As Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its 52nd anniversary of Independence yesterday, President Anthony Carmona touched on a number of topics, including local productivity levels; a sense of entitlement to the public purse; and a prolonged dependency on oil and gas revenue.
“Just as we enjoy the privileges of independence, we must know and accept that they can only remain available with continuous productivity,” Carmona said in his Independence message.
“Our productivity levels are not where they should be and we are in danger of entering an age of entitlement. More and more people are depending on the public purse rather than actively seeking out opportunities to achieve economic freedom, moving out of the dependency mode in order to become a contributor rather than an expender of resources.”
The President continued: “Let us be brutally frank on the issue of the national largesse and patrimony.
“Our dependency levels on the public purse in all sectors of our society are unparalleled. In this almost institutionalised age of entitlement in our history, where dependency is the jockey riding the economy, where productivity levels continue to wane and we lose our competitive edge as reflected in our low placing on the world competitiveness index, we must as a nation take stock and become a wise custodian of our national purse.”
He said it was “small comfort” that energy reserves have remained stable since 2009, in spite of a recent audit by Houston-based Ryder-Scott Petroleum Consultants which revealed that proven natural gas reserves are down by seven per cent.
“As much as with increased exploration new gas reserves can be found, what must be obvious to all is that our oil and gas reserves are not renewable and they are diminishing and, to protect the generations to come, we must engage in nothing short of a radical shift in the diversification of the economy,” Carmona said.
He said the proverbial horse has not yet bolted and while the country has done well financially, Trinidad and Tobago cannot and must not “sit on our laurels”.
“Our traditional oil and gas philosophy does not have conservation as a crucial component and we can ill afford to continue to spend billions of dollars which are not reflected in the improved human capital of our country.”
But the President said he is convinced that this state of affairs can be turned around as T&T’s greatest resource is not oil and gas but remains its human resource.
This country has produced citizens who have changed the world, Carmona said, invoking the likes of Dr Joseph Pawan, who identified bats as a vector for the rabies virus, which led to the development of a cure that saved millions of lives, and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) who was part of the civil rights vanguard in the United States that included the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Jesse Jackson.
He also recalled one of his predecessors, former president Arthur NR Robinson, who he hailed as the grandfather of the International Criminal Court, which created an international justice system that does not allow any impunity committed by political leaders, generals, commanders, and civilians to go unchallenged.
“We have produced Professor Steven Gift and Dr Rudrananth Capildeo who can well be on par with Einstein and Newton,” Carmona said.
“We have produced Dr Eric Williams, a brilliant historian and father of our nation who led the Independence movement to give us the very occasion we are celebrating today.”
The President said great things happened from small beginnings.
“I am even pleased to recognise Lieutenant Commander Kele-Ann Bourne of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard who only this morning became the first female officer to ride on parade,” he said.