|Gaining consensus in a period of economic adjustment |
Thursday, August 10 2017
With Trinidad and Tobago facing serious economic challenges, the past few years have been a time of adjustment for everyone. Periods of adjustment like these are not always comfortable as they challenge the status quo to which people might have become accustomed.
We have already seen, at the State level, budgetary cutbacks and the discontinuation of some subsidies. At the business level, it has, in some cases, led to tough decisions to ensure survival of the operation.
In the 1980s, the country also faced a period of adjustment; one that many believe almost brought the country to its knees. Coming out of a time of high oil prices and a period of new affluence for the country, Trinidadians and Tobagonians were largely unprepared for a downturn.
Despite the warning signs, there was strong resistance to attempts to change national expectations, and bring them into alignment with the realities of the country’s coffers. It took the country several years to recover from what amounted to attitudes of extravagance, followed by a collapse of oil prices, with subsequent imposed conditionalities, which were very severe.
Shades of this period are evident today, with the recent decision by trade union leaders to host a march - one that is unlikely to provide any concrete solutions to the challenges which workers face.
Perhaps foremost among the similarities we face today, is the reluctance to take decisive action which will allow us to weather the period of adjustment and transform our country. This is not the remit of any one sector or grouping, but rather, it is the responsibility of all national stakeholders.
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce is acutely aware of the need for collaborative action in the interest of our people and our country. Several attempts have been made towards tripartite (or multipartite) engagement. Unfortunately, these appear to have collapsed, largely because of a lack of trust if one is to judge by the decision of the trade unions to leave the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).
But walking away from such forums could hardly lead to improving the situation. Moreover, it would certainly not inspire confidence in our ability to work together to hammer out resolve from our diverse perspectives. Building trust, therefore, remains an essential component of any effort towards tripartite action. The T&T Chamber is of the view that this approach is potentially one of the most positive mechanisms for forward motion.
Without a more unifying approach to dealing with our challenges, while opting instead for partisanship only, we will continue to experience many troubling conditions in our country; a dangerously high crime rate that consistently undermines the moral fabric of our society; institutional dysfunction and inertia and low investor confidence – to name but a few.
As a measure of our maturity and a mark of our nationhood, would it not be far better if we found a way to reach some form of consensus? That collective “we” includes and encompasses Government, the Opposition, Business, Labour and Civil Society. After all, the future of our nation is at stake.