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Is T&T capable?

Published: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Transformational change...

At an event jointly hosted by the JMMB Group, and the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce at the Hyatt Regency Hotel last Friday, Chamber president Ronald Hinds made the following statement:

“We (T&T) are far more comfortable stabilising what we have than planning to transform to what we need to become.”

Mr Hinds statement is as profound as it is simple.

“Stabilising what we have” has, for better or for worse, become part of the cultural ethos of T&T.

This is understandable to an extent.

Very few leaders—and certainly not politicians—are comfortable making the tough but necessary decisions that need to be made even in the face of an impending crisis.

A clear example of this has been the lack of rapidity by the current administration to treat with a foreign exchange system that is clearly broken.

Not to belabour this point, but whether the government recognises it or not, few (if any) in the business community accept the “listed” exchange rate for what it is.

In other words, many who depend on foreign exchange to keep their businesses running have already “factored in” to their operations a rate closer to what experts suggest the true value of the currency to be.

The fact that a black market even exists for foreign currency at all shows that the system is in a state of disarray.

So, inspite of the country being in this position before (the 1980s), a slowly eroding import cover, IMF recommendation after recommendation regarding exchange rate adjustment, and the growth in the economy that resulted from the flotation of the currency in 1993, there has been no compelling action to “transform” the way we approach this issue.

“Stabilising what we have”, that is, keeping the exchange rate where it is and hoping for a recovery in both oil and gas output and prices, is the easier thing to do.

From a planning perspective, a departure from Mr Hinds’ statement must be made.

I believe T&T has been quite good at planning, but poor at execution.

Any business executive knows that the best laid plans aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they cannot be executed.

Vision 2020, Vision 2030, Rapid Rail, the National ICT plan, and crime plan after crime plan have all been lofty, well-worded goals set as national imperatives that have, to date, failed to inspire any real action at the national level.

Why?

Well, good business executives also know that for any plan to have a chance of being executed, two conditions must hold: the plans must be effectively communicated and placed in the hands of competent people.

Have the crafters of these plans been good at conveying their relevance and the benefits to be accrued from them to the national community?

Could it be that there is a communication problem?

Certainly no one plan will please everyone, but in order to harness the kind of activity among the population that is needed to create any meaningful social and economic change, there must be national buy-in.

Also, those who are charged with turning the plans into a reality, are they skilled and respected enough to handle such responsibilities?

A good example of where national buy-in is presently taking place is in Jamaica.

Currently going through a structural adjustment programme with the IMF, successive administrations have been able to galvanise the support of the national community (inclusive of the major players in the private sector) around the need for change.

For example, the Jamaican government was successful at getting support from the public sector for a wage freeze for the period 2013-2016.

The combination of consistent communication and having the right people involved (businessman Michael Lee Chin is chairman of the Economic Growth Council, while JMMB Group CEO Keith Duncan is co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee) has served the Jamaican economy well.

To be fair, T&T has had moments of real transformational change.

The decision to establish Pt Lisas and the wider petrochemical sector in the 1970s and the role of government in making LNG a reality in the early 1990s (the first shipment of LNG left our shores in 1999), attest to the ability to make transformational change a reality.

The real issue has been that our transformations have never gone quite far enough.

When opportunities (and resources) present themselves for the country to break from traditional paths and boldly venture into new ones, we have historically squandered those moments.

The luxury of time to make transformational changes that we once had has gone.

Taking action is now a necessity.

​ANDRE WORRELL