By VASANT BHARATH
Dr. Keith Rowley will be remembered in infamy as the first Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister of recent times who failed to secure any foreign direct investments.
In fact, reports from the Central Bank of TnT confirm that there was an outflow of investment capital of US $180 million in 2018 and US $457 m in 2017.
That ruinous state contrasts sharply with investment inflows between 2012 and 2015 of an annual average of US $1.5 billion.
The current negative condition is a shocking and radical collapse for a country which, a mere few years ago, was the largest single beneficiary, per capita, of such investments in the western hemisphere.
The Patrick Manning tenure from 2007 to 2009 saw annual average investments of around
The PP Government had vigorously marketed T&T on the strength of our petrochemical sector, at the crossroads of the Americas, modern telecommunications and infrastructure, highly sophisticated workforce and our geographic location outside of the hurricane belt.
As line minister in the second half of the administration responsible for Trade and Investments, I worked arduously with the agency InvesTT to secure investments, by creating the best possible enabling environment and pitching at capitals around the
Trinidad and Tobago achieved historic highs in vital Ease-of-Doing-Business indices.
Our small country was commended by the World Bank as one of the top 10 reformers in the world for ease of doing business.
We appreciated that there were many destinations available to investors, and, therefore, worked diligently to make T&T as commercially competitive as possible, continuously polishing our unique selling points.
All those gains have been reversed under Rowley’s inept leadership.
The economic meltdown created by the PNM administration
T&T is now ranked 105th of 190 countries in Ease-of-Doing-Business, behind most Caricom countries, including Jamaica which is emerging from the economic doldrums.
This is just one indicator of the economic meltdown created by the PNM administration, which includes an ever-worsening debt crisis, non-productive spending, weakening in most sectors, natural gas shortages, and increasing unemployment.
It is against that calamitous economic contraction that we must view Rowley’s outrageous refusal last week to participate in discussions with Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State of the United States, T&T’s largest trading
This country exports almost US $4 billion worth of goods to the US each year, and imports just over US $2 billion, with a US $2 billion trade deficit.
It is obvious, therefore, that trade with the United States is crucial to the economic welfare of T&T, especially during our worst financial times in a generation.
Even a mere deterioration in trade could hurt us in our pockets.
The freezing of foreign investments, under-performance of our manufacturing sector and flight of entrenched businesses should have been an urgent wake-up call.
Those sobering circumstances should have alerted Rowley to the urgent need to make T&T more investment-friendly, to woo businesses and to clinch all possible benefits from the US, the world’s largest economy.
Instead, the Prime Minister has senselessly trained his intemperate, even offensive, demeanour against the United States, beginning with an irrational attack last year
In characteristic hot-headed manner, he criticised US Ambassador Joseph Modello, accusing the envoy of attempting to subvert T&T’s sovereignty.
Rowley was disturbed at Modello’s expressed concerns over T&T close embrace of Nicolas Maduro, the authoritarian leader who has wrecked Venezuela.
The Prime Minister took “umbrage” and launched an unprovoked offensive against the ambassador.
There is no love lost between PoS and Washington
In keeping with his haughty style, Rowley has since made no efforts at repairing relations with the US, and it is clear there is no love lost between Port of Spain and Washington.
That storm-in-a-teacup led to the Prime Minister refusing to consider meeting Pompeo, who, during a stay-over in Kingston, discussed economics and security with Caricom attendees.
Rowley could have utilised the crucial meeting to seek to warm relations with the US, while not sacrificing our renowned independence.
His officials could have lobbied aides to the Secretary of State about the advantages of investing in T&T and of initiatives to remodel and improve the economy.
Instead, he bluntly refused to attend and issued a statement filled with ridiculous jargons not relevant in the modern competitive and borderless world.
Of essential note, too, is that Caricom’s current leader, Barbados’ Mia Mottley, also declined to meet Pompeo, for unexplained reasons.
Rowley’s absurd decision is yet another reflection of his pathetic lack of appreciation of T&T’s dire economic times and the need to utilise diplomacy as a vital medium in boosting trade and investment.
“Economic diplomacy” has been utilised for years by progressive governments in building trade and preserving partnerships.
As a small, developing island State which no longer holds sway with energy, T&T must ideally leverage all diplomatic initiatives to open markets and stimulate cross-border economic activities.
Trade and investments are no less important than bilateral political, cultural and sporting
Competitive nations – including Jamaica – utilise applicable trade-enhancing advantages, and this typically results in increased access to markets and to investors.
Through investments and other measures, Jamaica has turned around its much-sagging economy and is now enjoying its 20th successive quarter of economic growth.
The myopia and absence of leadership skills by Rowley and his hapless Cabinet
A recent independent report stated that Jamaica is the second-highest recipient of direct foreign investments among small island developing States.
Investments have rolled in from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, in tourism, construction, telecommunications and
Rowley, on the other hand, interprets any interaction with the United States as a nefarious and clandestine attempt to undermine T&T’s nationhood and to direct T&T on its foreign policy.
This is yet another manifest example of myopia and absence of leadership skills by Rowley and his hapless Cabinet, as a result of which the country’s economy continues its dreadful downward spiral.
While his Jamaican counterpart Andrew Holness has modernised his economy and removed the bottlenecks to investments, Rowley remains entangled in a futile and imagined self-conflict.
Clearly caught in an ideological time-warp, he visualises enemies behind every curtain, even as intrepid nations foster new business partnerships and break down artificial barriers.
The Rowley regime continues to outdo itself in its absence of vision, creativity and skill in the overall governance of crisis-ridden Trinidad and Tobago, and, in particular, in kick-starting the declining economy.
This is coupled with Rowley’s well-known boorishness and misplaced ‘mannish’ behaviour, all of which are serving to render him as the first T&T leader hopelessly incapable of boosting trade and wooing investors.