Champagne History, Mauby Reality: Adjusting to the New Normal

 

The New Year is normally a time for both reflection and renewal. The current state of the Trinidad and Tobago economy should force us to look back at similar periods in our history, as well as think of new ways to address our challenges.  It is no secret the country is grappling with a recession and the Government is searching for new ways to increase revenue.

 

The latest Trinidad and Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Summary Report is themed “Champagne History, Mauby Reality: Adjusting to the New Normal”. This report speaks to the need for citizens and Government to adjust their expectations and find innovative solutions to navigate the low price and low production environment. The report was prepared to help citizens understand the current state of the local extractive sectors so that they can ask the right questions and keep an eye on how the country’s resources are managed. The following is an excerpt from the summary report where TTEITI Steering Committee member Martin Farrell gives his personal perspective of the recession in the 1980s.

 

COPING WITH THE RECESSION OF THE 1980s

 

“In 1987 things got so bad with the economy that the NAR Government had to go to the IMF. Public servants had their salaries reduced by a 10% salary cut. There was a Voluntary Separation of Employment Package (VSEP) implemented in the Public Service (actually my wife worked with the Ministry of Energy and took VSEP & went to work at UWI). The TT dollar was devalued against the US dollar from $3.60 to $4.45 and there was a shortage of foreign exchange.  In many Government Ministries, there was also a severe shortage of materials and supplies.  For example, in some Ministries one would receive a roll of toilet paper every one or two weeks for personal use (certainly this was the case in Central Statistical Office where I worked as a Statistician at the time). Many businesses went into receivership and unemployment skyrocketed. Prime Minister Robinson was hated with a vengeance, notwithstanding the fact that he had inherited an empty Treasury.

 

However, all was not lost. We learned to eat local as many, many foreign food items were banned.  We learned to substitute local fruits for the foreign ones. No Cadbury chocolates were available so we learned to eat Charles chocolates. No Kellogs corn flakes so we acquired taste for locally made Sunshine corn flakes.  Green paw paw was preserved and substituted for prunes and raisins in cake and five fingers were substituted for apples in dishes, which required apples. Sorrel sauce replaced cranberry sauce for turkey dressing. Christmas was celebrated without imported ham and apples.  We also learned about re-cycling as one had to re-use envelopes several times in Government offices. Indeed, it was common for Secretaries to hoard a supply of used envelopes as new envelopes were reserved for special addressees. Production of locally made goods also got a boost as “buy local” became not just a slogan, but also a reality.  Salary cuts coerced many people, including yours truly, to look for additional income sources. I started to make yogurt and eventually was supplying Hilton Hotel, green grocers and gyms with my “Homestyle” brand yogurt. People started to appreciate what we produced locally. They had to adjust as the foreign items were no longer available.”