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Prophets, predictions and political parties
Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By Derren Joseph
November 22, 2011

So a political appointee recently predicted that the PNM will never return to power in Trinidad and Tobago. Predicting the future is apparently big business. Today, I will try my hand at predicting the future. Hopefully those who read my predictions will not be as disappointed as those who expected the rapture in October 2011. Among those disappointed people are those that follow Harold Camping—the American pastor who predicted October 21, 2011, as the day the world was to come to an end. Obviously his prediction failed—for at least the third time. Over the years, followers have donated millions of dollars, given up jobs etc as they prepared for the rapture.

Then there are those who have been predicting global economic collapse. Gerald Celente and many others have been quite active online predicting the collapse of the American dollar and the Euro. The number of Web sites offering suggestions on how best to prepare for economic collapse is mushrooming. One interesting site offers suggestions ranging from storing food, to buying silver and getting right with God. My focus is on "getting right with God." In Trinidad and Tobago, various prophets and pundits have been predicting the collapse of the UNC-dominated coalition Government from almost the day after they unseated the previous régime. I predict that this bunch of believers will continue to be frustrated.

The nature of our brand of Caribbean politics is such that the present coalition is not bonded together by any particular political ideology. Rather they are bonded by the simple need to retain power, and the power brokers are very conscious of the mistakes made by previous administrations which led to them prematurely losing their grip on power. Unlike the American and British systems, our political parties are not ideologically distinctive. Some say that the main difference lies in racial groupings that support either of our two main parties. Our tribes however, are not aligned along racial groupings but aligned along fluid social groupings with the ultimate goal being access to the treasury in the form of government contracts and choice jobs. This, of course, is nothing new. This is not the first time and it will not be the last.

I predict that this administration's fate in the next general election would be less a function of any clever plan or amazing strategy—but will be about pure luck. When I say luck, I mean the future revenue from natural gas. So forget predictions about the end of the world, economic collapse or political implosions. I propose that the fate of our tiny twin island republic is best divined by the international forces of demand and supply for gas. If gas prices go up, the Government will have access to resources to redistribute in the form of attractive social programmes which people will hopefully remember on election day. If gas prices go down, it would mean less cash to splash and voters will remember the Opposition come 2015. Predictions about the gas market have been made more complicated by the increasing supply of shale gas.

In the world of gas price predictions, the dominant view appears to be the one expressed by the August 6 feature in the Economist magazine. It proposes an emerging global gas market supplied from widely distributed conventional and unconventional sources in a way that reduces the power of big suppliers to set prices and bully buyers. Apparently something analogous to OPEC looks near impossible under current conditions for two reasons. Firstly, utilities mostly have spare capacity and can adjust their fuel mix as necessary. Secondly, managing the supply of gas month by month, as the oil cartel seeks to do, would be near impossible when most gas continues to be supplied on difficult to break long-term contracts. Bottom line is that the outlook for those hoping for higher prices does not look very encouraging.

Let us be honest—there is no credible plan (emphasis on "credible") for economic diversification on the horizon. We therefore need strong prices for gas together with some new gas finds from ongoing exploration rounds. I expect that, regardless of what they say, the Government should be and is worried about the short to medium term outlook for gas revenue. In this context, the Opposition has about three years to get its act together but unless something radical changes, that seems unlikely. It seems unlikely at this juncture, but the prophets and pundits have been wrong before about the capacity of opposition parties to quickly get their house in order. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my region and I love my country. Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved nation.

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