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It’s a ‘must do better’ for the Govt

Friday, September 8, 2017

As the government marks its second anniversary, the opinion poll commissioned by the T&T Guardian should serve as a warning shot for Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his cabinet. It is also a sobering reminder of how pessimistic people are about the country’s state of affairs.

It’s painful to see that 83 per cent of those questioned believe the country is going in the wrong direction, with violence being by far the most pressing issue in need of a solution. Unemployment comes a distant second.

The evaluation made by leaders of some of the country’s main business bodies isn’t much better, either. Speaking on CNC3 News last night, they offered a borderline pass at best.

There’s no question that Dr Rowley and his cabinet inherited a country heading fast towards the abysm. Tumbling global energy prices and carefree preceding administrations meant the government had and still has little room for manoeuvre to boost the economy or, at least, keep the country ticking along until the guava season is over.

Here’s where the excuses must end. Two years on, we should have expected better and more.

Let’s begin with the issue that seem to preoccupy the population the most. We accept that crime, especially violent ones, cannot be stopped overnight. However, there has been little or no action from this government to help improve things (at least none that is visible to most of us).

We are finally seeing the job of commissioner of police being advertised, following a lot of talk and little action to deal with the fact that our police force has had an acting commissioner since 2012. No country can be seriously trying to deal with a complex matter such as violence when its top cop is forever temporary.

The rising crime situation is also a direct outcome of corruption and poor governance. When many police officers, government officials and politicians are believed to be directly involved with shady deals or, at best, turning a blind eye to what is going on, crime will thrive.

When it comes to the economy, the government’s performance is also worrying. Again, conditions are tough but we are yet to see a meaningful attempt by Dr Keith Rowley and his Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, to deal with the perilous state of the public purse.

There’s been some positive move when it comes to a reduction in unaffordable subsidies, for instance, but the state remains a hungry eater of taxpayers’ money to feed an absurd number of loss making and inefficient state-owned enterprises. Even more absurdly, many lose money not because they are poorly run but because the government refuses to allow them to charge a fair price for their services—effectively creating another myopic and unaffordable subsidy scheme.

It is understandable that many see unemployment as a pressing issue for the country but we must also understand that keeping a big and highly inefficient state payroll will only make the pain deeper and bigger in the longer run. By avoiding slimming down the size of the government, Dr Rowley’s administration is making a recovery harder and spending money on salaries they should be putting into infrastructure, better education and governance—the real drivers for sustainable growth and real jobs.

We know it is very difficult to make the case for deep—and potentially painful—reforms when the going is good. No one sees the need for it. What is worrying is that this administration was given a perfect “burning platform” by facing empty state coffers, low energy prices, dwindling oil and gas production and a foreign exchange crunch. Instead of using it to make the radical changes our economy desperately requires, it chose to tinker with the economic model.

The natural political cycle dictates that radical reforms are usually implemented earlier in a government’s term, as politicians bank on voters forgetting the bitter medicine once things begin to feel better.

If we follow this logic, Dr Rowley’s time to make difficult but vital decisions is rapidly running out. We must remain hopeful, though, that the PM and his cabinet will hear the message our poll is sending and act with vigour and urgency.


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