Monday, February 22, 2016
Somebody asked me a few weeks ago 'who profits from the non-diversification of the economy'? Thinking about it I realized that this was an excellent question which most people were more comfortable with ignoring rather than facing it frontally ... a typical West Indian trait! I never got a straight answer but did find that this was a question that certain persons as far afield from Trinidad as the Bahamas, are asking. Well, I am certainly not an economist and those economists that I did ask could not give me a straight answer but gave instead lot of unintelligible "mumbo-jumbo".
So? Who benefits? Because in more than fifty years of independence somebody (or 'bodies') must have benefitted. After all, money, like water, will always obey gravity and will accumulate wherever it is easiest. Having looked at it with my admittedly inexpert economic eye I have come to the (not surprising) conclusion that the fault lies with that commercial class which Dr. Eric Williams once scathingly referred to as "commission agents", i.e., those so-called businessmen who add little or no value to imported products, but simply mark up the goods and re-sell them at a huge profit.
There has been so much oil money floating around that these guys have become quite adept at making money off of foreign goods and ideas. Take one of our more profitable public companies, Prestige Holdings. This company has the KFC and TGI Fridays franchises and makes millions from them. The service in these places is lousy, but who cares? Nobody. The company makes a fortune and every year pays huge sums in franchise fees to the American owners. Oh, I know: Prestige will argue that they employ lots and lots of people and pay lots and lots of taxes. But the company adds no intrinsic value to the economy. It doesn't make or produce anything. Another popular and profitable company is Pricemart. The list goes on and on, but you get the point. If you want to make a lot of money import something from abroad for pennies and sell it locally for dollars. If you follow this tried and proven formula you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.
Don't believe me? Go into any Massey store that used to be known as Hi-Lo and buy a DiGiorno pizza there. You will pay about TT$100 for it. Go into a supermarket in the States and the same pizza will cost you US$5.00. That's about TT$32.50 if you convert at US$1.00 = TT$6.50 (which is more than the official rate today). In other words, there is a lot of profit in this particular product built in for the importer who clearly will not be buying the product at the retail US$5.00 price but for much less!!
Put another way, we, the general public are being ripped off by the greedy and unscrupulous commission agent class and nobody has done anything about it for more than fifty years!! Dr. Williams (to give him credit) did try once when he, for example, prevented the importation of foreign assembled vehicles in order to try and start an assembly industry here. But that effort failed. The local businesses were unable to meet the demand and the quality of the locally assembled cars was worse than abysmal. Since then, nobody has seriously tried to force the commission agents to become more entrepreneurial. Oil money has flowed like water and calls to diversify are met with 'oh yes, that's a great idea', but nothing else.
I must blame also the University of the West Indies. Nowhere have I seen or heard any real or good workable ideas from the 'think tank' that the University ought to be as to how to achieve this purpose. UWI has failed this country and the region terribly. The professors and lecturers have been by and large completely incompetent and incapable of providing the kind of modern and progressive thinking that is so badly needed to get us out of the economic doldrums. They are very good at talking though! But then most West Indians can do that fairly well even without a university degree.
No. The only test for leadership is leading and leading vigorously. Sadly, throughout the region there is a dearth of leadership which has resulted in our Third World thinking and the fact that because of this we will continue to allow the 'commission agents' to continue to rip us off. And our economies will continue not to be diversified.
Posted by Robin Montano at 12:24 PM
Friday, February 12, 2016
ASAMI NAGAKIYA was a talented and pretty young Japanese pannist (for the benefit of my foreign readers, that's somebody who plays the steel pan). She had come to Trinidad to play her instrument and to play Carnival and her body was found on Ash Wednesday morning. She had been strangled and one news report says that she also had been raped. Frankly, I believe the report of sexual assault, although the police seem bent on covering up this aspect of the crime. (Why they would want to do that is beyond me.)
But her horrible death ... and the fact that the police are doing nothing to stop or even slow the steadily growing assault by criminals on civil society has got me to thinking: can we really do nothing about it? Are we hopeless and helpless? In other words, are we perpetual victims of the criminal elements who seem to control all the important arms of the State so that they can literally thumb their noses at us and say in effect that they can do whatever they feel like doing? And we, poor fools that we are, can do nothing except bitch and complain?
Okay. The short answer to those questions is 'yes'.
But what if we the people decided to change that paradigm with some out of the box thinking? What if we came up with a solution that would force the 'powers that be' to perform or pay when they don't perform?
Let me explain: currently all the legal authorities and precedents suggest that there is no civil liability on the part of the police or even the State if a person were to become a victim of a crime. In the leading American case of Warren v. District of Columbia (1981) it was decided that there is "no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." I haven't had the time to check the Commonwealth authorities but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that they will fall along the same lines. In other words, the State has no legal obligation to protect you that can be enforced in a Court of Law with financial penalties if it doesn't.
But in good old T&T it is against the law for a law abiding citizen to even carry a pepper spray, and it is very, very difficult to get a firearms licence. Put another way, the State ensures by it's laws that it's law abiding citizenry is at a great disadvantage when it comes to confronting armed and dangerous criminals. And the police service (whose rather laughable motto is "to protect and serve") is so woefully incompetent and/or corrupt that the conviction rate for murder hovers somewhere around three percent! In other words, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are strictly on your own when it comes to defending yourself against the criminals. Neither the State nor the arm of the State meant to protect you (i.e., the police) are going to help you or defend you. You are going to be deliberately left unarmed and defenceless and with no legal recourse.
But aren't we a nation of laws? And aren't laws supposed to exist for the benefit of the greater society? And don't we elect politicians to make these laws for our benefit and protection? So? Why don't we tell our law makers to do their work? Lead, follow or get out of the way!!
Let me give you an (admittedly outrageous) idea: what do you think would happen if we were to change the law and make the State liable in the civil law if a person is a crime victim? If all of a sudden a Prime Minister and his/her Minister of Finance (and I'm referring here to any Prime Minister and Finance Minister ... not just Messrs. Rowley and Imbert) found themselves having to pay out millions of dollars from the State's coffers to victims of crime, how long do you think that they would tolerate those losses? How long would they stay in power if their administration had to pay out millions in damages to crime victims?
Look, somebody has to pay. We have to stop the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. My experience has been that nothing gets done if nobody has to pay for 'it' (whatever 'it' might happen to be). Of course, we can just sit back and watch while we get picked off like rabbits in a shooting range and complain about how unfair and incompetent our leaders are.
But you should know that we, the ordinary people, really do have the power to change things ... if we really want to!! And you don't have to like or agree with my idea. Just come up with another that will fix the problem.
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:05 AM