In every budget speech, the mantra of the urgent need to diversify
the economy has been a popular chant. But instead of diversifying
the economy to produce locally that which we import, our economic
addiction to the energy sector has only grown stronger.
Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira boasted that the PNM was
responsible for the diversification of the energy sector. Fine,
but where was its long-term vision to build an economy that
is not subject to the vagaries of the energy sector?
Barack Obama recently said if he was elected president he would
seek to stop the United States addiction to oil.
Apart from political instability in the Middle East, its harmful
effect on the environment is a major concern worldwide.
The conscience of the world has finally started worrying about
the kind of future we are creating for the next generation.
What if concerns for the ozone lead to a shift away from oil
and gas? The energy futures market is slowly looking to coal
as the future source of energy and Chinas huge reserves
will come in handy.
Our Government is like a lucky landlord who inherited a building,
has never had to sacrifice or work and collects a huge rental
income every month. What will happen when the tenants leave?
The global super powers are all exploring alternative energy
that can service needs in harmony with the environment. Smart
oil- and gas-producing nations all have a long-term diversification
plan to do their part to preserve the environment and create
an economic safety net.
The growth in the non-energy sector continues to be minimal
as evidenced by the Governments continued dependence on
our oil and gas reserves to finance the $50 billion budget.
Incentives such as production bonuses and production signature
bonuses dominate instead of any talk about investment in solar
Whats more, instead of diversifying the economy by creating
and investing in income-generating projects, we have egoistical,
unnecessary mega projects such as the Brain Lara stadium, the
Centre for Performing Arts and the PMs palace.
The focus on education is welcomed. The Government must be given
full marks for its progress with early childhood learning and
tertiary level education. Scholarships for PhDs and the Gate
programme (the sequel to the UNCs dollar-for-dollar plan)
are good. But how is our economy going to benefit when qualified
nationals and the professional class migrate for greener pastures
where crime is not consuming the society and public healthcare
The idea that recipients of these scholarships will return because
they signed a contract to serve is laughable. The State has
never taken legal action to enforce these contracts and people
grab the opportunity and run with impunity!
The expenditure on education will, therefore, ironically intensify
the brain drain unless the Government focuses on the real issues
such as crime, healthcare, high food prices and inflation.
We are spending billions on educating people that will not stick
around to contribute anything to our economy unless we address
the fundamental problems. In short, We spending billions
simply clearing track for gouti to run up to North America.
The budget continued the trend of this Government to treat crime
as if it were just another problem. The PM barely mentions the
word. The Minister of National Security has gone silent since
he admitted his plans did not result in sufficient arrestizes.
In the meantime, the bodies of youth and taxi drivers pile up
as if they are being collected from rubble after a deadly earthquake.
Crime is the number one problem and it is not the Governments
number one priority.
Absolutely nothing was said about crime that could inspire hope.
No new plans, no new vision. No mention of the debacle involving
the permanent appointment of a new commissioner of police. No
analysis of why the policies have thus far failed to bear fruit.
Health Minister Jerry Narace used the same PNM spin doctor to
manipulate statistics and technical definitions to prove that
there is no dengue outbreak while doctors across the country
are telling sick people otherwise. He seems to be the Minister
of Mosquitoes because hes certainly not representing the
Agriculture is another disappointment. The closure of Caroni
created huge opportunities that have been wasted. As food prices
continue to soar, our food import bill continues to increase
and there is nothing that will reverse this trend. The plots
given to ex-Caroni workers are too small to justify economies
of scale. Traditional farmers with the experience and expertise
need support via access roads and bridges, compensation for
flood losses and subsidies. Instead, they are thinking twice
about being farmers.
The hike in the price of premium gas is going to have a ripple
effect and raise the overall cost of living. It was a mistake
to assume that only the high-end families own cars
that use unleaded gas. The middle class will somehow have to
pass on this increase to the other sectors. It will not simply
absorb this punch.
The theme for this budget was, We spend it because we