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Trinidad and Tobago is a multicultural society, where people of many different backgrounds converge to create this wonderful cacophony of music, dance and creativity, unique to this place and space. The beautiful colors, hues and textures are simply amazing viewed through lens of patriotism and love of country. The smiles, the laughter and the looks are reflective of the people’s charm, and inner beauty, but also of the country’s steadfastness to preserve its good natured way of life, filled with humor, understanding, patience and caring.
But this piece of nature, it seems, has been under threat lately. The Leader of The Opposition in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago had this to say “We in the Opposition, and indeed the citizenry are very disturbed by what some have described as the sordid or depraved utterances of the Prime Minister. Such recurring unsavoury pronouncements by him can only serve to contribute to the disrespect being meted out to women and girls in our society.” This was in response to utterances made by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which were deem disparaging to women and girls.
The Leader of The Opposition was moved to remark further “…as we seek to lift our country out of the darkness that has pervaded it as a result of the ill-thought out measures imposed by the current administration.” This being said in the sanctity and midst of one of the country’s major religious and cultural events, The Divali Nagar.
The Divali Nagar, is a cultural site in Trinidad and Tobago, managed and operated by the National Committee for Indian Culture (NCIC). The site hosts a major, week long celebration of Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and draws the attention of the national community, with Hindus forming a very significant section of the landscape. The Leader of The Opposition, and a former Prime Minister, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, herself of the Hindu faith, made her remarks during her feature address at the Divali Nagar.
During that address, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar also made pointed remarks of the way forward, and the need to engage actively in the 4th Industrial Revolution, The Digital Age. The rapid onset of digital technology globally makes it as necessity to formulate, initiate and execute initiatives, programs and projects to make Trinidad and Tobago digital ready. Indeed, the Opposition Leader has been championing this since first making reference to it in her Budget Response of 2016, again doing so in 2017.
The Leader of the Opposition also advocated the need for an initiative for economic prosperity to “nurture and incentivize” the talent of Trinidad and Tobago as a means of further diversification.
Economic diversification is a real need for Trinidad and Tobago, facing low oil prices, falling oil and gas production has seen the island’s once thriving economy resort back to the old strategy of austerity emphasized by increased taxes and the reduction of fuel subsidy. Coupled to that are the seemingly ever present economic depressants of high crimen corruption and inefficiency. GDP has been falling and the Debt to GDP has risen to over 60%. Not very good news, and there is increased agitation amongst various working groups who feel disenfranchised.
In light of these factors, there seems to be trouble in paradise, but there is hope.
The Age of Digital Technology has ushered in a new era of economic prosperity, as there are tremendous opportunities to engage the youth, professionals, and other demographics of the population who can re-skill to meet the 4lth Industrial Revolution. Businesses can benefit greatly in reduced costs and well as high efficiency in the age of online business.
As this blog has been advocating since January 2016, the Digital Revolution is a saving grace. It must be embraced, amd we are pleased the Leader of the Opposition has now started to champion this cause as a diversification initiative.
It is most appropriate therefore, that Divali, the Festival of Lights, illuminates our pathway to the future!
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria or HIM, plundered, looted and annihilated the Caribbean, Houston and Florida leaving suffering, death, misery and a distinct lack of responsiveness and sometimes empathy because of the sheer weight of the frequency, strength and pathways of these storms. The weight of the burden seems to have cornered the psyche into a reluctant acceptance of the inevitable, and place tremendous stresses on the response mechanisms in place to help.
The total devastation of property in the small, northernmost islands of the Caribbean has created serious hardships for people, especially in Dominica, Barbuda, the BVI, the USVI and Puerto Rico. The scenes of roofs blown away, houses demolished, ships being deposited on roads, cars being mangled and destroyed, and vegetation reduced to mere branches, the Caribbean resembles the shock waved desolation of a severely bombed out city in World War 11. The brown branches creates a bizarre sight as if the sea blast from the hurricane winds rusted the trees and plants on the islands. The land looks barren, as if sprayed by some kind of leaf destroying chemical was used. The people look tired, frustrated, and weakened, but resolute, as all Caribbean people are, even when faced with such adversity.
In the BVI & USVI, St. Maarten and Anguilla, help is being administered from the nations to which they belong, but response, recovery and stability is ongoing through their various military and civil engineering capabilities. Re-building is a slow and painful process, even in territorial islands. Puerto Rico seems to have suffered greatly from the inertia created by the HIM effect i.e. The frequency and force, the destruction and disruption created by this stream of gigantic storms. There seems to be a psychological lag in the ability to deal and cope mentally with this effect. A resigned feeling of the weight of the burden as resources are stretched far and wide. The island suffered catastrophic damage, and at the point of writing is experiencing, a discombobulated bureaucracy, limiting the and severely hampering the delivery of aid so critically needed.
Dominica, has been reduced to rubble and memories as the island’s survival is at the forefront of the entire Caribbean diaspora. The Dominican Prime Minister was challenged to control his emotions as he sought help and assistance. It is not a good sight of this beautiful Caribbean gem. To simply survive in the immediate future will be a huge task, let alone the medium and long term.
It is critical Dominica receives aid to survive. But from where, firstly, distributed equitably secondly, and then utilized for sustainability. But is that reasonable, while sounding good. Is it reasonable to assume fairness, equitability and equality and political maturity. It is certainly possible as other islands such as Grenada has demonstrated. How can these islands seek out the future with boldness and confidence, in an environment of dependence created through historical antecedents and colonization. Breaking out requires a starting point. The devastation might just be an opening to stride purposely into the 21st Century, utilizing technological advancement for economic prosperity. Can this small island state negotiate with industry leaders to create this sort of development for island populations to be used as a model. Is it just a fantasy, or can Google or FB or the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation step in and donate their considerable wealth, expertise and generosity to create a new reality for the islands.
The answer is that kind of initiative is entirely possible but requires the foresight, will and relentless pursuit of this. It can become a catalyst for the CARICOM, as the regional organization representing the Caribbean to step-up and show some initiative. They have remained ineffective, relying on directives, grand plans, and stifling bureaucracy to merely exist. Their performance in terms of fostering a concerted effort to take part in the global digital economy has not been forthcoming, except to articulate a cumbersome Regional ICT plan which is becoming outdated because of the lack of urgency or will. CARICOM has not displayed the sort of global thinking for engaging the global economy except on a diplomatic level, and appears to be more concerned with representation rather than economic sustainability.
When the doom and gloom of the devastation and trauma of the hurricane has lifted, these affected island should not go back to the old, but instead look to the exciting new age, where there can be sustainability.
That is well within reach!
By Carlvon Ramsingh
Much has been said and written in terms of the cost of Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean islands, especially in Antigua & Barbuda, St. Maarten, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Many officials from Britain and France have visited along with their military, and some leaders in the Caribbean. All have reported seeing massive destruction and devastation the likes they have not seen, and indeed Caribbean diplomat Ronald Saunders pointed out the fact that for the first time in 300 years, the island of Barbuda has been totally abandoned, without a soul on land.
The cost of restoration has been projected to be billions of dollars, and whilst this might be true, the narrative of cost and restoration versus sustainability is a pertinent and urgent one which must be addressed. Rebuilding, restoring and sustaining the islands must be a priority.
In this context then, the following must be considered:
1. The islands have not been destroyed. It’s the vegetation and houses and infrastructure that has been destroyed, not the island.
2. Having said that, what is being proposed is to rebuild those physical structures. Mind you, the trees will regenerate, the beaches will regenerate, and the waters will be calmed again.
3. I therefore submit that it is the people, and the island, its vegetation, its beaches, it’s seas, bays and reefs, will remain, and therefore the sustainability, both economic and social is what is more important.
4. Rebuilding must therefore take place in that context, I.e. Creating a better life for the people socio-economically, socio-culturally, socio-technically and socio-politically.
4. Through current, emerging and future technology in this the Digital Age, these islands can leapfrog into the 21st Century, and therefore “rebuilding” must take place in this context, I wish to strongly suggest.
Buildings built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, will sustain economic activity in Tourism, as it will provide the confidence and trust for tourist to visit, comfortable in the fact that they can more than survive in the event of an emergency. Building can be made self-sustaining as emergency solar and wind energy generation provide water and air-conditioning, heat for cooking and power for realtime communications. Less damage will result in the event of a storm or hurricane as islands become more resilient to an environment of increasing storm activity due to the increasing temperature of ocean surfaces in the hurricane belt.
Whether, these islands belong to the US, Britain, France or the Netherlands, they belong first and foremost to the Caribbean and the people of the Caribbean. The foreign powers, whilst I acknowledge their contributions should not assume a neo-colonialist stance, but treat with the human capital of these islands as a resource that can be nurtured, developed and actualized as wealth creating for all, including themselves.
The islands have long been exploited as assets, not resources, under the guise of being tourists destinations, dependent on tourist spending, grants and loans which have kept these places as play grounds for the rich and famous.
It is a chance for a new beginning. I submit in 2017, that must no longer be the case.