Reference is made to Jagdeo’s ‘falling apart’ statement” (March 25 and 26) about Trinidad and Tobago. The Vice President is right. The Vice President did not offend his Caribbean friends in T&T. He is spot on in his assessment and evaluation of T&T economy. The T&T economy has not been doing very well of late as in earlier decades because it has not planned wisely for a post gas and oil economy.
It may not be politically correct for a high government figure like the Guyana VP to make such a remark that could be interpreted as an attack on a fellow Caricom nation. It may also be viewed as undiplomatic. But the VP did not attack Trinidad or it’s government. No one would be offended if the statement was uttered by me or some other political analyst or academic. It is an accurate statement and based on analysis. And one must understand it in the context used. The VP did not mean to offend or pass judgment on the current administration of T&T but to learn from the T&T model of using its petro-dollars. At any rate, not too many people in Trinidad and Tobago would disagree with the VP. I travelled to T&T frequently as many as ten times a year over the last few decades except during 2020 and 2021. I was there just two weeks ago to conduct a survey on the popularity of the government and other issues. (The government is very unpopular but more acceptable than the political opposition that is not viewed as a viable alternative even among its traditional supporters. Although very unpopular in 2020, Rowley was comfortably re-elected as polls I conducted predicted).
It is reported that the T&T PM Dr. Rowley was peeved about the statement. The Foreign Minister of T&T protested the ‘off the cuff’ comment of the VP. The government official must protest for public consumption. That is normal in diplomatic relations. Jagdeo was simply commenting on T&T’s unwise use of petro-dollars (over US$300 billion in today’s money) without planning for the future of the economy after oil runs out. He was commenting about the economy not about governance although economy is tied to governance. The T&T economy has not doing very well in recent years. He was cautioning Guyanese that we must not fall in the same boat, and he assures that this administration will not spend our petro-dollars unwisely. His goal is for Guyana to avoid the so-called oil curse which so many countries have fallen victims.
There is nothing in Jagdeo remark for the T&T administration to be upset about. The VP did not attack or criticize the Rowley government. Economists or socio-politico analysts in T&T and throughout the Caribbean would not disagree with the VP’s assessment of T&T economy. Jagdeo was not criticizing the Rowley administration for its handling of petro-dollars. The misuse of oil money began decades ago under Eric Williams and continued by successive administrations. Rowley (in office since Sept 2015) has not been in a position to change economic course although his administration has not made any serious effort to plan for an economy post-energy. Only the Basdeo Panday administration attempted to plan for the future by putting money aside for hard days.
Many people around the region and in T&T in particular feel T&T does not have much to show for the large amount of oil money received. Much of the money was frittered away. Many in the public feel a lot of money was siphoned off by officials going back to the 1960s and invested in Miami, Toronto, and London. There were many reports in the media. An alternative economic base has not been created unlike say among Middle Eastern oil economies or Malaysia or Mexico. Agriculture has been neglected; arable land was used for public housing instead of building an agro-based economy as several countries have done.
No T&T government in recent years has been able to meet rising expectations and demands. Every administration since ANR Robinson in 1986 was advised to pursue economic diversification, but none wanted to swallow the unpopular medicine fearing a backlash from the population and non re-election. And unless a lot of energy is discovered soon and the government pursues economic diversification, T&T could find itself in greater economic problems. Many Trinis have migrated to Guyana looking for work and or invest.
In his bold remark about T&T falling apart, Jagdeo aims for Guyana to learn a lesson. He does not want Guyana to follow the T&T precedent among Caricom partners – of frittering away oil revenues. Guyana’s oil revenue must be used to diversity the economy — agro industrialization and encouraging start up industries tied to low cost energy like petro-chemicals, fertilizers, glass, tiles, etc.
By Dr Vishnu Bisram