Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 24th 2013 Contents currently the Rose and Milton
Friedman senior fellow on Public
Policy at the Hoover Institution,
admits to having been a Marxist
"during the decade of my 20s"
when he worked as a federal (USA)
government intern during the
summer of 1960. This experience
caused him to abandon his support
of state ownership, state capitalism,
call it what you will, in favour of
the free market. He completed his
internship convinced that "the
Government can t run anything."
Is Thomas Sowell correct? Is
the collective view of the people
of T&T over the years correct?
Certainly, when the shortcomings
of some government companies
become public knowledge as they
should, as public funds are
involved, the headlines do not
assist the Government of the day
in any way.
For example, "NP loses $190m;"
"Larry Howai fires the chairman
of National Quarries;" "The Min-
ister has fired the entire Caribbean
Airlines board." Not nice reading
with our morning coffee.
These headlines provoke embar-
rassing questions for the Govern-
ment of the day, whichever gov-
ernment it is, for these issues have
been around through several
changes of administration.
The questions asked are, is it
really the Government s business
to retail gasoline, run quick shops
and lose $190m of the people s
money doing so? Has it not been
State policy to divest the NP serv-
ice stations for years? Why is that
taking so long? Mr Kenneth
Mohammed, CEO of NP market-
ing, has been reported in the
Express of October 30, 2013, as
having said that "new retailers are
essential to NP s profitability
because the company was in the
business of fuel distribution and
not in running stations." I could
not agree more.
Was not Bee Wee losing millions
a year when the plug was pulled
decades ago? Will Caribbean Air-
lines avoid the same fate? Boards
of directors playing musical chairs
are not reassuring. What on earth
is the Government doing in the
The much-trumpeted public
offer of First Citizen s bank shares
was a hesitant sale of 20 per cent
of the shareholding. One wonders
what the Government is afraid of.
There are other larger banks in the
country efficiently going about the
business of national banking in
the national interest as laid down
by successive administrations.
I am certain that First Citizens
will continue to do well in that
environment. To put a proper per-
spective on this issue, let us bear
in mind that there are 111 com-
mercial banks, 49 merchant banks,
and 45 representative banks with
offices in Singapore.
---Everard Medina is former
president of the Trinidad and
Tobago Chamber of Industry
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 24, 2013
In the years after the end of World
War II, in the heyday of newly-won
independence, it was the accepted
wisdom in newly emergent countries
that entrance into the society of
nations needed a national flag, a
national anthem, a national airline
and a sports stadium. These were the
trappings of independence.
T&T did much better than that. In
the oil boom years of the early 1970s
to the early 1980s, the country built
up a large public sector funded by
petrodollars. It bought out some foreign
oil companies and set up large petro-
chemical and steel plants. The collapse
of oil prices brought in the IMF. Back
in 1983 Prime Minister George Cham-
bers announced that "the fete is over."
An article in the Chicago Tribune of
December 13, 1992, records what hap-
"Trinidad and Tobago is aiming to go
private. Faced with a severe fiscal crunch,
the Government plans to sell some or
all of its shares in the prized fertiliser,
oil, petrochemical, and steel companies.
It is also seeking a partner for its debt-
strapped airline and is unloading a bunch
of money-losing operations, including
packaging, fisheries and tourism ven-
tures, among others.
Privatisation is not new to the oil-
exporting country of 1.2 million people
off the coast of Venezuela. The outgoing
administration sold some shares in the
State phone and cement companies,
and also a commercial bank starting in
the late 1980s."
By the late 90s that benevolent deity
with a T&T passport once again
answered the prayers of his fellow cit-
izens, and the gas boom was on.
Enthusiasm for privatisation had
waned; however the "State Enterprises
and Investment Programme 2014" now
informs us that the Government has
some 60 state companies, of which 48
are wholly-owned, seven majority-
owned and five have minority share-
Some of these companies such as
Tucker Valley Agricultural Enterprises
Ltd (March 2006) and Trinidad and
Tobago Entertainment Company Ltd
(May 2005) are recently formed and
seem to be devoted to activities that the
Government deems beneficial to the
country, and which they believe would
be better performed within the frame-
work of the limited liability company.
There are other companies which
would have been divested long ago if
the gas boom had not provided the
dollars to continue funding all ineffi-
ciencies. It might be time to revisit the
old debate. Can Government run busi-
ness? Is state ownership a good thing?
Can Government do it better?
Thomas Sowell, American economist,
social theorist and political philosopher,
The trappings of independence revisited
Links Archive November 23rd 2013 November 25th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page