The Noble Bob Douglas drillship

In two months, T&T will mark 60 years as an independent country. T&T was the second country in Caricom to be given its independence following the failed attempt at a West Indies Federation and was preceded by a few weeks by Jamaica. Notice I said post the failed federation because Haiti, a member of Caricom, was the first country to gain its independence.

So, both Jamaica and T&T will this year turn 60. Sixty is, for many people in the Caribbean, the retirement age, an age when one hopes that you would have made something of your lives, have contributed to the uplifting of your family and society and you would have made the place better than when you met it.

For countries, 60 is still a relatively young age but one which has allowed sufficient time to chart a course of progress and opportunity to create a better life, a good life for its people.

At 60, we have a Jamaica that is clearly proud of its achievements, is the largest-sized and populated island in the English-speaking Caribbean and has been seeing more economic success than it has had in its history with lower unemployment rates, strong fiscal performance, sustained growth rates and looking forward to finally achieving its potential.

T&T continues to limp along with little confidence in the future, as it has seen so much of its resources squandered away by administrations that have neither had the capacity nor the interest in truly making the country the economic powerhouse it can be. Such is the lack of confidence that the present administration has been silent on any plans to celebrate the milestone, hoping for its continued electoral success based on an opposition that seems incapable of mounting a convincing campaign showing that it deserves another shot at being in power.

But for all of T&T’s missteps, its poor governance, its wastage and poor decision-making, the country is still well-positioned to play a crucial role in what I see as a decade of opportunity for Caricom to move its people to a place of sustainable prosperity and unity.

There has never been a time when Caricom has had more economic possibilities than right now.

For the first time, we have growth in Jamaica, T&T, Guyana, Suriname and Barbados happening simultaneously.

For a long time, we have had Jamaica in economic decline or at best, standstill, Guyana has been in economic trouble almost from the start of it becoming a cooperative republic, Suriname has had a weak economy and T&T has been cyclical, riding the wave of high oil and then gas and petrochemical prices.

We now have a rare economic opportunity at hand for the region. Guyana has had exploration success that very few countries in the world can begin to match, Suriname is following and believed to be part of that basin. With a combined population of just over one million people, these two South American Caricom nations have sufficient resources to ensure that regardless of what happens in the coming decades, they will have enough money to significantly change the lives of their populations.

The challenge, however, is whether the two countries and the rest of the region have to political will and foresight to see that this could be a real opportunity for the region to become a place of sustained economic growth.

The reality is that neither Guyana nor Suriname has the capacity, the skill sets nor the ability to create as much value from the energy discoveries as they can with the assistance of T&T.

Yes, I know there is a sentiment in Guyana that T&T nationals and companies are seeking to benefit from what is Guyanese largess. Yes, that is true and there should be no shame in it.

T&T companies and individuals want to make money from the discoveries and economic opportunities in Guyana. Exxon, the American company, wants to do that too.

They are not drilling and risking capital and developing the oil and gas sector because they like Guyana, they are doing it because there is money to be made. What we must want is for as much of that money as possible to remain in Guyana firstly, and secondly in the region.

That is the maturity and communication that is needed. For all the seeming bad blood between Guyana and T&T, the reality is that prior to this find, Guyana was more likely to benefit from any excess T&T or the region had to offer than from non-regional countries.

Similarly, as Guyana and Suriname develop capacity in their energy sectors, there are real possibilities for nearshoring our economies to provide both sustainable development and new forms of economic activity.

The ten-year window that I speak of is because collectively, except for Haiti, T&T, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname, the rest of the regional population, including Barbados, is just over a million.

The challenge for Caricom is that the intra-regional trade has not occurred in the measure needed. Apart from some manufacturing in T&T and to a lesser extent Jamaica, the region has been essentially doing the same thing, selling tourism and in return importing everything from out of the region to both support the tourism and domestic sectors.

This has led to the leakage of forex and other resources outside of the Caricom. With the land space and now the economic resources, we must encourage the regional private sector, not government, to go after the agriculture opportunities, to produce at scale and to meet the demands of the regional market with the excess for extra-regional exports.

We must allow finally for the free movement of Caricom citizens and allow their skills and experience to bring to bear on the problems and opportunities in the region.

We must develop the regional stock exchange and seriously consider again the possibilities of closer integration of the financial systems.

This cannot be done without visionary political leadership and a clear communication with the people of the region.

Caricom has consistently failed to meet its mandate. A lot of it has had to do with the sheer lack of resources.

The resources are being found, the talent is there, but is the political will and acumen available?