There are two things that this country tends to shy away from, the first is implementing plans and the second is embracing business and the private sector.
The truth is even before independence the business community was viewed with scepticism. They were seen as an extension of the planter class and later on as former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday infamously referred to them as the parasitic oligarchy.
Over the years the government has seen itself as the driver of growth in the economy, of the view that if it does not act the business sector lacks either the will, the ability or the requisite entrepreneurial spirit to move the economy forward.
Supporters of this approach have often pointed to the Point Lisas Industrial Estate as an example of how government action has led to significant outcomes for the economy and the people of T&T. They have also pointed to the intervention by government in the oil industry which saved thousands of jobs and communities in South and South West Trinidad and even in areas like tourism with the ownership of the Hilton, Magdalena, and Hyatt Regency hotels.
These are all powerful examples but the do not paint the whole story, they do not tell of the entrepreneurship of the Clico Group which along with its German partners ensured a home-grown company became one of the world’s largest methanol producers. It does not tell the story of Associated Brands, Angostura nor SM Jaleel nor the many other companies that have conquered the Caribbean market and are making a push into Latin America.
This distrust of business has in part guided government policy and attitude and it is what contributes to the country’s inability to achieve its economic potential.
Take, for instance, the management by the present administration of the reopening exercise. There appears to be increasingly a reversion to the mean with this administration, having done a great job initially, it has returned to what may be expected and perhaps it was too much to expect continued thought and communication in the handling of the pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s bi-weekly news conferences in which he picks the winners and losers in the business community has caused damage to many sectors, not the least of which are those operating in entertainment.
From bars to restaurants to movie theatres, the punishment has been brutal. Their virtual closure as a preventative measure for the spread of the COVID-19 virus appears to be increasingly done without much thought and certainly without strategy.
Prime Minister, no one can argue with you that your first priority is to keep the people of T&T safe. You and your government have done a relatively good job at that. Thus far the health system has stood up to the challenge unlike many in the developed world that have failed. It is also true that the risk of catching the COVID-19 virus increases indoors and in places like bars where social distancing and, more importantly, personal responsibility appear to be in shorter supply.
But you cannot continue to virtually shut down the place, keep people out of work, put more businesses at risk, ensure that more people loose their investment because you cannot trust people to have personal responsibility and because the bars and restaurants are more risky than other areas.
Prime Minister if we are honest about the second wave, the one that helped us move from sporadic to cluster to community spread, it had a lot to do with your actions, that of your colleagues, your party and that of the Opposition.
Let us not forget, this major increase started during the election campaign and continued unabated until the second lockdown. No amount of pointing to the last lap of beach goers will convince a thoughtful population of a lack of culpability by political parties and their supporters.
You open gyms but say no cricket, does that make sense? You say cinemas can resume operation at 50 per cent but no eating in the movie theatre. You ask bars and restaurants for guidelines to reopen they go beyond you own suggestions and you say another two weeks. You had initially said tours of the Buccoo Reef but at that time people could not go to the beach. Its almost as if the decisions are being made on whim and fancy and not on a thought process with an emphasis on getting businesses and the economy safely open. It’s a reliance on luck and chance. Its almost like there is a belief that COVID-19 helped you return to power and luck will help us navigate this challenging time.
The second issue is about planning and implementing plans. This week Proman Group announced it will join nine other private and public sector partners to mark the launch of the North-C-Methanol project, which will be the largest renewable hydrogen-to-methanol complex in the world.
Proman which has most of its plants located in T&T disclosed that the collaborative agreement is for the construction of two plants—a 65-MW(one million watts) electrolyser fed by renewable power, and a methanol plant —on the Rodenhuize peninsula of the North Sea Port in Belgium.
Proman noted that together, the two plants will form North-C-Methanol, which aims to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 140,000 tonnes while generating 44,000 metric tonnes of renewable methanol.
The company added that this methanol could be used as a feedstock by the local chemical industry, and as a sustainable fuel for ships, road vehicles and trains.
This is an important development and raises some immediate questions. With so much CO2 available at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate how come we have not tried to capture it, help us meet our Paris agreement goals and also assist in finding a possible solution to the challenges facing the downstream companies.
Both the NGC and its subsidiary National Energy have talked about these projects for some time now, and as usual there are plans but no action. It’s no different from the NGC’s talk about small pool gas and explains why for 14 years National Energy has only delivered one project in which it gave preferential gas prices to a company that NGC has interest in.
The country has to get things right, it has to reopen the economy and implement well thought out plans. Failure to do so will lead to the kind of drift we see at the moment.