Why we can’t get foreign exchange?

The allocation of foreign exchange to Jane and Beharry Public continues to be inequitable and discriminatory. The ordinary citizen cannot get foreign exchange but franchises keep popping up all over the place. Clearly if you operate in the right circles you can get foreign exchange at will.

Who needs another Starbucks, Chucky Cheese, Wendy’s, Porche dealership etc? Why are we importing dried mangoes from Thailand instead of encouraging local entrepreneurship?

Photo: Starbucks is believed to be thriving in Trinidad

I recall that the Couva Children’s Hospital was supposed to bring in foreign currency by attending to patients from other countries but it remains closed. These are just mundane, everyday examples of how our foreign exchange is being mis-allocated.

I came across three cases of citizens who are angry because they cannot get foreign exchange to carry on with their lives.

Case One is of a returning resident who sold his property in England, brought the funds to Trinidad and built a home with the intention of retiring.  After 10 years he is so disenchanted that he wants to move on, but cannot get access to the money after selling his newly built house. He is now stuck in a place with money which he can only spend locally.

Case Two is a woman who has been living abroad for 15 years and has been investing in financial instruments which have matured; and she cannot get the funds out of the country now to continue her life abroad.

Case Three is of another woman who emigrated 20 years ago and cannot get access to her retirement lump-sum or monthly pension.

I have had the humiliating experience of having to line up daily to get US$100 in order to carry out some random transactions. Something is terribly wrong with the system. It appears to favour those with contact and access.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago is feeling a foreign exchange crunch.

Is the reason that the ordinary citizen is experiencing these problems rooted in our corrupt systems, which are based on who you know and not what is the right thing to do?

The population understands that the energy sector has contracted resulting in a reduction in foreign exchange inflows. We also understand that very little has been done to diversify the economy to make up the shortfall, despite decades of experts telling us that we need to diversify the economy. What is clear is that citizens without contact or friends in the right places will continue to feel the pinch.

So if your son, daughter, tanty, etc, ‘in foreign’ need some help, you can’t offer it because you can’t get the foreign exchange to send. For the hundreds of thousands of Trinidadians who have migrated but have funds in Trinidad from pension plans or other instruments, that money remains unavailable, locked away from their access.

This is simply inequitable, unjust and unfair. Additionally, it does not inspire confidence that the system will work in your favour at all times.

Governments must inspire confidence in people by operating even-handedly and transparently so please let us know who are the users and recipients of this scarce resource.

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

Against every wrong!

The Jawala Rambarran / Colm Imbert debacle is not new.  It is alleged that the goodly Minister prevented the employment of former Central Bank Governor at the G-24 Secretariat.  I am aware of several careers which have been halted by the political attitude that if you dare object to what I am doing or support the opposition you will “eat grass”.  Both the PNM and UNC (and/or its derivatives) are guilty of destroying careers and lives simply because they perceived that their opponents held a different view or objected to action.  Our society will not progress under the leadership of persons who are so vindictive and short-sighted. It is beyond my comprehension that a Minister can allocate some of his time to preventing a person from being employed or being awarded a contract.  

In this winner-take-all political system, people are justifiably afraid of being victimized.  I have seen how the winner-take-all political system extends way beyond the seats in Parliament.  Indeed it impacts the day to day running of the country. It translates into policy decisions about where a highway or houses should be built or if a project should be halted or if approval should be granted for a development being sponsored by a political financier.  Unfortunately we have bastardized our political system to the extent that this winner-take-all attitude is setting us up for conflict.

In an ideal world, it should not matter who is in control, all action should be in the best interest of the citizenry and there should be such a planned approach to development that “John Beharry Public” is the winner.  The ideal world should prescribe that the state boards be appointed on the basis of competence and therefore are not affected by a change of political parties. In the ideal world, politics will be de-linked from infrastructural development and plans would not be derailed simply because the new Minister does not agree, or that he does not like the incumbent, or has a friend who is expected to be the beneficiary of a particular contract.  The development of the country should be a planned, sustained effort aimed at providing the best quality both in terms of outcomes and procedures.

Both political parties mouth some version of having a meritocracy and focussing on the citizens but their talk is not substantiated by their actions.  We continue to hear wild promises but see focussed action directed towards benefitting their inner circle of friends and financiers. They do not even have the courage to call out wrong doings.

Our country is at a significant crossroad where we need a breath of fresh air and a new kind of change.  What is needed is a cadre leaders who are mature and have the tenacity to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. The challenge we face is that we know that the political system is broken and the leadership of both parties is without vision or empathy so we are back to “who we go put”.  

This is a time for patriots to stand up to tyranny and wrongdoing.  We cannot continue to pay lip service to the phrases about taking back our country.  We have to stand up to every wrong that is presented.