Thursday, February 22, 2018

Incisive critique from Dr Farrell

On the heels of the Government’s mystifying decision to award a hefty $400 million contract to a firm that it publicly characterised as engaging in “cartel behaviour”, expressions by chairman of the Government-appointed Economic Development Advisory Board (EADB) deepen concerns already expressed by this newspaper.

With logic as his guide, economist Terrence Farrell, at the “Promoting Innovation for Diversification: Moving Forward,” seminar held last week at Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, Port of Spain, questioned why the first phase of the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla was given priority over refurbishment of Tobago’s ANR Robinson International Airport.

The context of his question was the oft-touted but now urgent need to diversify the national economy. Given that in October the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Sandals Resort that is expected to realise a huge tourism-related investment in Tobago, why would the Government, a mere month earlier, have turned the sod for a highway to the south-east coast of Trinidad?

A Government arguing for diversification, economic transformation and shifting of paradigms raises expectations that its investment of chunks of increasingly scarce resources will be directed to areas that support those concepts. Instead, silence has been the noticeable response of the Government decision-makers to Dr Farrell’s blunt distillation of evident incongruity between its stated policy and its actions.

Following week-long flooding in large swathes of Trinidad late last month, this newspaper wonders whether flood mitigation infrastructure may have also not been an area of shared priority for productive public sector investment.
Having raised his questions inside Hilton’s conference centre, Dr Farrell dug deeper outside the room and arrived at the fundamental centre of many governance challenges. In a post-seminar interview with reporters, he reinforced the call for constitution reform and for wider public participation on national issues.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and anti-money laundering legislation were identified as examples of issues for national discussion in which all sectors of the population must be involved and intellectually invested.
All business organisations, chambers of commerce, civil society groups and professional organisations, said Dr Farrell, must speak on these matters because they affect the country rather than only the political parties locked in systemic rivalry.

Further, Dr Farrell pointed to the need to dislocate normative methods of public engagement—the population has to find ways to critique and recommend changes and directions to governments rather than lazily complaining while absenting the hard work of identifying and communicating sustainable solutions to the country’s myriad problems.

There is no fault either in the support for constitution reform or the call for constructive public participation in national dialogue. Indeed, it is conceivably the one path towards survival for a T&T ailing from a monoculture economy, finishing-touch commercial activity, poor planning across sectors and a judiciary in which public trust and confidence continues to fade.