Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 5th 2017 Contents JANUARY 5 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
VIEW | BG3
BG VIEW ANTHONY WILSON
Chief editor business
Editing and design
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Is there cause for
optimism in 2017?
Although I don't think I am a naturally opti-
mistic (or pessimistic) person, at the turn of
the New Year there was a sense of looking
forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.
On the front cover of the last Business
Guardian for 2016, last year was described
as an annus horribilis for T&T, given the sharp decline in the
prices and production of the country's main exports, the deep
contraction in the economy and the consequential increase
in unemployment and the unavailability of foreign exchange.
My take on the economy is that there is some cause for op-
The government plans to bring new share offerings on to the
local stock market provide fiscal support for the 2017 budget.
As Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, announced in pre-
senting the 2017 budget, an offer for sale will be made by the
National Gas Company of its residual 51 per cent sharehold-
ing in T&T NGL Ltd (TTNGL). The sale of TTNGL shares is
expected to generate $1.5 billion.
The government also proposes to offer an additional 20 per
cent of its shareholding in First Citizens Holdings Ltd, the
majority owner of First Citizens which is expected to generate
The State also proposes to sell 20 per cent of TGU, the power
generation plant, to institutional investors such as NIB, UTC
and hopefully National Enterprises Ltd as well as offer for sale
50 per cent of the industrial estates under Evolving Technol-
ogies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd (eTecK).
Any year in which there are two new shares (and four in all)
being offered by the State to local individual and institutional
investors is a good year, in my book.
On the issue of the foreign exchange shortage, it's my view
that, at some point, the government is going to have to take
the advice of the experts on the issue of the foreign exchange
system that is currently in place in T&T, which the Central
Bank manages by rationing the sale of US$150 million to the
authorised dealers of foreign exchange a month.
I can do no better than quote from the last Sunday Guardian
editorial on the issue of the consequences of the Central Bank's
policy of rationing:
"In previous years, queues for foreign exchange were ep-
isodic and seasonal. In 2016, those queues have been trans-
formed into a persistent, seemingly permanent unavailability
of foreign exchange, which is damaging the credit ratings of
businesses, large and small, because of delays or inability to
pay foreign suppliers.
"And the system may be imposing hidden costs on consumers
as more and more distributors and retailers are forced to seek
foreign exchange on the black market at substantially higher
prices than the Central Bank rates.
"This black market in foreign exchange---which is illegal, but
seemingly unpoliced and certainly unprosecuted---may itself
be propagating criminality, as those who receive US dollars
through drug trafficking, corruption or money laundering are
able to sell their ill-gotten gains at huge profits.
"The TT-dollar proceeds of this totally dysfunctional sys-
tem are then being used to purchase large swathes of property
and in the construction of fantastic mansions by people who
declare poverty-level incomes to the Board of Inland Revenue.
"In effect, then, the Central Bank's current foreign exchange
system may, unwittingly it is hoped, be facilitating an extremely
lucrative trade among T&T's underworld elements."
I am also confident that good sense will prevail and bring a
quick end to the strike at Petrotrin.
In a letter to employees sent last week, Petrotrin president
Fitzroy Harewood said all of the wholly state-owned com-
pany's collective agreements expired between April 2011 and
He said the terms and conditions of Petrotrin's employees,
89 per cent of whom are unionised, are articulated in nine
agreements; six being negotiated with the Oilfields Workers
Trade Union (OWTU), one with the National Petroleum Staff
Association and two with the estate.
One of the extremely relevant questions that has not been
asked with regard to the strike is: if all of the company's collec-
tive agreements expired between April 2011 and January 2012,
why did the previous administration not make an attempt to
conclude the negotiations at Petrotrin?
Why would the People's Partnership conclude negotiations
for new collective agreements at 14 per cent with trade unions
representing public servants, teachers, employees of regional
health authorities, police officers, fire officers, members of the
regiment and coastguardsmen but not with OWTU at Petrotrin?
Why did the People's Partnership---whose Minister of Labour
for the entire period between May 2010 and September 2015
was comrade Errol McLeod, who preceded Ancel Roget as the
president general of the OWTU---not negotiate with the union
representing thousands of Petrotrin workers?
Why did the public sector negotiating committee under for-
mer Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar approve 14 per
cent for other public sector workers but not for the Petrotrin
Was there some pre-existing animus between comrades
McLeod and Roget?
Is it that the People's Partnership perceived that Petro-
trin was a nest of PNM supporters and that not con-
cluding the negotiations was a means of punishing a
segment of the working class that might be supportive
of the current ruling party?
The point made above is not original, as the issue
was raised by Mr Imbert in presenting the 2017 budget:
"The previous administration had boasted of settling all
of the wage negotiations outstanding since 2011. However, in
reality, they left unresolved several key negotiations with several
trade unions, including one particular major trade union, the
OWTU. They decided to leave those for us; so we now have to
deal with 2011-2014 wage settlements for T&TEC, Petrotrin,
Trinmar, NP, UWI and UTT, among several others. The cost of
these settlements could be well over $1 billion, with hundreds
of millions of dollars in increased annual expenditure. This
will be in addition to the initial $5 billion in backpay that we
were saddled with."
If what Mr Imbert said in September is accurate---with the
current administration settling TTEC workers at ten per cent
in November---why didn't the he instruct the negotiators at
Petrotrin to make a similar offer to the same union of a ten per
cent increase for the period 2011 to 2014 and a zero per cent
wage increase for 2014 to 2017?
The lack of any guidance from the public sector negotiating
committee is quite surprising, especially given a statement
issued by Mr Imbert on December 23, in which he said: "The
Government has not authorised Petrotrin to make any offer of
any kind for the 2014-2017 period simply because the collective
agreement for the previous period, 2011-2014, is currently
before the Industrial Court and has not yet been settled or
determined. As a result, it is impossible to quantify the cost
of an agreement for the subsequent 2014-2017 period."
Why couldn't Petrotrin make an out-of-court offer of ten
per cent for the earlier period (2011 to 2014), which would
allow the company to "quantify" the zero per cent offer for
the 2014 to 2017 period?
Is that so difficult?
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