Cutbacks must start at the top

By Raffique Shah
November 23, 2008

PM Patrick ManningSo we have come full circle-responding only when the White “massa”, or “missus” in this case, wields the whip. Government has belatedly decided to review its expenditure in light of the global financial and economic crises. The announcement to that effect came immediately after the IMF’s Christina Daseking warned government about its spending spree, saying it must rein in unnecessary expenditure if the country is to weather the global storm.

What is the perception, given that numerous local economists, even ordinary people with common sense, have expressed similar sentiments long before Daseking spoke out? Not that Prime Minister Manning is dismissive of advice from locals, but submissive to whatever comes from foreign officials? It may well be that Mr Manning was mulling over the move for some time, in which case his timing was all wrong.

I should hate to think that he deliberately ignored Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams’ repeated injunctions about containing inflation and reining in public spending. Or that he has no time for the freely-shared wisdom of eminent economists like Eric St Cyr, Gregory McGuire, Dennis Pantin and Ronald Ramkissoon, to name a few local luminaries?

I agree that the country is not yet in crisis, nor are we about to enter the hellhole some politicians and politically motivated pundits visualise through their tainted glasses. In relative terms, the local economy is far better off than most countries’ globally-although when one looks at our infrastructural underbelly, one might think we are grossly undeveloped. The daily floods in Port of Spain and elsewhere in the country, the ridiculously high crime rate, the nastiness that pervades the country, are hardly signs of progress.

Government is not to blame for the entire mess-that much sensible people recognise. When it comes to managing the economy, though, the ordinary citizen has no say, hence no responsibility. That rests on the shoulders of those who offered themselves for office, who willingly accepted the mandate to govern, to manage our resources, to preserve our patrimony. Ever since the oil and gas dollars started flowing, Mr. Manning started spending. Not prudently, I need add, but wildly.

As Joe Private, I had no problem with Cabinet spending money on a new mansion for the PM. I have repeatedly said whoever holds that office is CEO of the country. If CEOs of certain corporations live like kings and queens in palaces, why should our PM live in a sty? I don’t see anything wrong with paying ministers adequately for their services, once they perform. I have also come out strongly in favour of government’s housing programme: it has not only helped poor-to-middle-income put roofs over their heads, but it has dampened prices in a real estate market gone crazy.

For all the good things the Manning Government has done, though, it has tainted them with an expensive coat of irresponsibility. If cutbacks must come to stabilise the ship of state, let’s start chopping some of those grandiose but ill-conceived projects. That offshore island the PM has touted, forget it: it’s an ultra-expensive dream that would turn into a colossal nightmare. We do not need it. Then throw the rapid rail idea where it rightly belongs-in Colm Imbert’s waste receptacle.

And don’t you dare ask me if that lies upstairs or downstairs the minister’s chamber. The alternatives are there and they are infinitely cheaper. Note I have not condemned the water-taxis, although I suspect their impact on traffic congestion would be minimal.

Forget, too, the LNG “Train X”. Sure, we make much money off LNG. But with questionable natural gas reserves, and given that our downstream energy plants are already yielding more revenue than we can spend, we don’t need “X”. Besides, the number of countries that are getting into the LNG business, among them Qatar and Russia with unimaginable gas reserves, let’s stay with what we already have. I imagine by now the PM has given up on his promised “three smelters”. Good for him, good for us.

The PM has hinted at cuts in workers’ wages and salaries, at citizens having to tighten our belts. Start that exercise at the top-no better place to set examples. The PM should announce a 10-to-20 per cent cutback in salaries among ministers, MPs and senators.

Surely, if ministers cannot live comfortably on, say, $30,000 per month, how in hell do they expect middle-income workers to survive on $5,000 a month? Worse, what of the mass of under-employed who must make ends meet on $3,000 a month or less? Ask the tens of thousands who are employed in manufacturing, the service sector, retail stores, agriculture, even CEPEP.

This economic crisis offers us an opportunity to demand productivity and performance, not just from shopfloors, but from executive suites as well. With increased productivity, there will be no need to cut back on wages: demand performance, pay bonuses to those who deserve them. Both the public and private sectors should seize the dark cloud of recession to correct this anomaly that has haunted workplaces for far too long. This economic downturn could be a blessing if we battle it with brain and brawn.

Related News:

Timely demise of hang-tough budget policy
Alarm bells of the economic wake-up call finally became too much to ignore. Last week, the Patrick Manning administration shook itself, looked around, and discovered that its state of denial was shared nowhere in a world.

Empty reassurances
On Thursday night, Prime Minister Patrick Manning in an address to the nation announced that, due to the global recession, the Government would be cutting back on expenditure. His address technically came one day late, since it was supposed to be given on Wednesday night, but in reality Mr Manning’s announcement was tardy by several years, since it is at least that long that economists, financial experts, public commentators, and ordinary citizens have been telling the Government to stop its wild spending.

Wild times in TT!

Ignoring economic advice at our peril

Two-thirds of T&T Not Happy With Manning
For the the majority of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, life has worsened over the last five years. Close to two-thirds of the population are unhappy with Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s management of the country and more people now have a more unfavourable attitude towards him than a year ago.

2 thoughts on “Cutbacks must start at the top”

  1. I agree with you 100% that “cutbacks must start at the top”.

    Mr. Manning should Lead by example.

    I would be shocked if he do though…


  2. Stop rapid rail in its tracks

    Monday, November 24th 2008

    This is an open letter to the Prime Minister.

    Dear Sir,

    Again in Saturday’s news you reiterated that the Rapid Rail Project will continue. It would help if you and your dream team of Browne and Imbert can answer a few simple questions without the spin.

    – Where will it pass, exactly? On what will it run? Gas or electricity?

    – How many homes and residents will be displaced and where are you proposing they relocate to?

    – What will happen to the taxi-drivers, PH drivers, maxi drivers and their business?

    – What is your plan in the event of a breakdown or accident during rush hour? Will it have the same spin as Imbert’s response to the floods?

    – If you are spending hundreds of millions on new buses and highways to alleviate the traffic why put our grandchildren and their grandchildren in this unwarranted debt?

    As much as I want to support it, I cannot. Mr Browne in a report a couple days ago hinted that the contractor will design, build and finance. Great. Except that someone has to repay the debt and its not the contractor. Twenty billion dollars over 20 years plus interest folks. Do the math.

    This project should stop immediately. We cannot afford it now or in the near future.

    Shelve it for now. Let the water taxis get a chance to work together with your bus service.

    Wazir Mohammed

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