TT’s slump and a crisis of confidence – Part 3

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The TTWhistleblower continues this series of analyses looking at the economic slump that the Trinidad and Tobago economy is navigating and the impact of waning consumer, business and investor confidence on what could possibly be a protracted crisis.

In part two, we explored the issues affecting Government revenue and the impact on confidence. In part three we examine the manner in which confidence at all levels has been sacrificed as the altar of corruption, political gimmickry and expediency.

Defining issues in 2017

Two major revelations in 2017 have critically impacted the Trinidad and Tobago economy, and indeed the Keith Rowley Administration, because if the depth to which it proved corruption could reach.

And with the revelations, came a collective sigh and head-hanging from the population, particularly as they deal with:

(i)                  The Email-Gate probe which was instrumental in Rowley winning the 2015 general election, and

(ii)                The fake oil scandal, which punches hard at the very foundation of the Trinidad and Tobago economy.

There was no help to confidence in the economy, both at home and abroad, and what is now eagerly awaited is the outcome, on both fronts.

Email-Gate cacophony

If ever there were allegations that drew a genuine wave of shock from a sitting Government, because they were simply too colourful to be true, it was when Keith Rowley first read the alleged emails in 2013 of what he claimed were conspiracies to murder a journalist and pervert the course of justice.

The allegations were well summed up by LoopTT, in its online report on 19 December 2017: “The email-gate allegations were first made in May, 2013. Then Opposition leader, Dr Rowley read a thread of 31 email messages in Parliament purporting to be a conversation between four people, whose email accounts were similar to those of the then Opposition regime; prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, attorney general Anand Ramlogan, national security advisor Gary Griffith and government minister Suruj Rambachan.”

“The emails involved a major conspiracy against Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, a plot to harm and discredit reporter Denyse Renne and the payment of monies in exchange for freedom by an unnamed person.”

Email-Gate’ went on to become one of the then Opposition Leader’s favourite whips against the Persad-Bissessar Administration, repeating the allegations countless times with his use of Parliamentary Privilege to first bring the allegations into the media having, for all intents and purposes, appeared to validate them enough to repeat them in public.

So fervent was his delivery of the allegations that the then Opposition Leader Rowley according to an Express report on 20 May 2013:

Rowley said he wanted the Attorney General to say “who is it whose freedom is being bought and what was meant by “no price for freedom”. He said in another e-mail “kamlapb1 tells anan@gmail:  “I am worried AG, I do not want this to blow up in our faces. Tone down the request and focus elsewhere for now”.

The allegations hurt the former Administration to the extent that it could have added sufficient burden to become one of the major factors in its 2015 defeat.

In addition to a 2013 forensic audit, and a 2014 confirmation from Google Inc that the emails were not real, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service undertook an investigation which appeared to be the standard the Trinidad and Tobago population was waiting for.

The Police Service found that the emails and allegations contained bore no basis in fact, something that led the Trinidad Express to say in its Editorial of 19 December 2017 that: “The person who should be most horrified by the disclosure from Acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, is Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.”

Indeed, the fate of a nation and future of 1.3 million people changed significantly on the back of allegations that have been found to be completely untrue, and the questions that arise go the very heart of the pillars of Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliamentary democracy, and Judicial strength.

Fake oil

The fake oil scandal was the other major issue that has critically impacted the image and believability of the Government.

The scandal saw Petrotrin overpaying A&V Drilling approximately $80 million for oil it did not receive. The company had the contract to supply oil to Petrotrin from the Catshill Field.

The company is owned by Haniff Nizam Baksh, and following an internal audit which proved the overpayment for oil that effectively did not exist, his daughter, Allyson Baksh, resigned from the Senate. She was appointed a Senator in 2015.

In a wide-ranging television interview, which was subsequently reported in the Trinidad Express, Keith Rowley claimed that Haniff Nizam Baksh was his friend.

However, he claimed in a Newsday report on 08 December 2017 that his appointment of Baksh’s daughter to the Senate had nothing to do with this friendship: “Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said his friendship with A&V Oil and Gas Ltd owner Nazim Baksh was not the reason he chose Baksh’s daughter Allyson as a government senator. Asked this question during a television interview on Wednesday night, Rowley declared, “Certainly not.”

So wild and very damaging allegations that helped to get Rowley elected have been proven false.

Rowley’s ‘friend’, whose company was paid $80 million for fake oil and whose daughter subsequently resigned from the Senate is still waiting to learn of his fate.

And the Prime Minister is still in office, having brutishly dismissed calls for his removal and an early general election…confidence has suffered, and the economy will continue to suffer.

Not helping the corruption allegations, have been the random and almost mechanical claims from Rowley Administration Ministers that every issue that has created challenges was created by the previous Government.

Most recently, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said some Public Servants may have to wait for their December salaries…because of the mismanagement of a previous Administration out of office for more than two years.

This kind of political gimmickry does little to help confidence and in fact hurts consumer confidence particularly, further discouraging the population to spend from their incomes as they would have previously.

Confidence burdening projections

But it is not that all was lost for Trinidad and Tobago; in spite of the Rowley Administration , there are projections by global monitors and analysts that suggest a return to growth, and some kind of restoration of stability.

One such source is the Country Report by Euler Hermes Economic Research that listed Trinidad and Tobago’s strengths as:

·         Large oil and gas resources and largest petroleum and gas producer in the Caribbean;

·         Strong external liquidity;

·         Counter cyclical buffer in the form of Sovereign Wealth Fund (HSF).

As for weaknesses, the country report listed:

·         High crime rate driven by drug and arms trafficking;

·         Significant risks coming from the high dependence on energy revenues

·         Maintenance-related outages in the energy sector;

·         Deteriorating fiscal position;

·         Recurring foreign exchange shortages and growing external imbalances.

Giving Trinidad and Tobago a rating of ‘B3’, Euler Hermes projected: “We forecast growth finally turning positive in 2018 at +1.9%, and reaching +2.2% in 2019. This is in line with the recovery of the region, which is projected to firm, and the acceleration of the US economy (Trinidad’s main trade partner).”

The report also chillingly states: “Recent developments have seen the public debt-to-GDP

ratio soar. By 2019 it is estimated to have doubled its 2015 level of 28.9%, reaching 60.4%.”

It should be noted that the World Bank 2017 Doing Business Survey ranked Trinidad and Tobago at 102 out of 190 countries, a deterioration of our position just a few years previously.

So while this report projects a return to growth, what of the tide that has to be fought? In addition to the negatives stated here, the population is rapidly losing faith that the current administration has what it takes and the political will to do what is required.

By the 2018/19 budget, we will perhaps be privy to even more evidence of how plummeting confidence has set the Trinidad and Tobago economy back and erased years of development which could have been sustained.

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