By Raffique Shah
April 12, 2021
There must be an ultra-secret super-Lotto somewhere in the universe, where only the super-wealthy and governments-by-vaps play for super-stakes—you know, jackpots paid in gazillions, in currencies-of-choice, and in cash, s’il vous plait. Really, there must be. Why else would Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley strut around a country that looks like an abandoned steam locomotive whose era has gone, they looking cooler than the proverbial cucumber, seemingly without care or worry, while lesser mortals like your humble scribe worry to no end over the near-evaporation of foreign exchange, the unavailability of any good or service that we can sell in large enough volumes that will yield the billions of US dollars we require for our sustenance?
Clearly, they must know something that we don’t. In the wake of the Covid crisis that seems set to stay put, vaccine or no vaccine, and rather ominously, a vast number of school-and-working-age citizens sitting idly in their homes like latter-day zombies, existing but hardly living, any sane person will figure out that something is radically wrong. Unless, of course, the captains of the State coffers are sitting on some super-sized Lotto jack-and-jenny-pot that will magically materialise, transporting all the children of God-de-Trini into a paradise carpeted with currencies of their choice.
But for some such voodoo-financing standing by to rescue T&T, we are deep in the doo-doo. Think of it. We are up to our skull-caps in debt. Half of the mega-petrochemical plants at Point Lisas are idle or shut down. The Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery is gathering rust. When a supposedly new plant on the compound sprang to life early one morning last week, it erupted in a nuclear-like blast that rattled the roof of my shamba, terrifying the old soldier, who lives (I can still use present tense) seven or so kilometres north of Hiro-NiQuan. I instinctively recited the drill from the nuclear-chemical-biological warfare studies I did at Sandhurst hundreds of moons ago: flash, heat, blast, radiation… flash, heat… Nothing seems to be happening in this country—except if one wishes to engage in political cussouts, which seem to be the crowning accomplishments of many parliamentarians.
Every dog and his brother talks about diversification of the economy, boldly pronouncing it’s an imperative if we are to advance anywhere post-Covid. But talk is all we get. There is no action, no entrepreneurship, no spirit of corporate adventure that might inspire a global giant or two, maybe four, born in this country, in the minds of just two or four or six of the hundreds of thousands of supposedly bright young people who were educated mostly at taxpayers’ expense, pampered all the way through the lecture rooms of sundry tertiary-level institutions, to bring forth what?
If I may beat up on the technology horse that has sprinted upfront in the innovation stakes, are you seriously saying that after we have spent billions of dollars schooling them, as my forebears used to say, we cannot show a single Airbnb or a Facebook or Tesla plugin autopilot electric vehicle that offers T&T competitive entry into a global market that will soon be worth trillions of US dollars? Are you seriously telling me that the best we can show for all these decades of investment are parking lots with piles of foreign-used hybrids?
This country is unbelievable, you’d better believe it. The Government is hoping for Lotto-like luck to rescue us from the purgatory of an oil and gas economy that is well past its expiry date. The intelligentsia is engaged in dream-like intellectual masturbation, trying to outdo each other when it comes to economic models, none of which can save us from a fate worse than the IMF. Trade unions are calculating the back pay they would cream off their members—once the economy gets going for another short sprint. Ninety-nine per cent of so-called business operators don suits and meet frequently in rum shops that have been elevated to class-less restaurants to spout to news-starved journalists their profound wisdom on just how much mark-up they can apply to imported goods that have captive markets. The masses mark time in or outside of rural rum shops, imbibing strong brews in innocent-looking teacups, gambling on the State-sanctioned 20 or more games a day. Said State-sponsored Lotto provides legitimate avenues for white-collar criminals to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in the booming properties market, seemingly without care, certainly without fear of facing stiff jail sentences and seizure of assets.
And so the drumbeat continues: dance, boy, dance; wine, girl, wine. In this cussed-blessed country, our money may run low, but never run out. We shall survive hell or heaven, whatever comes our way. Now, didn’t I plan to write on the new economy? Such lofty ideas and ideals. Quoting Rousseau and Locke and Fanon, Nehru and CLR and George Sammy.
Pass the teacup.