THIS CHRISTMAS Day, when the people of Trinidad and Tobago join in the world’s biggest birthday celebration, they will still be doing what people across the global community generally do — complain about all that’s wrong, or appears to be wrong, while ignoring what’s good or positive.
That’s why, for instance, last weekend’s oil spill can attract so much negative attention, including talk of sabotage, even as the Government moves with alacrity to minimise the environmental and economic consequences of the problem.
Co-incidentally, the World Bank was at the same time noting in its World Development Report for 2014 that T&T is “one of the wealthiest and well-developed nations” in the Caribbean region based on gross national income (GNI) of US$14.440.
The Bahamas, on the other hand, has been rated as “the most economically prosperous” country in Caricom and, with a GNI of US$21,280 it also happens to be “one of the richest countries in the Americas…”
Of course, as we have also been informed in earlier reports by the World Bank and others among the International Financial Institutions that both T&T and The Bahamas also have to deal with negative socio-economic factors, the high incidence of crime being an issue of serious concern.
Currently, T&T’s crime profile seems to compete with Jamaica’s. But that argument is not a focus of today’s column. Rather, the focus is more on Barbados, to help illustrate the prevailing pessimistic national mood in what was, for many years, rated as the “best managed economy” in the region with quite attractive social benefits for its citizens, not the least being in the health sector.
Now, in this week of Christmas 2013, amid the enchanting music, traditional delicious West Indian dishes and family gatherings, there prevails a mood of uncertainty around that nation’s future social and economic development.
It is a mood spawned largely by a combination of the impending retrenchment of thousands of public sector workers and continuing downgrades by international rating agencies with dim prospects for change in the short term.
The gloom is lending itself to varied speculative scenarios, not the least being an expected cabinet reshuffle to be announced by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart either in his New Year’s message to the nation, or shortly thereafter.
The cabinet changes are expected to include replacement of controversial finance minister Chris Sinckler by minister of agriculture Dr David Estwick, as well as the appointment of what has long been absent from Mr Stuart’s administration — a deputy prime minister. Current thinking suggests that this portfolio is most likely to be allotted to tourism minister Richard Sealy.
However with a parliamentary majority of merely two in the 30-member House of Assembly, Mr Stuart would be very careful in exercising his options for changes in ministerial portfolios.
Meanwhile, though not targeted with persistent negative ratings from international agencies, as is currently the case for Barbados, various other countries in the eastern Caribbean continue to be plagued by slow and even negative economic growth, as recurring challenges surface to threaten social stability amid rising unemployment and gun-related crime.
In this context Caricom’s governments would be anxious to receive the report of the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF) on the way forward for 2014. Launched in May last year in Washington, the CGF is a combined initiative of the World Bank, IMF, Inter-American Development Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and the University of the West Indies.
While we await the recommendations from the CGF, it is important for the region’s people to learn what progress, if any, has been made to operationalise the “Caricom Economic Commission” as unanimously decided at last July’s annual Heads of Government Conference.
The Commission’s terms of reference require it to address the priority areas for regional fiscal sustainability and resource mobilisation as well as critical infrastructural services, particularly in energy and information communication technology.
The current reality within Caricom is that while Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas and Guyana enjoy, in varying degrees, reasonable economic prospects, too many economies seem to be in serious difficulty, if not exactly crisis phase!
A Merry Christmas to all readers of this column. Let me also take this opportunity to offer a sorrel toast from a distance in Barbados — best wishes to the Trini contingent among my scattered family members within Caricom. First names will suffice—Donna, Gregory, Rebekah, Joshua, Miriam and Hannah.