Trinbagonians take great pride in the economic achievements of their country. According to the results of the survey “What Independence Means to You”, published in the August issue of the T&T Review – 78 percent of those surveyed were proud or very proud of our economic achievements. Those who disagreed might have felt that more should have been accomplished over the first fifty years. But that is water under the bridge. A more pertinent question is whether, fifty years from now, in 2062, the next generation will also be able to say that they, too, are proud of their country’s economic achievements.
Given a life expectancy of 68.5 for males and 74.5 years for females in this country, very few who saw the birth of this nation in 1962, will be around for the 100th anniversary of Independence. It is tempting to say, then, “why bother?’, but our obligation to the future, not only of our progeny but of our country, makes it impossible to shirk the responsibility for building a society based on merit, equity and social justice, supported by a sustainable economy pregnant with dynamic growth opportunities.
Looking ahead can be uncomfortable but there is great truth in the words of Gandhi that “the future depends on what you do today”.
Our 50th anniversary provides an appropriate moment not only for celebrating and stock-taking but more importantly for projecting our minds into the future.
In doing so, I draw on an approach taken from the corporate world where scenarios are often used to inform business strategy in an environment of uncertainty. Three probable scenarios are presented below for consideration. – The End Game, the Silver-lining and the Whirlpool, each based on a combination of actions and events. I offer no strategy for achieving or avoiding any particular scenario but I invite all patriotic citizens to choose their future and commit to designing their own strategy for bringing it successfully into being.
Scenario 1: The End Game
In 2062, the Trinidad and Tobago society and economy is barely recognizable from the one that existed in 2012. The country has come to this sorry state because of a combination of both controllable and uncontrollable events coupled with inappropriate economic and social policies. The fall was precipitated by adverse economic trends and events. The once dynamic energy sector- engine of economic growth- has weakened considerably. Crude oil production has fallen to less than 30 thousand barrels per day. In the context of a very limited gas reserves base, Trinidad and Tobago’s LNG industry had shut down around 2032 while imports from Venezuela keep the petrochemical business alive. However, the industry is no longer a cash cow. In the absence of high inflows of capital, foreign exchange and Government revenues the country’s fiscal and external balance deteriorate. Fiscal deficits are financed by foreign and local borrowing. But Government’s spending capacity is severely constrained, resulting in severe cuts in both social and capital spending. Corrective action on the Balance of Payments takes the form of successive devaluations. But this only serves to increase capital flight as citizens try to protect their assets. The country has failed to accomplish economic transformation. The manufacturing sector has long been displaced by trading. Former industrial estates have become acres of warehousing space providing storage for imports. The tourism thrust is still-born, essentially overtaken by competition. Unemployment has grown to over 25 per cent. Rising unemployment and cuts in social spending combine with a booming illegal drug trade to drive increased criminal activity and the breakdown of law and order. Faced with a dismal future, more than 80 percent of young University graduates migrate in search of new and meaningful job opportunities. Tension between Tobago and Trinidad over mineral rights threaten the break-up of the unitary state.
Scenario 2: Silver-Lining
In 2062, Trinidad and Tobago is among the world’s most admired countries. A combination of prudent and enlightened management and good fortune provide the country with renewed opportunity for growth and transformation. New political leaders have brought fresh vision and purpose to the independence mission. The discovery of new hydrocarbon resources once again, provide the wealth to finance transformation but now, the oil and gas sector contributes only 20 per cent of GDP and 40 per cent of export earnings. The rest comes from new economic sectors based mainly on information technology, indigenous manufacturing and services including cultural industries, education and tourism which have, together, succeeded in creating a more balanced, less risky economy. A major contributor to our success was the complete revamp of the education system, which was re-designed to provide more relevant training inline with the interests and capabilities of our people and the development needs of the country. Our world class education system makes maximum use of new technologies while remaining rooted in Caribbean realities. The research effort in all spheres are aimed at providing solutions to real Caribbean challenges, thus engendering a wave of innovation and new productive capacity financed by people’s institutions such as credit unions and co-operatives. A merit-based society finally emerges as nepotism and cronyism are stamped out partly through more effective institutions and a more vigilant and discerning citizenry. The expanding economy coupled with revamped training and education leads to increased job creation and, conversely, less criminal activity. In general Trinidad and Tobago is the place to be.
Scenario 3: Whirlpool
Trinidad and Tobago in 2062 is seemingly standing still. More discoveries of oil and gas, allow Governments to continue the old cycle of wealth transfer through subsidies, transfers, politically driven policy decisions. In an environment of sustained energy wealth, the economy continues to experience temporary periods of boom and bust. Our penchant for imports grows and with it, a persistent weakening of the exchange rate. Old habits endure. The government changes with frequency as the electorate uses its only weapon, the vote, to escape from corrupt administration to another. The result is a country of enduring instability, unpredictability and division, where people are afraid to invest in their dreams and in the future.
The above three scenarios are presented for your consideration. Take your pick and act accordingly. I have taken mine.