Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 1st 2016 Contents BG14 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt SEPTEMBER 1 • 2016
Yesterday, T&T marked 54
years as an independent
nation. How do you feel?
The question comes from a calypso of 29
years ago; it is just as relevant today. Inde-
pendence Day passed with the usual celebration
but the times we face are not business as
Are we celebrating the fact that we are 54
years old or are we celebrating what we have
accomplished in 54 years?
Two very different questions and the answers
are significant. Being 54 years old is a function
of time, our accomplishments over 54 years
are 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 54 years
and these are responsible for where we are
In the midst of the celebration it is important
to place our status in context in order to form
a platform for the next 54 years and beyond.
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
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.
Over our 54 years, many a government min-
ister has returned from a visit to Singapore
anxious to replicate the success of that country
yet, the one thing that Singapore does not
suffer from is a lack of governance.
When we compare ourselves to oil rich
nations we are closer to the side of Venezuela
than to Norway. As with most third-world oil
producing nations, we subsidise our fuel and
also try to provide social services on top of
this hefty subsidy. The challenges of that model
is apparent today. The extreme dislocation
that it causes can be seen across the Gulf of
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 go into a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SFW)
and towards social services and benefits for
Prior to the fall off in oil prices, the Norway
Fund was on course to reach US$1 trillion by
2019. For the record, Norway has four million
So where have our oil and gas windfall gone
and what do we have to show for it?
Maybe our leaders can tell us because we
were not even able to reach US$6 billion in
our Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) for
1.3 million people and have started to access
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 not only
keep it but strive for better employment. That
means no URP gangs, no gang leaders and no
gang wars for contracts. It also means that
there is a nexus between the spend on tertiary
education and personal ambition as the more
you earn the higher your potential unemploy-
Most of Europe is facing an ageing popu-
lation. T&T is in the same situation. In Norway,
they address the issue in part by offering a
baby grant and this also goes towards care of
the child. It is paid out of the national insurance
The combination of proper funding for child
care and limited unemployment benefits is a
different approach to our Unemployment Relief
Programme and our CEPEP programmes which
at inception were designed to assist single
mothers. The Norway programme does not
seem to have room for "ghost gangs".
Education in Norway is also free up to ter-
tiary 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.
Norway owns a two-thirds share in their
state oil company Statoil. The profits from
this company go 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 close to a decade now I have advocated
putting state companies into our HSF so they
are run for profit where boards are appointed
by the HSF as opposed to being political
The idea has never caught on, yet this is
what is done in Norway with the profits of
state companies (the local equivalents of
Petrotrin, National Gas Company, National
Petroleum, First Citizens etc) contributing to
the growth of the HSF for future generations
as opposed to the government of the day
extracting dividends to fund budget deficits
and election campaigns. Such a move will
totally change the dynamic between govern-
ment, 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 marker" providing liquidity and
depth thus engineering investor confidence
and with it investment returns. Further, the
flow of equity capital augers well for entre-
preneurship as state support is not at the level
of handing out contracts but rather comes as
equity to companies with sustainable and
transparent business models.
Switching to Singapore, how did a country
a fraction of the size of T&T with geographic
location as its only "resource" create a SWF
close to one hundred times that of T&T s?
This should be a question that every local
politician should be made to answer in order
to enter politics.
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.
The competitive advantage of Singapore is
in its world class "logistics management"
capabilities. They have 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.
Add to that our approach to the national
airline and appreciate that T&T mostly pays
lip service to national development.
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.
We have no immigration policy of any note
that proactively seeks to attract any resem-
blance of a wealthy, upwardly mobile, educated
demographic to our shores. Instead we grapple
with a "brain drain" that sees some of our
brightest minds leave for a foreign lands.
I can sum up our approach by comparing
the approach of Singapore and Malaysia to
developing impoverished areas. In Malaysia,
redevelopment resulted in going into impov-
erished areas and applying a coat of paint, a
new roof and some palm trees. In Singapore,
they were completely rebuilt from scratch.
Then I took a drive along the Beetham High-
way and I saw the equivalent of Malaysia s
"China Town" here in T&T.
Despite all the resources at our disposal, we
are nowhere close to Singapore. We are
nowhere close to being a developed country.
How do you feel?
Ian Narine can be contacted at ian.nar-
54 years: How
do you feel?
Such a move will totally
change the dynamic
unions and the public at
large. A change I argue that
will be for what is better.
Links Archive August 31st 2016 September 2nd 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page