Thursday, December 14, 2017

Use gas windfall wisely


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It was always to be expected that bpTT's Savonette 4 natural gas discovery would encourage hope and trigger hype in substantial proportions. That bpTT chose a London dateline for its announcement confirms such confidence as would call the attention of other multinational investors and operators to Trinidad and Tobago's prospects.

Citing the investment that made possible Savonette 4, bpTT president Norman Christie stressed the company's "ongoing commitment to the development of our Trinidad and Tobago operations and the wider industry".

Committed investment and advanced technology applied to drilling "horizons" deeper than 18,000 feet lie behind the latest success. But nobody should yet advertise a turnaround in the relatively stagnating T&T energy industry.

Even Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar must have herself resisted the temptation to do so. Still, by referring to the Savonette 4 "monetisation" and by publicly advertising the additional "revenue to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago" to be used for the benefit of the country, she is needlessly raising expectations on which it may prove problematic to deliver.

How will the Government, having projected more revenue largesse to share, now resist demands certain to arise from trade unions and others eager to make claims on the State?

But those eager to jump in line with palms upraised to get a piece of the new pie should be ever mindful that this latest windfall should be used to ensure the long-term future of the country and many generations to come, rather that fattening the pay packets of every employee in the public sector.

We can just hear the cynics shouting that it is better the man in the street gets his share of the national patrimony rather than leaving its disbursement to the politicians of whatever government is in office, who will promise all manner of basic improvements—to schools, hospitals, roads and bridges—but eventually fritter it away on some dubious projects, some of which are of nothing more than cosmetic value.

With that in mind, the T&T Chamber of Commerce lent its voice to the call for prudent management of the benefits to be gained from the latest gas find by pointing out that the Government should not be distracted from its diversification thrust.

"I really trust that the announcement by BP of that gas find would not deter or in any way change that commitment to diversification," said the Chamber's chief executive officer Catherine Kumar.

At a meeting with Trade and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath on Tuesday, Ms Kumar advised that Trinidad and Tobago must seize the opportunity to leverage the wealth created by its energy resources to diversify the economy, adding that the increase in production of natural gas in the United States and other countries is expected to have a negative impact on the price of the commodity.

That alone is a timely warning for all citizens, especially union leaders, who would prefer to see that future revenue from Savonette 4 be divided up among employees of the State.

Of course, everyone should earn an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, but that gas find, like others over the years of T&T's hydrocarbon prosperity, will eventually run dry.

We can only hope that the revenue gained from this lucrative field off Trinidad's south-east coast will be spent wisely so that our children and grandchildren will also derive some benefit from it.