Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has sought to reassure the country that devaluation is not on the cards at this time, despite the country’s worsening economic situation.
When asked if the Government will have to devalue in an exclusive interview with Guardian Media last weekend, Dr Rowley stated, “Not yet. But if there is further deterioration we may.”
He admitted that devaluation will hit those who can least afford it hardest. But by his own admission, COVID-19 has caused the economy to shrink by 10 per cent. It is not the best of positions to be in weeks ahead of the national budget on October 5.
This country is an oil and gas producer and its production and sale has dropped drastically globally. COVID-19 created “the perfect storm” where oil and gas prices collapsed and some plants in Point Lisas were forced to shut down. Now, bpTT has advised they will be cutting staff.
The economic picture painted by Dr Rowley tells us just how dire the situation is. ‘We don’t have a strong enough revenue stream to sustain the servicing of the country. We’ve used a lot of debt and short term borrowings to keep it on an even keel,” he said.
There is no doubt that citizens must pay heed to the reality facing us. The country can ill afford to continue down the same track it has gone before, where billions are allocated to handouts and make-work programmes.
The global energy situation makes it more imperative today than ever before that the Government begin to diversify the economy.
For far too long, governments have lamented over the country’s billion-dollar food import bill. The economy just cannot continue to sustain such continued wastage of our foreign exchange. The agriculture sector must be given priority in the national budget.
COVID-19 has forced many people to create their own backyard gardens, creating a new breed of farmer/gardener. We can capitalise on this for the overall good of the country if there is a proper national agricultural plan for the country.
It is noteworthy that the Prime Minister has mandated Minister of Youth Fitzgerald Hinds to develop a pool of farmers who want careers in agriculture. Maybe this will be the impetus needed to get the sector going. Currently, agricultural inputs are tax-free and the PNM in its five-year Road Map to Recovery promised to invest heavily in agricultural expansion with incentives for new farmers.
Retooling the economy, training young people, growing our technological capabilities and creating a new breed of entrepreneurs will be the key to taking this economy forward.
Trinidad and Tobago once stood as the economic beacon in the region. Today we are facing hard times, like many other countries. Waiting much longer to truly diversify will put us in a worse position.
Let us hope when the Finance Minister reads the budget on October 5 there will be a game plan charting a new course to put T&T on a sustainable path.