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The value of common sense

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Economists and politicians do not debate the impact of random common-sense strategies when they analyse economic policies. One suspects the reason is that such strategies probably do not exist. Actions speak louder than words in the numerous plans for transforming the society gathering cobweb, so when the management of the national stadium decided to cut down trees apparently to accommodate a circus one wondered whether a brain-eating amoeba had infected them. Probably the motive was much-needed income, but whatever the reason, if Carnival masqueraders could enjoy the stadium’s destruction then why not circus clowns.

There are links between economic and political stagnancy with the abuse of national assets, poor infrastructure maintenance, removal of street vendors by vaps, and the recent discovery that the sea separates Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps the ferry service exemplifies best the dysfunctional consequences of poor governance and political short-terminism. After nearly six decades of independence, we should be experts in ferry maintenance and perhaps, be building them.

It would appear that there is little if any integration of policies and cooperation between government ministries and agencies to achieve efficiency in the implementation of policies. There are no key performance indicators to monitor and measure performance, and transparency and accountability remain serious issues. Often, we cite constitutional reform as the answer to public sector inefficiency. That is debatable.

Unless there are cultural and mindset shifts away from the political five-year syndrome, transformation to a more progressive society will remain a paper goal. For instance, what gives the Mayor of Port-of-Spain or any government agency the moral authority to move street vendors if they do not remove the illegal billboards scarring the environment and which pose dangers to motorists? Installation of every billboard that one could see from the Queen’s Park Savannah, along our highways and thoroughfares contravened various laws. In the eyes of the law, precisely what is the difference between illegal street vending and illegal billboarding? Many of the vendors on Charlotte Street sell local agriculture produce. Many billboards advertise foreign products.

What is the solution? Shouldn’t roadside vending be part of a broader strategy for managing the distribution of agriculture produce and other products? Agriculture is vital to our economy and an essential factor of the tourism economy. Pre-empt unlawfulness, yes, but we would achieve social justice when government agencies stop singling out street vendors and treat them as important contributors to the economy—a paradigm shift. Integrate their activities into the formal economy by assimilating their trade with strategies to make Port-of-Spain worthy of the status of the capital city. What does it take to beautify a city? The Japanese people have planted cherry blossom trees to create an enjoyable experience for themselves and tourists. We have the lovely poui. Imagine if these trees line highways, boulevards, and parks. Remove rubbish, get rid of the downtown stench, deal with the vagrancy problem, refurbish and maintain pavements and roads at safe standards.

Debate on national budgets usually generates heated discussion with the mantra of diversification to save us from economic hell. What do the statistics say? In 2010 the non-energy sector accounted for 58 per cent of GDP, and in 2017 it contributed 68 per cent mainly due to the decline of production in the energy sector, so the argument has merit. What are some solutions? Business people know that an effective strategy to earn new streams of revenue is to exploit current strengths and deepen market penetration where viable. Significant opportunities are in the service sectors, agriculture and agro-based industries, cultural and entertainment industries, tourism, manufacturing, and construction all underscored by an overhaul of the education system. What inventions in medicine, science, and technology would we give to the world? “The time and tide wait for no man,” but common-sense actions concerning the low-hanging fruit would ease the cultural challenges of transformation and impact the quality of life positively.


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