Friday, January 19, 2018

Two countries I love

Make no mistake about it, the two countries I love most are Canada, my adopted homeland which has done a lot to expand my horizons and improve my quality of life, and Trinidad and Tobago, the country of my birth.

Canada’s per capita GDP as US$43,400 while Trinidad and Tobago’s is US$16,320; roughly speaking the country of my birth is half as wealthy as my adopted homeland.

Comparatively speaking, Canada’s gross national income is US$37,500 while T&T’s is US$20,000.

I am amused therefore, when I hear comments such as, “In a country as rich as T&T we should not have poverty, or homeless persons, or we should have water 24/7”.

T&T is comparatively speaking a “wealthy” country and has recently been classified by the OECD as a high income developed country; that must be taken in context.

T&T is no Japan, Canada or Singapore.

Therefore expectations have to be contextualised, efficiency has to be drastically improved and productivity must be increased significantly.

Ancel Roget and Watson Duke would do well to understand that while their job is primarily to improve the well-being of workers, they also have an equal responsibility to ensure that worker productivity increases. If worker productivity, holidays and all, continues at current levels, T&T will never catch up with the likes of Canada.

One concern I have when I look at the two countries is that everyone in T&T seems to be fighting for his share of the pie unmindful of the collective needs of others. So workers want increase in pay regardless of the country’s ability to pay. While in Canada and the US public sector workers have frozen salaries and reduced staff, in T&T it has been the opposite.

Businessmen want their share of US dollars regardless of implications for T&T’s foreign exchange reserve situation. Just open the reserve tap and we businessmen will be happy; forget when the reserves run dry. We will deal with that in the fullness of time. Meanwhile in the first quarter of this year disbursements from the Central Bank have greatly exceeded that for the same period last year.

Don’t worry be happy; keep the US dollars flowing to local businesses even if it is to facilitate capital flight to places like Canada?

How else can one explain comparatively flat local economic output, reduced inflation in countries from which we import, and significantly increased demands for US dollars from the Central Bank?

Similarly senior doctors, whose education is paid for primarily by taxpayers, do not give back to the citizenry in like manner. How else do you explain significantly lower productivity levels in state health facilities compared to private hospitals?

Another concern is the high and unrealistic expectations. You move unto state lands, plant a few crops and get bloody vex if the state seeks the land for some wider collective purpose. Could anyone enter a vacant piece of land in Toronto or Calgary?

Finally we have the matter of increasingly high transfers by the Ministry of Finance to State enterprises and to pay for subsidies and other support mechanisms. These transfers do not pay for investment to create the well-paying jobs which GATE graduates need, but primarily to support consumption of goods and services much of which is imported.

This notwithstanding, T&T has done exceedingly well by global standards. One can see infrastructure developments taking place throughout the country and not only in Port of Spain.

Young people in Trinidad and Tobago can receive quality education at highly subsidised rates up to PhD levels if they have the ability and aptitude. We await the impact of the growing hordes of tertiary graduates on our country’s development agenda.

There is even great interest among younger qualified persons in the diaspora about employment opportunities in T&T. Because of my love for my adopted country and that of my birth, I would like to see T&T get its politics right; this is what PM Persad-Bissessar is doing through her politics of inclusion… she is willing to share the political pie.

I would like to see both parties present their plans and policies for taking the country forward. Debate them, provide voters with a clear choice. Whoever wins will then govern on the basis of well thought out policies.

So it is done in Canada, so I would also like it to be a part of T&T’s political landscape.

Whether Al Rawi is a descendant of the Prophet or the most popular person in the PNM is totally irrelevant.

THE AUTHOR is a Trini-Canadian supporter of the People’s Partnership Government