With an unprecedented amount of money available to it in
the last six years, the Government embarked on ambitious social
programmes. With the warning that we have energy reserves
for only 12 years comes the concern that we may not be able
to maintain these programmes in the not too distant futurein
short that the money will run out. Many have called the Ryder
Scott report a wake-up call.
I am no economist and will not presume to say that the Government
with its several Ministers of Finance and advisers does not
know what it is about.
Nevertheless, I do recall the trials of the 1980s after our
first energy boom was spent, in the course of
which many public servants (of which I was one) had their
salaries cut by ten per cent. Many people could not pay their
mortgages and lost their homesin the East/West Corridor
many abandoned homes stood for years.
It is no wonder that many of us who experienced that era view
the Ryder Scott Survey and report with a sense of unease.
In the Senate last week, I heard Minister Danny Montano argue
that the Government had the situation well in hand. I am not
convinced. He compares us to the United States, pointing out
that they have energy reserves for under seven years and they
do not worry. He fails to appreciate that the US economy does
not depend on the export of oil, gas and their by products.
They are consumers.
The US economy is based on many different products varying
from state to state. Mr Montano also claims support from a
statement allegedly made to him by a foreign dignity that
a 12-year reserve is nothing to worry about.
Dont worry, be happy
I hear from the ministers statement a touch of Dont
worry, be happy and God is a Trini. In other
words, we are being told that it is almost a certainty that
in the next few years we will discover new energy reserves:
there is no reason to worry.
For some reason the minister also cited our massive consumerism
as something of which we should be proud and that should give
us comfort; it is a sign of prosperity and presumably should
off set our anxiety.
I am concerned, however, especially in the light of our committed
expenditure, which includes:
* About two billion dollars annually in senior citizens
grants and public assistance
* Gatefree tertiary education and commitments at UWI,
UTT, Costatt and the many tertiary institutions
* The waterfront project
* The rapid rail project
* Free books and lunches
* The 50-plus social projects the Government has embarked
* Cepep and URP
Many of these items are new or represent massive increases
in expenditure over the last five to six years. What if one
day our energy sources do not provide enough to support the
country; how will we finance our recurrent expenditure and
T&T is not the only country in the world similarly circumstanced
whose economy is largely dependent on energy resources.
Two countries that come to mind and Dubai and Quatar. In both
cases the governments have aggressively set about preparing
for the eventuality that the reserves might run out.
Take the case of Dubai (population similar to that of Barbados)
where the city is considered to be the fastest-growing in
At present it is considered a land of high rollers and
heavy spenders where money is said to be no problem.
Yet Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid has targeted 2016 as the year
when Dubai will be the No 1 tourism destination in the world.
Based on current estimates, Dubais oil reserves are
expected to run out by 2016 so the leaders are planning ahead.
The country is being geared through massive expansion and
expenditure towards an economy based on high-class tourism.
In contrast Quatar is a Gulf State with natural gas resources
to last for decades (according to Focus on Trinidad and Tobago
Budget by Ernst and Young).
Its population is slightly less than that of T&T (900,000).
Yet Quatar has recently been unrelenting in its focus
The Governments stated policy is to decrease energys
contribution to GDP from 60 per cent to 20 per cent by the
year 2015 by aiming at several sub targets along the way.
Diversification is apace in the fields of technology, education,
science and financial services.
And all of this occurring in a country where per capita GDP
is ranked among the highest in the world.
What are we in T&T doing that can be compared to the initiatives
of either Dubai or Quatar in planning for the future. It is
all well and good to talk about Vision 2020 as an overall
goal, but what are our specific plans in the unlikely event
that our energy reserves do run out?
Furthermore do we have sub-targets whether it is in relation
to first world status or in terms of diversification?
I have heard a lot of talk surrounding these matters but little
Could the Government tell us what we are doing akin to Dubai
and/or Quatar to prepare for a future that may not be based
on energy supplies?