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with Clevon Raphael
Citizens by and large are not too perturbed about the foreign exchange
situation in T&T. Dr Anthony Birchwood, lecturer in economics at the St
Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, is arguing that
the attitude is one of "Why worry when it doesn't concern me." Tobago-
born Birchwood blames this complacency on the failure of governments
to diversify the country's economy.
Q: Dr Birchwood, unless there is some kind
of alarming announcement dealing with the
country s foreign exchange portfolio the aver-
age layman does not seem to be too perturbed about
that aspect of the country s economy...why?
A: (At his UWI St Augustine Campus office
last week) Clevon, I could tell you this, just
look at the election campaign that just went,
the management of the foreign exchange did not
seem to be on the agenda.
Why do you think this was so?
All the parties would determine what they thought
would be the issues which would get them the votes
and what happened is that the political campaigning
discussions were more about hard politics but not
about economic issues. For example, if you look at
how the media interviewed people, the appearances
on the electronic media was always about the vote,
but never exchange rate control (bewildered expres-
Dr, are you seriously saying that the media was
not concerned about that matter on the campaign
I would say the media shows the interest in the
exchange rate when it becomes a crisis, when it
becomes critical. Other than that the media is very
relaxed with respect to forex.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Very bad. Because there are times when you need
to be proactive, when you need to arrest the situation
and the media does not interview on these kind of
matters, even though people like me know things
like these are important.
But doctor, this criticism is hard to digest because
I am fully aware that on a daily basis this newspaper
carries business stories apart from a weekly pull-
out. Is that a fair criticism?
(With a poker face) Look at this, right, when the
former governor of the Central Bank started com-
plaining even though this country was awashed with
foreign exchange somehow there was a shortage of
the commodity. The average business could not get
the required forex and therefore the rate began to
wobble, depreciate, fluctuate, unlike the time when
the rate was stable. A crisis started to emerge and
that is when you started to see more and more of
it in the media.
Dr, I am still baffled as to why you are trying to
make the press the whipping boy when it has and
is doing a lot of business reporting, which takes in
the foreign exchange scenario?
(Chuckling with a heavy sigh) Well, I have to admit
that we as economists cannot shout loud for the
whole of the country to hear us, we have to depend
on the media to carry our views. Many times the
media simply doesn t bother with us, at budget time
they bother with us, but outside of that we are for-
gotten. (A sardonic smile) It is more about politics
and hardly anything on economic matters.
If what you are saying is true, isn t that a reflection
of the general attitude in the society..."If it doesn t
affect me I don t care."
I will not disagree with you, right. Just last month
Venezuela devalued their currency and you find in
Nigeria the government there, they are under pressure
to do likewise, but the president is stubborn, he
doesn t want to do so. So the global pressures are
there and the fight is between oil and shale oil prices,
the oil price is very low, over-production, but you
have shale prices also low deliberately so because of
If we could come off the forex situation for a
while, do you believe that TT could be affected down
the road with the production of shale oil in the US?
Definitely. That is what s happening now, it is a
'Citizens not too concerned about forex'
Continues on Page A9
"Just last month
currency and you
find in Nigeria the
there, they are
under pressure to
do likewise, but
the president is
doesn't want to
do so. So the
are there and the
fight is between
oil and shale oil
prices, the oil
price is very low,
but you have
shale prices also
so because of
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