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Proud of Ourselves
Posted: Sunday, September 6, 2009

By Derren Joseph
September 06, 2009

Over the past couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to touch base with two old friends. One was Gavin Ottley, whom I met during my UWI days. The other was Peter Pedro, whom I met through our mutual friend, Osei, during our teenage years. Both have been in the States for some years. Gavin just completed his MBA, and Peter was studying family medicine. When I look at the five pillars in the Vision 2020 document, innovative people are represented as the central pillar. I believe people are the most critical component in our developmental process.

logoIt is especially important to get the best people in the right jobs here in Trinidad and Tobago. Gavin graduated recently with distinction, and at the top of his class in the global MBA for Latin American managers. This MBA is administered jointly by Thunderbird School of Global Management of Phoenix, Arizona, and Tecnológico de Monterrey's EGADE Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership, of Monterrey, Mexico. Its emphasis was on Latin America. When I hear about one of us doing well, I cannot help but feel good. That is the power of the Trini blood flowing through our veins. Both in track and field and in the class-room, our fellow nationals make us proud. Peter and I had a very long chat. Inevitably, the conversation moved on to how much Trinidad has changed since he last visited four years ago.

I started off by talking about the falling inflation and the strengthening of the local economy. The outlook seems positive, given the early signs of recovery in the US and Europe (green shoots?). That should help support Trinidad's energy economy. And as these key markets recover, tourist numbers should rebound, thus helping Tobago and our regional trading partners that depend on tourism. As a doctor, however, Peter was very interested in the healthcare system. I am no expert, but I do remember that during the Summit of the Americas' Business Forum, we met Hans Rosling. He is the professor of international health, Karolinska Institute, and Director of Gapminder Foundation, Sweden.

He has a very interesting Web site called
The point of this site is to use facts to counteract myths. According to the site, our rates of infant mortality have been falling, and life expectancy has been increasing. In T&T, 88 per cent of children are vaccinated against measles vs 80 per cent in the UK and 94 per cent in Australia, according to 2003 data. It seems that although we have much work to do, it would be sad to ignore all that has already been accomplished. We then spoke about social conditions. Some say the middle class is shrinking. But our overall population has been, more or less, constant for a while, and there are many more cars on the road than ever before, and the overall housing stock has risen dramatically. This Gapminder Web site suggests that T&T has been experiencing extremely low population growth.

Our total fertility in 2004 is 1.63 children per woman, vs 1.79 in the UK, definitely in line with other so-called developed nations.

Perhaps, more than ever, the average Trinidadian has greater access to owning his/her own home, driving his/her own car, or accessing tertiary education. Do not get me wrong; there are too many still suffering, and we need to continue best efforts to change this. In terms of inequality measures, there is the percentage of income held by the lowest 20 per cent of the population. If I understand it correctly, in 2000 the poorest 20 per cent, apparently, held only 5.4 per cent of national wealth in the USA. T&T has no number for 2000, but in 1992, it was 5.9 per cent. I would prefer to compare the same years, but still, it would appear that our poor people have a slightly bigger share of the pie than their US equivalent.

Such hard data helps inform discussions of wealth inequality in T&T. Maybe some future CSO research could update these metrics to make for a fairer comparison? Not that "material goods" could ever be the sole indicator of so-called progress. That is clear. At the same time, I maintain that Trinidad and Tobago is evolving and growing. I advocate that we look at the good—not just the bad. Be proud of what we have achieved so far. We have come a long way, and have a very, very long way to go.

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