Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 24th 2017 Contents AUGUST 24 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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55 years: How do you feel?
Next week, T&T will mark
55 years as an independ-
How do you feel?
The question comes
from a 30-year-old calypso
and it is a question that is just as relevant today.
Independence Day will come with much cel-
ebration, but let me pose another question to
the nation. Are we celebrating the fact that we
are 55 years old or are we celebrating what we
have accomplished in 55 years?
Two very different questions and the answer,
in and of itself, is significant.
Being 55 years old is a function of time, our
accomplishments over 55 years is a function
of what we have done with that time.
We debate which of our leaders should be
credited for selective successes and which
political party has done more for T&T but do
we also lament their individual and collective
failures with the same alacrity?
We have made choices during these 55 years
and these are responsible for where we are to-
In the midst of the celebration, it is impor-
tant to place our status in context in order to
form a platform for the next generation.
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; pride that is sometimes
How can we replicate the social framework
of, for example, resource-scarce Barbados
without living off our abundant energy re-
We share our independence day with another
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 in-
finitely more natural resources. How does the
development of these two countries compare?
Many a government minister have 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
Venezuela used its oil wealth to subsidise
almost every aspect of life. Today, they are a
country in strife with failing institutions.
Another oil -rich country---Norway---oper-
ates on the basis that very little is subsidised.
Citizens pay the full cost and the more im-
portant objective was to develop a sovereign
wealth fund to manage the day when hydro-
carbon resources will no longer be the driver
of their economy,
Clearly, we are closer to the model of Vene-
zuela than to Norway. The implication is that
we run risks that are closer to that of Venezuela
than Norway. Hardly an appealing outcome
for anyone seeking to observe 55 years of in-
Norway has a US$960 billion fund to meet
the needs of four million people. We have a
fund that is just over $5 billion for our $1.3
million. Yet many politicians from both sides
were actually boasting of that on the political
platform and many of their supporters cheered.
Now that our oil and gas windfall is fading,
what do we have to show for it?
55 years have gone,
how do you feel about
our heritage fund?
In Norway unemployment benefits entitles
you to a percentage of your previous wage and,
after a year, you are cut off except for reasons
In other words, there is an incentive to find a
job in the first place and then keep it. Imagine
if that was the approach in T&T instead of the
make-work programmes; many of which were
simply tools to buy votes. Without those pro-
grammes we may have had 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 a CEPEP pro-
gramme for single mothers.
Instead, mothers get to spend time with their
children and do not have to face exploitation
for a "10 days."The money does not go to con-
tractors and "ghosts" gangs 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.Children and
pregnancy-related medical appointments are
free within the health sector.
Education in Norway is also free up to ter-
tiary level.We are now scaling back our tertiary
eduction programme after a clearly disastrous
decade of largess that has achieved very little
Singapore also offers childcare benefits and
the risk of systemic abuse is dealt with by re-
ducing the benefits for parents with more than
55 years have gone, would we
have the same levels of crime
that exists now if we properly
catered to our children?
Norway owns a two-thirds share in its state
oil company Statoil. The profits from this com-
pany 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 instru-
ment of government policy?
For the past decade 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 appointees.
Few understood this point yet this is what is
done in Norway with the profits of state com-
panies (eg Petrotrin, National Gas Company,
National Petroleum, First Citizens etc) con-
tributing to the growth of the HSF for future
generations. Such a move will totally change
the dynamic between government, manage-
ment, 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 entrepreneurship 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.
What is the value of government contracts
offered in the construction sector?
How many projects are marked as "stimulus
projects" to help with economic activity?
How many construction companies in T&T
are listed on the stock market?
How many procurement scandals have em-
anated from the construction industry?
Is this sector about temporary job creation or
about creating wealth for the people of T&T?
Are we as a nation interested in the transpar-
ency that comes about from a publicly listed
55 years have gone, how do
you feel about a system that
truly develops our capital
markets for sustainable wealth
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
of approximately US$400 billion (almost 100
times that of T&T)?
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 re-
ality is 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.
We have talked about being like Singapore
yet we struggle to manage an inter-island
transport service and take decades to build
In 55 years, one country has moved to the
highest level of expertise in logistics manage-
ment and the other will take a five-year term
to build a bridge. Clearly, as a country we have
done nothing more than lipservice over the
past 55 years.
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 popula-
tion. T&T has natural resources in abundance
and shares similar geographical and time zone
advantages as Singapore relative to this part of
the world. Yet, we have no immigration policy
of any note that proactively seeks to attract any
resemblance 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.
Most telling is that we actually amplify the
brain drain because those who can afford to
migrate do so on account of the crime situ-
ation in T&T.
Ours is an experiment that is bordering on
failure. We have had too much going for us to
be where we are now. It's time to wake up; 55
years have gone, how do you feel?
Ian Narine is an investment adviser registered
with the SEC and can be contacted at ian.
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