In a recent speech, Guyana’s Vice President, himself a former President of the Co-operative Republic, Bharrat Jagdeo, described T&T as falling apart.
He told Guyanese: “Invest some of the oil and gas resources into building the infrastructure, so the non-oil and gas sector in the future can generate the jobs because if you don’t do that, when the oil money goes we will be poor more than many countries in the world…look at what is happening in Trinidad now.”
Jagdeo continued: “Trinidad is falling apart and that is putting it mildly, falling apart, no jobs to sustain periods of negative growth, can’t see the light of day, can’t see the light of day for the near future.”
According to Guyana’s Vice President he recalled reading one of T&T’s earlier budgets where in one year the country lost 80 per cent of its revenue because of the change in the oil and gas prices and the fall in production.”
He posited that it is difficult to organise a budget when a country has suffered such a big economic shock.
“It is difficult. Things will fall apart whether you like it or not,” Jagdeo said.
He added: “And I have said we are determined in Guyana to avoid going that path which has happened not just in T&T but in many countries of the world.”
Mr Jagdeo’s suggestion that T&T is falling apart shows a stunning lack of knowledge of this country’s economy and its energy sector, which he continues to suggest is based on oil revenue.
It is really a continuation of what appears to be the present government of Guyana’s pre-occupation with trying to attack and diminish the achievements of post-independence T&T.
To be sure T&T has suffered from a lack of leadership. This country has squandered a lot of its energy revenues and T&T should have been a developed country, or at least way ahead of where it is at the moment.
But to suggest that it is falling apart is far from the truth and unbecoming of an experienced regional leader.
I am happy that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not fall for the bait that Jagdeo and other elements in the Guyana government, and some of their supporters in T&T, have tried to set for his government. There is nothing good that could come from animosity among Caricom countries.
In some ways, it is human to understand how one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Caribbean would react to new-found wealth especially if that wealth has the potential to make it richer than the country that it perceives as having traditionally turned up its nose at it, but Jagdeo and company would be better served focusing on the herculean task of economic transformation in the South American country, rather than expending energy trying to diminish the achievements of T&T.
I am glad Dr Rowley did not fall into the trap by responding and pointing out that Guyana’s gross domestic product is US$$5.471 billion.
Compare that to the country that is falling apart which has an economy that is almost four times the size of Guyana’s at US$ $21.73 billion.
Rowley could have easily pointed out that T&T’s unemployment rate is 7.2 per cent while Guyana’s unemployment rate is twice T&T’s at 15.6 per cent. The T&T’s Prime Minister could have said that this country’s per capita is US$ $14,875 while Guyana is US$ $9,250.
But these are figures that point to the present state of play and give a sense of where the countries are. They do not speak to the future.
Jagdeo is correct that T&T’s economy has not grown since 2014. He is also correct to say the country relies heavily on its energy sector. What Mr Jagdeo seems not to understand is that the country’s energy sector is not an oil sector but it entails oil production, service companies, a large cadre of highly-skilled human resource, natural gas producers and petrochemical companies.
There is also liquefaction capacity as well as still some heavy manufacturing capabilities linked to the energy sector.
He seems not to understand that each of these sectors are important and require significant management and a requirement to formulate and implement policies that will lead to their growth and development in the midst of challenging global conditions.
Jagdeo’s apparent ignorance of T&T’s economy and his lack of recognition that this country still has the largest manufacturing sector, the largest financial sector and even the largest regional stock exchange by market capitalisation is either an attempt to play smart with foolishness or mere bliss.
Jagdeo will learn that the six-lane highways he encountered when he left Piarco on his way to Port-of-Spain and the highways that criss-cross this country are neither cheap to build nor can be done quickly.
He will learn that the cost of fixing Georgetown’s infrastructure including its many canals and poor roads will lead to huge public spending and require a lot of human capital.
He will learn that the oil money Guyana has and will get will be required to fix its electricity which sees weekly outages and insufficient coverage of the vast country.
Jagdeo will learn that there will be increased expectations and demands for more government support and that will put a strain on revenues.
The days are young and the inflationary pressure that is sure to occur should there be any overheating of the economy in the South American country will force the Guyanese government to deal with demands for more and more resources.
These are the real challenges that Guyana must be laser-focused on and not obsessed with attacking T&T.
T&T has its problems and its opportunities.
I have been on record for the last three years bemoaning the lack of a clear strategy by the government of T&T. It has failed to move the energy sector forward and has made serious mistakes in its management of the economy.
It is however not too late, it is very possible that within the next four years this country’s natural gas production could return to closer to 4bcf/d and crude production to closer to 80,000 barrels of oil per day.
Maybe the Government of T&T will change course, just maybe the administration will find a way to embrace improving the ease of doing business, of solving the forex challenge by allowing the rate to be managed based on its real value.
Just maybe it will embrace the private sector.
These are all in the hands of the administration. T&T’s future is still within its hands. It needs to get its act together.
Falling apart, it is not.