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Trinidad and Tobago’s hardship will intensify amid collapse in the price of oil


Dear Sir:

The dramatic collapse in the price of oil, Trinidad and Tobago’s inability to meet its natural gas production targets, domestic economic stagnation, government’s failure to diversify, and its failure to stimulate the economy mean that the hardship the population has been facing over the past 4½ years will intensify and seriously worsen.

The country is already in a desperate financial state of affairs, with a steep debt, declining foreign exchange to cover imports, high unemployment, layoffs of workers, and the ease of doing business has gotten drastically worse.

This is our fifth year in a row without economic growth.

Against that troubling backdrop, the country will not receive the $47.7 billion in revenues projected by finance minister Colm Imbert. This will have a negative effect on the economy.

I, therefore, call on the government to urgently re-visit its $53 billion budget, in the manner that then-prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had done in January 2015 when commodity prices fell.

At that time, Persad-Bissessar faced the nation and announced that certain projects would be shelved or scaled-down while ensuring that social programmes would not be affected.The then-prime minister prudently re-engineered the government’s balance sheet.

The economic conditions are far more urgent and critical today, with oil prices barely over US $30 a barrel, while Imbert had unrealistically projected returns of US $60 a barrel. Gas prices are also markedly lower than the US $3 MMBTU on which the minister had hinged his 2019-2020 budget.

It is common knowledge that the government has been unable to pay many of its bills or to make requisite transfers to State Enterprises and Statutory Bodies.

The economic disaster being wrought by the collapse in commodity prices and the fall of international Stock Markets are being aggravated by the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before this crisis, the opposition had been cautioning about the unprecedented debt, to which the government is now borrowing to service interest rates. The import cover is now half of what was left by the administration of Persad-Bissessar, and the country is undergoing a severe foreign exchange problem.

Even with the foreign exchange crunch, the food import bill is valued at $6 billion, and the government has abandoned the domestic agricultural sector. Despite the disturbing state of affairs, government officials still utter vacuous statements about “macro-economic stability” and of having turned around the national economy.

The government must now confirm the bitter truth that the economy has virtually collapsed and the 2019-2020 budget targets have been rendered useless. The government must face the people of Trinidad and Tobago and unveil realistic budgetary proposals.

Prime minister Dr Keith Rowley must scrap its vanity projects and announce measures to diversify the economy, which remains rooted in the depressed energy sector.

The minister of finance and prime minister Dr Rowley must urgently address the nation in light of this global economic crisis.

Tim Gopeesingh, MP, Caroni East

Former Minister of Education



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