PNM. Kamla’s party spending Graphics are vivid and without reason. I remembered one year when they found more oil in Trinidad she said that “God must be a Trini. She never thought to say that the devil must be the care taker of Trinbago’s wealth.

  3. The PNM have the best way to thief, they cost over run every project and full their pocket, meanwhile looking at the citizenry thumbing their nose and saying nenene I got you.

    Then they have the media houses looking the other way, many controlled by conglomerates eating from the balisier leaf. It is a whole connected wheel of corruption. Presently there are several files on PNM corruption in the desk of the DPP, in the lower bottom draw that would not see the light of day.

    They keep each other secrets and maintain a strict code of silence. If a brush fire arise they quickly stamp it out.

    Trinidad is sinking but the skunks still blaming Kamla. Look at where the problem is “ Trinidad and Tobago spent over $2 billion on the importation of cereals, fruits and vegetables last year, says Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon.

    Delivering her contribution on the Appropriation Bill (2021) in Parliament yesterday, Gopee-Scoon said according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), food imports were valued at approximately $5.67 billion in 2019 creating a serious drain on valuable foreign exchange.

    “Of that amount, $1.1 billion each was spent on cereals and fruits and vegetables. We spend TT$180 million on biscuits, bread and pastries and TT$28 million on mixes and doughs. I say this to say that there is a context for decisions taken to curb foreign exchange leakages,” Gopee-Scoon told the House in reference to the apparent expensive taste for exotic foreign food items by consumers”…

    Who they giving the money to import when small businesses are getting a “cheeky” $200 U.S.
    Hear Imbert boasting
    “The Government managed so well, he boasted, that TT is now in the final stages of a US$20 million loan from the World Bank even after securing other loans and raising a US$500 million bond for ten years with a 4.5 per cent interest rate.” He running the economy like a man managing a parlour, incurring debt all over the place.
    Whilst Rowley killing the energy sector, Colm increasing the debt load on future generations, turning TnT into a banana republic.

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