23 Jan Privilege, Responsibility and the Trinidad and Tobago Recession
The global oil price has plummeted and not expected to return to its bullish price range anytime soon. The Trinidadian economy after over a decade of carefree buoyancy now finds itself about to enter the noose of cutbacks, salary freezes and tax increases. This will not be Trinidad and Tobago’s 1st stint at a recession. Our parents’ generation know all too well of the hard times in the 1980s where they banded their bellies, sucked it up and worked hard. The recession is worrisome to me like most people living in Trinidad and Tobago and for someone who is currently in search of her next career move, it seems downright crazy to be attempting this switch in the current economic market.
This month, I attended a UWI FIFA CIES Sport Management Lecture with Mr. Vladimir Borkovic, Founder and Director of Street Football World. A very informative session on sports development but it was his life philosophy that resonated with me the most. In 2015, he was part of the Serbian Under-20 football team which upset the famed Brazilians to win the Under-20 World Cup. One of the nuggets of wisdom he imparted to the players was that no matter how successful they had become, each year they should go back to the clubs and communities from which they came and be a source of inspiration for younger players.
Vladimir’s main message to his players, “Privilege must be connected to responsibility. The question of what can I do to improve future generations must be asked repeatedly.”
I sat in the lecture hall mulling over this idea of connecting your privilege to responsibility. A simple idea that could positively transform future generations. A simple idea that in Trinidad and Tobago we have failed to learn.
Over the past 15 years during the oil boom, Trinidadians had a wail of a time: high-rise buildings, large-scale construction projects, GATE, the expansion of Carnival and the party scene. I will not even bother to mention the numerous examples of corruption allegations against public servants or the wasteful seemingly non-strategic expenditure by past administrations. The country was spending like a boss!
I realised recently, that for three decades there have been discussions about diversifying the Trinidadian economy. After all this time, it seems that the government and its people cannot move beyond an oil and gas dependent nation. Sure, there has been advancements in certain business sectors. However, in an economy where tender-preneurship and getting government jobs reign supreme, it’s no wonder that the Trinidadian populace is unperturbed about developing alternative, consistent, laud-worthy revenue streams.
This brings me back to Mr. Borkovic’s message to his football players.
Do Trinidadians even understand how privileged they are as a people? Will this looming recession make them realise that they need to reassess their approach to life and the development of their society? Do Trinidadians understand that in times of privilege that responsibility and a sense of gratitude are needed for continuous prosperity?
Diversification is not just merely developing new revenue streams, it is a responsibility that leaders owe to future generations. Paying the way forward. It should be part of their campaigns. It should be transparent in their words and actions. It should be one of the pillars of truth upon which they govern and mould the society.
Yes, I understand that there is more to diversifying an economy than paying the way forward. Diversifying oil-exporting economies is a difficult challenge, particularly in countries where the remaining oil resource horizon is long. It takes decades before full diversification takes hold. Competitiveness cannot be created out of thin air, competitiveness must be based on what the country has and who its people are. Leaders need to figure out what is authentic and different about Trinidad and Tobago. There is no generic policy.
On a personal level, if we think about what we want for Trinidad and Tobago, then we would come to the same conclusion that we all want the same thing and that is a better nation for us and for our families to come. We all want a crime-free country, clean water for our families to drink, a pollution free environment, affordable housing, a loving society are all basic needs of our people. Therefore, when a Trinidadian citizen pays it forward he or she is thinking about the bigger picture instead of him or herself and thus, make the country a better place. Hence, if you want a better Trinidad and Tobago, you should pay it forward.
Civic duty, active citizenry, volunteerism are all part of the responsibility Trinidadians need to play to preserve the country that they claim they love so much. God is a Trini! Praises be to him that we don’t live where there is terrorism and war. Yet, we are refusing to fiercely protect the very sanctity of privilege and peace afforded to us.
How are you paying the way forward? How are you using your privilege to plant a seed so that future generations may enjoy the same fruits of revelry and high life you are experiencing now?
We still have time to evolve our economy into one that is more diverse and less reliant on the energy sector but we need to act now and we need to act deliberately. Fear mongering and breeding a culture of scarcity in a time when being creative, innovative and brave are most needed, is pointless. Government leaders, industry leaders, non-profit sector leaders, public servants and citizens all alike need to act now and pay the way forward.
Side note: The awesome photograph above is the work of Ray Traboulay Photography. Check him out.