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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Last Sunday I reviewed some aspects of the “Sustainable Nation” forum that was hosted by Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business on August 9 instant. This week, I will examine some excerpts of Tewarie’s speech at the forum.

He placed significant emphasis on the issue of crime and criminality which is best captured in the following excerpt: “How many developing countries have been able to come back from the abyss of intensely escalating crime? Crime has become a criminal industry here. Criminals, it is said, collaborate with other legal business entities and the word on the ground is that they are strengthened by police protection and shielded by political alliances. This is part of the talk of the town, but not part of mainstream discussion and no action detectable in response to such talk.”

This line of argument is perhaps entering the organised zone of the crime discourse by pointing to powerful elements who may be involved in these activities. If this is so, then Tewarie is going where some in the political world fear to tread.

Later in the speech, he offered these solutions:

(i) “Executions need to be actioned against convicted murderers.”

(ii) “There has to be consistent, persistent action on lockdown of hotspots, community policing with effective presence and backup capability and reducing targets for crime for each station properly resourced. Safe zones have to be identified and supported. Key intersections across the country have to be monitored with effective communication among deployed police as well as to home base.”

He also tackled a current economic problem by pointing to past survival when he said this:

“We have lived on a $9 per barrel revenue stream from oil before, not so? Energy companies are learning now to manage on a 50-dollar price per barrel, not so? So what really is our problem? Why so much moaning and groaning and lack of direction?”

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has spoken in recent times of Petrotrin being a “ward of the state.” The Basdeo Panday administration had to manage a US$9 price for oil and they survived. His rhetorical questions do provide us with some food for thought.

In a part of the speech that represented the first major ideological statement by a sitting parliamentarian that a departure from current economic practice was required because that was the cause of our current predicament, he said this: “A statist, Fabian socialist approach, has got us to where we are currently, but it is no longer tenable to continue. We need to make a break from this that will get us to sustainability as an economy and as a nation.”

This is a serious political challenge to the philosophy of Dr Eric Williams as laid out in the Chaguaramas Declaration 1970 that established the 51 per cent argument for state control of the economy. That was perhaps the boldest part of the speech.

In seeking to put some context on budgetary and revenue measures, Tewarie opined thus: “I think that we have reached the point where we have to budget at 45 billion dollars in expenditure and raise the revenue to support that. New income from new oil and gas finds beyond 45 billion in revenue should be used for development projects or put in savings to repay debt.”

He offered a strategy to get out of the current recession in the following terms: “We must use construction to get out of the recession—housing construction and infrastructure projects are the key. We need to facilitate public/private partnerships in these areas as well to add private investment to government funding. Confidence has been lost. It has to be rebuilt with clarity of direction and clear identification of priorities.”

The case for involvement of the private sector in development was clearly made here and he went on to tackle diversification in these terms: “Diversification has traditionally meant diversification of our production base as well as our markets. And that remains true. But diversification today means, as well, the choice of technology and where industries are located on the technological value chain. Diversification now means absorbing the skilled and strengthening intellectual capital formation for application of knowledge and ideas, creativity, innovation and human imagination so that competitiveness is enhanced.”

This view of diversification broadens the debate beyond what has been repeated over and over with no action at all for decades.

Towards the end of the speech, he said this: “We need to focus on issues not personalities, on ideas not controversies, on the future we want to create for our children and grandchildren, not the next election. On solutions not just problems.”

This outlook is broader than what some small minds in a small society may want to hear. His greatest challenge will lie in the political process itself which rotates around two main parties with large voter banks.

His injection of some kind of reflective philosophical discourse into the political arena will be welcomed in some quarters and suspiciously viewed in others.