Economía

Can Rowley do a Keiron Pollard?

The clo­sure of scores of busi­ness in­clu­sive of re­tail stores, bars and restau­rants at Trinci­ty Mall are be­ing repli­cat­ed all over the coun­try

The Trin­ba­go Knight Rid­ers (TKR) played through the re­cent­ly-con­clud­ed Caribbean Pre­mier League (CPL) un­beat­en and won the com­pe­ti­tion con­vinc­ing­ly.

The team’s suc­cess ap­peared to be built on sound lead­er­ship, prop­er plan­ning for their op­po­nents, tal­ent, fo­cus, uni­ty and depth in their bench. It was not based on wish­ful think­ing nor voop­ing.

Their suc­cess is a les­son that the coun­try and the po­lit­i­cal di­rec­torate des­per­ate­ly need to learn from, be­cause as I have said be­fore, since the Vi­sion 2020 ef­fort, the coun­try has failed to plan and lacks the kind of fo­cus that will lead to suc­cess.

We have pre­ferred to talk about short-term projects, about build­ing a port in To­co for ex­am­ple, with­out telling us about the strat­e­gy for eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment in the North East, oth­er than al­low­ing for a short­er jour­ney to To­ba­go.

We have pre­ferred to point to a plan to spend a half a bil­lion dol­lars on agri­cul­ture, but not talk about the link­ages to the rest of the econ­o­my and how it could lead to sus­tained pro­duc­tion that can then move in­to man­u­fac­tured goods.

The voop­ing, the knee-jerk re­ac­tions will not work. The call­ing of a grand news con­fer­ence to tell us that BHP is drilling a risky deep-wa­ter well look­ing for oil and re­hash­ing what we al­ready know about their dis­cov­er­ies reeks of try­ing to score 24 runs in the last over of a T20 match with two wick­ets left, when all you need­ed four overs be­fore was 40 runs with six wick­ets in hand.

We are in a per­ilous sit­u­a­tion in which there is lit­tle room for er­ror and where the ear­ly signs are not good for T&T.

We all know it in­stinc­tive­ly, things are get­ting eco­nom­i­cal­ly worse and the coun­try awaits Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert’s bud­get, hop­ing that this time he gets it right and that the Gov­ern­ment can lead the coun­try to a sus­tain­able eco­nom­ic foot­ing.

It is not go­ing to be an easy task. One of our sto­ries high­lights busi­ness­es that were al­ready hav­ing a hard time in an econ­o­my that con­tract­ed for five con­sec­u­tive years pri­or to the COVID-19 cri­sis, were just un­able to car­ry on.

The clo­sure of scores of busi­ness in­clu­sive of re­tail stores, bars and restau­rants at Trinci­ty Mall are be­ing repli­cat­ed all over the coun­try.

To be sure, no one can blame the Gov­ern­ment for the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and in many ways we have to take re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for our ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour that has led to the sec­ond dead­ly wave that we are in. But the coun­try’s econ­o­my was al­ready weak and the just con­clud­ed elec­tion cam­paign in which the PNM could point to lit­tle eco­nom­ic suc­cess was tes­ta­ment to the dire state of the T&T econ­o­my.

This weak econ­o­my cou­pled with the pan­dem­ic has ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Bank left a $10 bil­lion deficit for the first nine months of the 2020 fi­nan­cial year. It has al­so in­creased gov­ern­ment’s bor­row­ing, with debt to GDP now over 71 per cent.

In its lat­est eco­nom­ic bul­letin is­sued on Tues­day, the Cen­tral Bank not­ed that the room for ad­di­tion­al fis­cal ac­com­mo­da­tion will be fair­ly nar­row in the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, while the pre­vail­ing high ex­cess liq­uid­i­ty will in­flu­ence the tim­ing of fresh mon­e­tary pol­i­cy ac­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the bank: “Over­all, the im­pact of the pan­dem­ic has height­ened the im­per­a­tive for co-or­di­nat­ed fis­cal, mon­e­tary and struc­tur­al poli­cies for as­sur­ing macro­eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty. Struc­tur­al re­form is es­pe­cial­ly im­por­tant to in­crease the ease of do­ing busi­ness; en­hance flex­i­bil­i­ty in the pro­vi­sion of pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor goods and ser­vices; and move for­ward wide­spread and safe adop­tion of dig­i­tal process­es.”

The bank added that at the same time, the coro­n­avirus’ per­va­sive reach has put a stronger light on dis­tri­b­u­tion­al is­sues, no­tably the need to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety who are like­ly to bear a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den from the pan­dem­ic.

It is there­fore im­per­a­tive that the bud­get deals with the wors­en­ing fis­cal po­si­tion, even if it means that some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions will have to be made. The Fi­nance Min­is­ter must find cre­ative ways not to sig­nif­i­cant­ly wors­en the deficit and the debt po­si­tion even as he waits like the rest of the world for a vac­cine and a re­turn to some sense of nor­mal­i­ty.

The chal­lenge is that the Fi­nance Min­is­ter is es­sen­tial­ly the book­keep­er and the Min­istry of Plan­ning that should lead the strate­gic ap­proach has too of­ten been weighed in the bal­ance and found want­i­ng. It has nev­er been giv­en the weight it de­serves.

When things got chal­leng­ing for TKR and they need­ed him to step up, Ky­ron Pol­lard rose to the oc­ca­sion in the CPL. We re­mem­ber well, his lead­ing from the front when the team looked all but dead in the wa­ter. He showed skill, thought, bold­ness and that he was the man for the job.

If we are to be­lieve Dr Row­ley that he is leav­ing at the end of this term, what would be his lega­cy? What will the his­to­ry books tell fu­ture gen­er­a­tions about him, oth­er than he came from Ma­son Hall to White­hall?

Will they say he led the coun­try out of a pan­dem­ic and trans­formed, or at least set the wheels in mo­tion, to trans­form the econ­o­my? Or will the his­to­ry books say this was a time the coun­try yearned for lead­er­ship and could not find it in the pro­por­tions re­quired?

I fear we may say as Vir­ginia Wolf did in her mas­ter­piece To the Light­house: “Who shall blame the leader of the doomed ex­pe­di­tion, if, hav­ing ad­ven­tured to the ut­ter­most, and used his strength whol­ly to the last ounce and fall­en asleep not much car­ing if he wakes or not, he now per­ceives by some prick­ing in his toes that he lives, and does not on the whole ob­ject to live, but re­quires sym­pa­thy, and whisky, and some­one to tell the sto­ry of his suf­fer­ing to at once? Who shall blame him?”

You see trans­for­ma­tion­al lead­er­ship would re­quire Dr Row­ley to do the big and of­ten hard things.

The si­lence on the Roadmap to Re­cov­ery re­port tells me that the Gov­ern­ment is not pre­pared to im­ple­ment it in the spir­it it was sought and giv­en. The coun­try must not stand for it.

The coun­try must in­sist that this con­stant set­ting up of com­mit­tees when the na­tion de­mands ac­tion and then over time not im­ple­ment rec­om­men­da­tions must come to an end. We are re­plete with re­ports and short on im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Pol­lard showed that he could call on his bench to come to the fore and even as Nar­ine and oth­ers were in­jured, oth­ers stepped up. It is why we have to ques­tion the de­ci­sion by the Prime Min­is­ter to bring back his Trade Min­is­ter who spend five years in gov­ern­ment and the ease of do­ing busi­ness went in the wrong di­rec­tion? Was there no one else that could be found? Is the bench that weak?

The coun­try takes its tone from the leader and in a time of hard­ship, when cracks show more than ever Dr Row­ley must show mag­na­nim­i­ty, fore­sight and though and in­sist that he is the Prime Min­is­ter for all the coun­try.

Time will tell us if he will be a chap­ter or a foot­note in the his­to­ry books.