God a Trini? Think again, Madam PM
In as old an oil province as Trinidad and Tobago, it's unseemly for the Prime Minister to be making unrestrainedly joyful noise over the promise of a 48-million barrel oil find. "God is a Trini," Ms Persad-Bissessar intoned, lavishly greeting the news of the discovery in Petrotrin's offshore Soldado field.
Yes, it's the biggest find in ten years, reported Khalid Hassanali, chairman of State-owned Petrotrin, whose words were more cautious than those of the Prime Minister and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine. Ms Persad-Bissessar quickly conferred on the new oil find a grandly resonant label—the "Jubilee Discovery".
For her, this is unquestionably jubilation time. Long before the new volume of crude has even begun to be pumped from the seabed, she announced commitments for the anticipated income .
"This revenue will be used to boost many of the developmental projects," she said, evincing the impatience of one who cannot wait for "production to begin so the benefits (can) impact positively on our economy sooner than ever."
Promising "no squandering" of the projected revenue, she said: "Every penny derived will go toward genuine people-centred development in several areas."
The Prime Minister should hardly be unaware of the unintended consequences of such overly upbeat statements. For one thing, brightest expectations of production could be disappointed by output actually realised from the underwater, as BHP Billiton in the 1990s learned to its cost off Trinidad's northeast coast. For another thing, this imprudent exulting in the promise of new revenue is certain to embolden the lengthening list of those with claims on the state.
Among them, count the unionists who demonstrated in the capital on Friday, and who will now be encouraged toward higher militancy. In the event, Ms Persad-Bissessar's remarks—at best unstatesmanlike, and at worst immature—surely complicate the calculations of Finance Minister Larry Howai, now preparing the next budget. The former banker, who must be anxious to gain command of the assembly and the allocation of national finances, must be wondering how much the Prime Minister's expressed spend-spend attitude could undermine his efforts, for example, to hold down the runaway fuel subsidy. Only last week, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce reminded the Finance Minister of the fuel subsidy albatross around the Treasury's neck. The business body rang the alarm signalling the failure of successive governments to rein in the fuel subsidy. Use of CNG, compressed natural gas, in place of diesel and gasoline, had been endorsed by the two previous budgets. Both budgets had promised widening availability of CNG by opening such stations, but "none have come to fruition," the Chamber said.
Amid all this, who needs the Prime Minister's reckless talk about an imminent local oil boom that remains, for now, a figment only of her over-excited imagination?