By Raffique Shah
January 03, 2022
The Covid-induced confinement imposed on citizens by the Government provoked a range of reactions—from anger and drunkenness to solitude and self-pity. Some persons came perilously close to crossing the thin line between sanity and insanity.
I was lucky to have lived the multi-faceted life I did before the pandemic—soldier, adventurer, prisoner, politician, teacher and a range of other life-skills that prepared me for just about anything I might face during the pandemic. Of course, as a human being and more so a humanist, I was shocked by the mass of people globally who were impacted by the virus, by how many were dying “live” before the lenses of reporters’ cameras, agony etched on their faces, questions writ large on them: why me?
So overwhelming were the images of death and dying, one sensed its finality was coming live on television in the homes of hundreds of millions of viewers such that it numbed the world, most of all children. I felt those images were preparing them for short lives, that the three-score-and-ten that earlier generations had been conditioned to expect to live were withdrawn from these children.
As such, death in their teens would be normal in a world reconfigured by Covid. How tragic. They could die before they experienced puberty… and that would seem normal. This “new normal” they are asked to accept as just another phase in our lives. An act of God, we are told. We must accept without question or challenge. Generations to come will never experience love, the magic of being mesmerised by the mere presence of another human being coming so close to them, becoming one, not two persons, who can enjoy the bliss, the ecstasy of what love really is.
Covid may have killed that, leaving a hollowness that one cannot replace with material things. As someone who lived through the “make love, not war” era, who was immersed in music and songs that touched the soul, this post-Covid “normal” is incomprehensible.
Still, I was drawn into the other side of this war-without-end, reminded that globally, economies were collapsing every which way, that Trinidad and Tobago’s economy was precariously poised. In the fog of war, I asked myself: will there be anything to return to when the virus all but destroyed mankind’s culture of social interaction, and now seemed aligned with global climate change, dispensing cataclysmic weather on people who appeared to have reached the limits of their endurance?
It was during those trying days that our oil, gas and petrochemicals-based economy came under attack from the heartless captains of transnational corporations whose modus operandi appeared to have been when better to kick a host country that enhanced their corporations’ profits than when it was down, drowning in debt, when commodity prices had collapsed and negative product-prices confounded governments—what better time?
Every day, the controllers of global energy had their mouthpieces spread panic among the populace of imminent shutdowns and exit of huge industrial complexes that provided, at times, up to 80 per cent of T&T’s revenues, but always more than 30 per cent. Much the way the Ministry of Health kept a tally of Covid-induced deaths, well-placed fifth columnists who claimed to have intimate knowledge of the energy industries, counted, almost with glee, the exit of energy plants from T&T. They gone, the “experts” and political prostitutes shouted. X gone. Y going. And Z will not be reopening. Even I who know a thing or three about the sector got worried. It was a fact that our natural gas production had plummeted to almost half of the 4.2 billion cubic feet a day required to meet the demands of downstream processors and the export markets. And oil production had long fallen way below the 160,000 barrels per day we had known, diving to as low as 40,000 bpd.
I was aware that our downstream operators, who had enjoyed very lucrative first-contracts that were up for re-negotiation with Government through the National Gas Company, thought they could squeeze our balloons using the Covid crisis to get even more favourable terms this time around. They demonised the NGC, lionised themselves, and many people fell for it.
Privately, I hoped T&T’s negotiators would call their shutdown bluffs and get just prices for our products, and penalise “transfer pricing” whereby these respectable multinationals would double-sell their cargoes, pay us at the lower end, and pocket the true profits. I don’t know for sure, but it seems that that’s precisely what happened. All the downstream plants that were said to be fleeing T&T, except for Methanex’s Titan and another ancient plant (Fertrin), are operational, making profits as they always did.
And while gas shortage remains a problem, there is no noise coming from Point Lisas except the hum of turbines churning out ammonia and methanol, meaning mucho dollars. Who’s crying foul now?