Caribbean Political Economy

The Prime Minister has spoken-IV, Reginald Dumas

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As published in the Trinidad Express Tuesday, July 14th 2009

reginald-dumas21 Conclusion of a four-part series

As I’ve often said, I’m wholly in favour of working closely with our Caricom colleagues. It helps them, it helps us. Why else would you have a regional body?

Caricom isn’t doing all that well, however. The people of the region remain essentially unengaged with it 36 years after its birth, and its aims and objectives, to which lip service is repeatedly and solemnly paid by generation after generation of its political leaders, are in practice crumbling through misuse and neglect.

Rickey Singh, who knows more about these matters than most of us, wrote in the Express after this month’s Georgetown summit that our Heads of Government “may have unwittingly succeeded in spawning more disappointment and cynicism The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting exposes the yawning gap between high-sounding rhetorical claims and the failure to take hard and imaginative decisions.” The late Lloyd Best used to say that talk is action. We in the Caribbean have elevated that aphorism to the level of art, and our politicians are our most accomplished artists.

Patrick Manning at least has been making an effort at some form of sub-regional integration. As so often with him, he’s been going about it in the wrong way, and there are suspicions of his real motives. But he did set up the Vaughan Lewis Task Force, which has now reported, and he did address both his party and the Parliament on the topic of what T&T could do to assist the less fortunate in the region. (He rather spoiled that superficially noble sentiment by linking it with a need for us to keep Caribbean illegal would-be migrants away from our shores, and with the spectre of our paying “in blood” if we didn’t.)

Where the Lewis Report is concerned, I’ve read only the executive summary and find that I’m not clear on what is being proposed and why. This means I have no choice but to read the report in its entirety. I dread that, because its two volumes together make up more than 560 pages, and my capacity for sustained concentration over lengthy periods is no longer what it used to be. But I shall have to make the effort.

On the Manning ideas for help to the region, I was extremely disappointed not to hear any mention of Haiti, which is worse off than any other Caricom member. Let me state for the record that I much appreciate what the Manning administration has already done for that country by way of grants from the Petroleum Stabilisation Fund. But much more has to be done for and with the Haitian people (as, to be blunt, the Haitian people have to do much more for and with one another).

Manning knows that, hence his proposal for a Haiti Hemispheric Fund at the recent Summit of the Americas. Alas, the proposal has fallen on deaf ears, I’m told. Here in T&T, however, the Medianet Haiti Relief Fund has been established, and the government may wish to contribute to it through money and/or goods. Kelvin Scoon at Medianet Caribbean (622-9432 and 628-7855) is the person to contact.

We must not ignore the broader theme of location of projects that subliminally pervades Manning’s parliamentary statement of June 24. Again, this matter of regional harmonisation of industry isn’t new; it goes back to the days of the West Indies Federation. This is what The Economics of Nationhood, published by the T&T government in September 1959, said on the subject: “Federal coordination of the (regional) economy (will ensure) that the various projects proposed by the different Units (of the Federation) do not duplicate or overlap each other but are conceived in a regional context.”

Nearly 30 years later, in 1985, the Caricom Heads approved the Caricom Industrial Programming Scheme (CIPS), according to which, the Caricom Secretariat tells us, industries were to be identified and allocated to various member states. If you’ve heard of the CIPS at all, which I doubt, what have you been able to glean about its operations? Under his recent proposals, how many southern Caribbean drydocks does Mr Manning envisage? How many quarries?

I have two last points. First, whom does Mr Manning see as the investors in his suggested regional ventures? The private sector? Regional governments? Or the T&T taxpayer? (Mind you, if one of our state agencies can spend nearly $200,000 on balloons and confetti-thus also causing more environmental impairment-for a function where the only obligation was to cut a ribbon, perhaps money really is no problem. Always provided, of course, the money isn’t yours but the taxpayer’s.)

Second, I note that all the countries in which Manning wants to “intervene” are beneficiaries of Hugo Chavez’s’ PetroCaribe programme, and that at least two of them, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, also belong to his ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). Is this coincidence or design? And if the Chíƒ, ¡vez and Manning initiatives are indeed running on parallel tracks, how are they to be reconciled? Are they to be reconciled?

Read ,   Part I Part II Part III

The Prime Minister has spoken-III, Reginald Dumas

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Reginald Dumas

Reginald Dumas

As published in in the Trinidad and Tobago Express, Saturday July 11, 2009

Quarrying in Dominica was another facet of the “Trinidad and Tobago intervention” (in the region) that Prime Minister Patrick Manning put to Parliament on June 24. It related, he said, to his government’s “decision to accelerate (this country’s) infrastructure development and specifically to embark early next year on the construction of six new highway systems.” There would consequently be a high demand for aggregates.

Since this demand could not be met locally, the opportunity arose to “invest in quarrying facilities in Dominica and thereby give that country a new area for economic growth and development and job creation.” Importing aggregates from Dominica would assist a Caricom country, whereas now we were importing the material from Canada.

I’m disturbed by Manning’s proposal. You see, Dominica has a very delicate eco-system, and growing worry is being expressed over the environmental degradation of the island. In 2007, for instance, the Dominica-based Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology spoke in alarm about deterioration of marine spaces because of increased sedimentation, itself due in large part to “infrastructural development and sand/gravel quarrying ” Hardly “a new area” of economic activity.

In March this year, an Ocean Life Symposium recommended to the Dominica government-Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit had requested recommendations-that “there be an urgent investigation into the sources of pollution of Dominica’s coastal waters deriving from land-based (particularly quarrying) and marine activities in order to recommend immediate mitigation actions.”

The symposium also proposed that “measures be put in place to compel existing quarry operators to comply with best universal practices for the containment of pollution and assurance of safety and health of neighbouring communities. There is currently great concern about the possible detrimental aspects of quarrying on the terrestrial and marine life and the environment.” (My emphasis.)

If Mr Manning had had the courtesy to hold his “appropriate discussions” with the Dominica government before telling the T&T Parliament what he was suggesting for Dominica, he might not have talked at all about quarrying as a means to keep Dominicans at home. (Who says they and other Eastern Caribbean people are so anxious to come to this murder-ridden place, anyway?)

But with Manning you never know. He has for years been unsympathetic to the environmental movement. In December 2003, for instance, he warned a meeting in Nigeria that if environmentalists were allowed to have their way, developing countries would end up like the United States. (No, don’t ask me. You work that one out yourself.)

And in March 2006, at the Powergen sod-turning ceremony in Point Lisas, he castigated those he called “right-wing environmentalists (who believe) that any development that disturbs the environment in any significant way, and ‘significant’ is to be defined, is development that should not be pursued.” Right-wing environmentalists! Any self-respecting Green anywhere would take deep and instant umbrage at that description.

I have been a regionalist since university more than half-a-century ago. I therefore appreciate, and support, the desire to work closely with our Caricom colleagues for our mutual betterment. I couch my sentiments in language different from Mr Manning’s, however. I would not have used a word like “intervention”, as he did on June 24, because of its unfortunate international connotations. Nor would I have painted scare scenarios like “mass migration” or “the introduction” (by regional governments, no less) “of undesirable activities in the Caribbean”. (What on earth could he have meant by that, I wonder?) To me, such an approach is unhelpful, and it is one more reason why Manning is more and more viewed outside our borders as condescending and insensitive.

In truth, I am reminded of my experiences more than twenty years ago when I was High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. It was the same story everywhere I went in the OECS: Trinidad and Tobago, flush with money from the 1970s oil boom, was being financially generous to the less fortunate, yes, but with an attitude of contempt and superiority that diminished them. In some cases we were so dismissive, so anxious to get rid of these “nuisances”, that we actually handed money over without signed agreements! I hope that’s not the sort of “accountability” we still practise?

The less privileged will usually accept the manna you superciliously drop into their cupped hands from your oil or gas heaven; they need it. But they will dislike you for the arrogant way you “help” them-it’s a perfectly normal human reaction. Then, of course, you will call them ungrateful. That is not the way to build the region.

For now, I shall mention only one other aspect of Manning’s statement: energy. First, I would like him to give more details of the partial scope agreement on energy products he hopes to enter into with the USA. Second, I would like to know something about the well from which he expected to supply Jamaica with gas sometime ago and which he says “was abandoned before it reached its target depth after an expenditure of some 80 million US dollars.” Who spent this enormous sum? Why was the well abandoned? No money to continue drilling? Unexpected geological problems? Relations with Venezuela? Some other reason?

The Prime Minister has spoken-II, Reginald Dumas

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Reginald Dumas

Reginald Dumas

As published in the Trinidad Express, Tuesday, July 7th 2009

In his June 24 statement to Parliament on T&T assistance to the region, Mr Manning said that “Caribbean Airlines Ltd (had) identified aircraft maintenance as a possible centre for economic activity and revenue earning.”

He recalled BWIA’s “tremendous capability in this regard” and the fact that that airline used to service not only its own aircraft but other airlines’ planes as well. The time had now come, he went on, to “reopen this facility, not here in Trinidad and Tobago but in Grenada, where we have one of the longest runways in the Caribbean which lends itself naturally to an activity of this nature”.

What the length of a runway has in principle to do with the establishment of an aircraft maintenance operation I have no idea. It could however be argued that the longer the runway, the bigger the aircraft that can be accommodated, thus possibly the greater the number and types of aircraft than can be serviced, and thus the broader and more sophisticated the operation.

Runway length is hardly the most important factor, however. Why does Manning believe that the timing is now right to restart a regional maintenance facility? With the worrying decline in world tourism, consequent cutbacks in routes and fleet sizes, and cancellation of plane orders (ask Boeing), how many aircraft are likely to go to Grenada for servicing? Who in Grenada could service them? Does Manning foresee an early return to extensive world leisure and business travel? What of economic costs-labour, spare part imports, runway upgrades, etc? Why was the BWIA maintenance facility essentially shut down in the first place?

The reason given for the closure -Manning was the Prime Minister at the time-was economic. There was a full complement of skilled staff, I’m told, but they were all BWIA employees and thus entitled to all staff benefits such as pensions, gratuities, union representation, etc. In the view of the then BWIA management, and subsequently of the government, this was too expensive a process, especially as BWIA’s “C checks” of large aircraft, including its own, were taking too long to be carried out. Planes were spending an inordinate amount of time on the ground, and revenue was therefore being adversely affected.

In the circumstances, it was decided that what was necessary was a maintenance facility independent of BWIA which would enter into a contractual arrangement with the airline. A US company, Evergreen, showed interest and visited T&T for discussions; nothing ensued. In the meantime, the “C check” operation was outsourced to Delta Airlines, leaving the local engineers and technicians to handle only day-to-day tasks. Needless to say, many of them quickly became redundant. Perhaps they could now take refresher courses and go to Grenada to work, but that would not be in keeping with Mr Manning’s desire to have more and more Grenadians employed in Grenada. Well, I suppose our people could train the Grenadians, then come home fast fast.

Mr Manning spoke also about “considerably” expanding the small ship maintenance facility in St Vincent and the Grenadines to service T&T’s “naval assets (such as) fast ferry boats water taxis (and) military boats ” Such an initiative, he added, had “the potential to blossom into a shipyard (which) has a great demand for labour and could go a long way in meeting the employment requirements of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

I expect the Prime Minister knows that we already have drydock facilities in this country. Why therefore we would want to set up something similar in another country in competition with ourselves I cannot say; he will have to tell us. What is even more mystifying is that one of our facilities is part of the CL Financial empire, in the supervision and restructuring of which Manning and his government are so heavily involved. Might we be reducing the value of that asset just at the moment when we should be doing all we can to enhance it? And what of the drydock complex planned for Sea Lots? Further, from the security perspective, do you really want your military vessels serviced in another country by persons not under your control?

Talking about ships reminds me of the mf Panorama. Remember the Panorama? Unlike the present seabridge ferries, sleek and glamorous, it was dowdy and slow. Yet it served us well for 20 years, and, I’m told, could with proper maintenance have served us for another 20. But too many of us are convinced that newness necessarily equates to progress. It’s a kind of bauble mentality: brief glitter takes automatic precedence over steady glow.

Accordingly, the Panorama was put up for sale a year ago. Earlier, the Caricom Secretariat had invited expressions of interest in a consultancy for a “study on the feasibility of establishing a fast ferry service in the southern Caribbean”.

I don’t know if the study has been done. I don’t know if the Panorama has been sold, but I’m advised it is still moored at the Port of Spain docks, as it has been since late 2006. Instead of lying idle, couldn’t it have been providing a service in the same southern Caribbean? And thus making a contribution to the very regionalism Manning seems so keen on?

The Prime Minister has spoken-I, Reginald Dumas

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Reginald Dumas

Reginald Dumas

As published in the Trinidad and Tobago Express Friday, July 3rd 2009

I remain intrigued by the Prime Minister’s statement of June 24 to Parliament on what he called the “contribution (Trinidad and Tobago could) make at this time to (the) economic wellbeing (of some Caricom countries).”

The first part of the statement was laden with statistics designed to show how much better off economically we are than a number of Caribbean countries. “This disparity,” he went on, “is a source of concern to (the) government because we believe that if the economic situation in those countries is unable to guarantee their populations a standard of living to which they aspire, then that is likely to lead to mass migration into the areas where they feel a better way of life might be available”-in other words, migration to Trinidad and Tobago.

The projects he then outlined for several countries were therefore, in his view, a means of creating employment in those countries and thus keeping what I imagine he sees as the Caribbean hordes-Grenadian, Vincentian and other -at bay and at home. How this could viably be done within his proposed political union, which presumably is to have freedom of movement of persons as one of its key elements, he didn’t say.

President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, for one, was not at all impressed by Mr Manning’s exaltation of Trinidad and Tobago’s economic strength; he called it “condescending”, and referred sarcastically to our high murder and kidnapping rates. “Condescending” and “arrogant” are adjectives that this country more and more frequently uses to describe Manning’s behaviour; they may well be gaining regional currency as well. I find Manning a bit of a puzzle myself. I know he has a well-developed sense of political self-preservation, but, try as I might, I am yet to discern any intellectual justification for bumptiousness. Put it down to acute myopia on my part.

But what of the details of Manning’s statement? On the statistics and the migration, I prefer first to examine in full his PNM Convention speech on June 21. To judge by excerpts in the media, that speech contained alarming scenarios of uncontrollable illegal entry into this country from neighbouring islands, and I would therefore like to explore any possible linkage between what he said then and what he told Parliament a few days later.

Manning’s statement also spoke of tourism and the negative effect on Caricom tourism-dependent economies (I trust he was including Tobago) of the opening-up of the Cuba market. He was right, of course, but Caricom should have started preparing for this a long time ago. After all, we have for years been pressing for Cuba’s full reintegration in hemispheric affairs, and we ought already to have confronted the probable consequences of such an eventuality. Careful what you wish for, the old saying goes; you may get your wish.

On energy, Manning said that his government now felt that “a supply of LNG to Jamaica for the stimulation of investments in the alumina sector (was) a matter of national priority.” For which nation, Trinidad and Tobago or Jamaica, he didn’t say. Sometime ago Jamaica was very upset with us for apparently reneging on a promise to provide that country with gas. Now Manning explains the slippage by saying that the well which his government “anticipated could have met that specific requirement (had to be) abandoned before it reached its target depth ”

The world “supply and demand situation for gas (had now) changed,” he continued, and “a supply of gas might now become available from (this country for Jamaica).” I would very much welcome an interpretation of that cryptic remark, especially since he used the word “might”, which suggests he’s not sure.

Should the Jamaicans rely on this? If so, why? What are our proven and probable reserves of gas? Are they adequate to meet on a continuing basis all the demands being put, or contemplated to be put, on them – smelter in La Brea, exports to Chile and Brazil and Jamaica, electricity plants in Tobago and elsewhere, Eastern Caribbean pipeline, etc.? For whom is the proposed supply to Jamaica destined? Alcoa? Might that be part of a deal to compensate for the stalled Alcoa facility in Trinidad and Tobago?

Why do we need an aluminium smelter in this country anyway? If the government is so enthusiastic about regional co-operation, has it entered into discussions on the matter with Guyana, which is much closer to us geographically than Jamaica, has the raw material -bauxite-in abundance, and possesses a land area large enough to dissipate the harmful effects of pollution? Wouldn’t that also help keep the Guyanese “hordes” at bay and at home? That should appeal to Mr Manning. And to Prime Minister David Thompson of Barbados.

It would be nice if our Minister of Energy could give us straightforward and comprehensive answers to these questions. But Conrad Enill seems more committed these days to obfuscation than to transparency, in and out of Parliament. Poor fellow, given his circumstances, I can almost excuse him.

Manning said more on June 24. I shall be coming to that

T&T-Eastern Caribbean Integration Task Force Report

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Ministry Of Foreign Affairs , Trinidad And Tobago. The Establishment Of A Single Economy And Appropriate Political Integration Between Trinidad & Tobago And Eastern Caribbean States

On August 14, 2008 the Heads of Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines signed a Joint Declaration on Collaboration towards the Achievement of the Single Economy and Political Integration among Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Click here for the T&T-Eastern Caribbean Integration Task Force Report

Joint Declaration on Proposed T&T-EC Union

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Declaration Signed by the leaders of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia on political and economic integration on August 14, 2008,  


Click here for Joint Declaration on the Single Economy and Political Integration by Four Caricom States