Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 3rd 2015 Contents Much of what is to follow
was written in this space
for the occasion of our
Anniversary. As we
move from celebrating
our 53rd year to a general election, I think it
will serve as a timely reminder.
Are we celebrating the fact that we are 53
years old or are we celebrating what we have
accomplished in 53 years? Two very different
questions and the answers in and of themselves
are significant. Being 53 years old is a function
of time, our accomplishments over 53 years
is a function of what we have done with that
We debate which of our leaders should be
credited for selective successes but do we also
lament their individual and collective failures
with the same alacrity?
We have made choices during these 53 years
and these are responsible for where we are
today. In the midst of the celebration, it is
important to place our status in context in
order to form a platform for the next 50 years
T&T has much to be proud about so how
do we add to this base. How do we foster the
sense of national pride that we often see from
Jamaica, despite their economic difficulties,
but which is sometimes lacking here? How
can we replicate the social framework of for
example, resource scarce Barbados without
living off our abundant energy resources?
We share our independence day with anoth-
er country: Singapore. They gained independ-
ence from the UK on August 31, one year after
us. In terms of land mass T&T is about seven
times the size of Singapore and possesses infi-
nitely more natural resources. How does the
development of these two countries compare?
Many a government minister has returned
from a visit to Singapore anxious to replicate
the success of that country.
The competitive advantage of Singapore is
in its world-class "logistics management"
capabilities. They focused on one thing and
did it better than anyone else in the world.
Here at home the average person can t even
define what "economic diversification" means
in the context of T&T.
Singapore has the largest---and from all
accounts---the most efficient container port
in the world and their best-in-class airport
is the hub of South East Asia. Now wander
over to our ports in Port-of-Spain and Point
Lisas and recall our airport scandals that
spanned two different administrations and
appreciate that we mostly pay lip service to
In the words of Jim Collins: "If you have
more than three priorities then you don t have
any." So what have been our priorities over
the past 53 years and what are our priorities
for the next five? Can we identify them? If
not what are we really about and what are we
celebrating. I offer you below three priorities
for T&T that we have failed to properly estab-
lish and which we must consider if we are to
1. Energy resource management
How did a country such as Singapore, a
fraction of the size of T&T with geographic
location as its only "resource" create a sovereign
wealth fund (SWF) of approximately US$400
billion (one hundred times that of T&T)? This
should be a question that every local politician
should be made to answer in order to enter
There have been many attempts to replicate
Singapore s development road map but the
reality is that most of what is discussed here
in T&T is just a superficial attempt to replicate
what is expedient and ignores the basic building
blocks needed to give substance.
Here is an interesting statistic.
According to Bloomberg in 2012, it costs
US$3.51 to fill up a 39 gallon tank of gas in
Venezuela while in another oil rich country
Norway it costs US$394.68. This is an example
of the choices that people and governments
in a country can make. Clearly we are closer
to the side of Venezuela than to Norway. We
subsidise our fuel and also try to provide social
services on top of this hefty subsidy.
In Norway, the model is very different. Their
citizens pay the full cost of fuel and then some.
In general taxes and the cost of living are high.
Yet the revenues from Norway s oil and gas
goes into a SFW that currently stands at
US$600 billion and towards social services
and benefits for its citizens. The Norway fund
is expected to reach US$1 trillion by 2019. For
the record Norway has four million people.
So where has our oil and gas windfall gone
and what do we have to show for it? Maybe
our leaders can tell us because we boast of a
US$5.6 billion Heritage and Stabilisation Fund
(HSF) for 1.3 million people
Singapore is about one seventh the size of
T&T and Norway s population is just over
three times ours. What do we have to show
for our energy windfalls?
2. Human resource management
Singapore is so resource scarce that the
Asian staple of rice does not grow on the island
and it has insufficient water reserves for its
population. T&T has natural resources in abun-
dance and shares similar geographical and
time zone advantages as Singapore relative to
this part of the world.
Yet, as I have lamented in this space, we
have no immigration policy of any note that
proactively seeks to attract any resemblance
of a wealthy, upwardly mobile, educated demo-
graphic to our shores. Instead, we grapple with
a "brain drain" that sees some of our brightest
minds leave for a foreign lands.
In Norway, unemployment benefits entitles
you to a percentage of your previous wage and
after a year you are cut off except for reasons
like injury. In other words, there is an incentive
to find a job in the first place and then keep
it. Better still that means no URP gangs, no
gang leaders and no gang wars for contracts.
All babies born in Norway to unemployed
mothers receive around Kr 30,000 in the first
year. That means no need for make-work pro-
grammes or handouts for single mothers.
Instead, mothers get to spend time with their
children and the money does not go to con-
tractors and "ghosts" but instead goes directly
to the children.
All babies receive just under Kr 1,000 a
month. For stay-at-home parents (paternity
leave is also given) another Kr 3,000 is on
offer up until the child is three years old. Chil-
dren and pregnancy-related medical appoint-
ments are free within the health sector. Edu-
cation in Norway is also free up to tertiary
level. Singapore also offers child care benefits
and the risk of systemic abuse is dealt with
by reducing the benefits for parents with more
than two children.
Here in T&T, apart from the brain drain, I
see statistics where close to half of our pop-
ulation is functionally illiterate.
3. Wealth creation
Norway owns a two-thirds share in their
State oil company Statoil. The profits from
this company goes into their SFW. Can you
imagine state enterprises in T&T being run
in order to make a profit as opposed to being
an instrument of government policy?
For the past few years, I have advocated
putting State companies into our HSF so they
are run for profit and boards are appointed
by the HSF as opposed to being political
Few understood the point yet this is what
is done in Norway with the profits of state
companies (eg Petrotrin, National Gas Com-
pany, National Petroleum, etc) contributing
to the growth of the HSF for future generations.
Such a move will totally change the dynamic
between government, management, workers,
unions and the public at large. A change, I
argue, that will be for what is better.
A portion of Norway s SWF is invested in
their stock market contributing to its devel-
opment. It means that the fund can become
a "market maker" providing liquidity and
depth thus engineering investor confidence
and with it investment returns.
Further, the flow of equity capital augers
well for entrepreneurship as state support is
not at the level of handing out CEPEP and
other contracts but rather comes as equity to
companies with sustainable and transparent
What is the value of government contracts
offered in T&T?
How many projects are marked as "stimulus
projects" to help with economic activity?
How many companies that benefit are listed
on the T&T stock market?
How many procurement scandals have
emanated from these contracts?
Are we about temporary job creation or
about creating wealth for the people of T&T?
Are we as a nation interested in the trans-
parency that comes about from a publicly
listed construction company?
We are almost at the end of the election
season and, sad to say, I see nothing more
than a coat of red or yellow paint being offered
up for the creaking and cracking walls of this
home we call T&T.
Ian Narine is a broker registered with the
SEC and can be contacted at
SEPTEMBER 3 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
From Independence to elections
Being 53 years old
is a function of time,
over 53 years is a
function of what
we have done
with that time.
Links Archive September 2nd 2015 September 4th 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page