May T&T mind its own and its neighbours’ business

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TYPICALLY self-absorbed, only irritably do T&T eyes turn to Venezuela. Still, attention is beckoned more to Venezuelans than to predicaments in that country that precede and explain their being here. Whatever Venezuela file is maintained in official Port of Spain apparently begins and ends with focus on the Latinos and Latinas landing here.

Like some World Cup footballer, Prime Minister Keith Rowley took the hand of a St Lucian schoolboy for his formal entrance into the 2019 Caricom leaders’ hall of fame. This prime minister does get around. He walked his talk promoting T&T economic resilience into the executive suites of energy giants in Europe, the USA, and even Australia.

When the US State Department gave T&T an “F” grade in their human trafficking common entrance exam, he threw back “F “words at Foggy Bottom. Expressing a response in kind from President Donald Trump, the US Embassy at Queen’s Park West issued a diplomatic cheups meant to put Dr Rowley in his place at his base across the Savannah.

Shortly, the T&T Prime Minister, taking the microphone at the UN General Assembly in New York, will have more to say, in a more upfront setting. Last week, however, came the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of T&T’s economic direction and prospects. From BBB+, Standard and Poor’s marked the T&T exam paper down to plain BBB.

Official T&T swallowed hard. Dr Rowley attributed “the loss of the little plus” to the S&P expectation of less natural gas being found and pumped over coming years, and far less oil. The prospect he held up showed Heritage drilling and pumping more oil than busted predecessor Petrotrin could ever contemplate.

If T&T may be moved to fear the imminent end of its days as bountiful oil and gas producer, its Prime Minister was putting off or dismissing engagement with such possibilities. Under Rowley rule, no diversification from gas and oil can be entertained. Drawing upon responses from the energy bigwigs he had travelled to lobby, fears of the energy downturn could be set aside, and direly predicted gas shortfalls will “not come to pass”.

With Venezuela and its overspilling disorders on a near horizon, T&T has enough of its own business to mind. As has happened over centuries, however, the green island beyond the Orinoco has remained a jump-off touchstone for Venezuelans near enough to dismiss a second thought about this place’s anglophone and other liabilities.

They come; they go. We deal with them in ways different from how we treat with the Guyana republic with which Venezuela shares land and sea borders.

Today, however, if Venezuela affords a down-low reading for its present and future, Guyana, anglophone Caricom partner, signals an opposite outlook. Guyana enjoys regard as the fastest growing economy in the world, according to NASDAQ, which projects for the republic a growth rate between 2018 and 2021 of 16.3 per cent.

From 2020, Exxon projects extraction from Guyana’s offshore sands of 120,000 barrels a day. In a less-than-distant past, Guyana had identified as a more or less hopeless location of sufferings from which nationals who could fled to wherever. Now, except perhaps in T&T, or its Government, Guyana profiles as a place to go.

The Barbados foreign affairs and foreign trade ministry will hold a UWI, Cave Hill “presentation” described as “exploring potential investment and trading opportunities in Guyana“. In official T&T, comparable interest is hard to find.

Still, a Henry Street, Port of Spain address is the critical locus of responsibility for at least the immediate future of Guyana. It’s at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), where highest-end Guyanese political disputes have landed for legal settlement.

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SUBSCRIBE/ LOG IN It’s where the First Standard arithmetical finding of 33 to be greater than 32 came to gain topmost Caribbean court validation. Called upon to issue a finding after last December’s National Assembly vote carried a no-confidence motion of 33 against the ruling party coalition’s 32, the CCJ ruled that, constitutionally, a general election should have been held in Guyana last March.

That did not happen. The CCJ rejected arguments against the arithmetical outcome of the 33-32 vote. Guyanese political combatants had to obey their constitution, the court affirmed.

Nor was the CCJ ready to impose orders about when and under whose management elections should be held. The court declined to issue “coercive orders or detailed directives”, leaving it up to the “political actors guided by constitutional imperatives…to exercise their responsibilities with integrity and in keeping with the unambiguous provisions of the Constitution”.

The CCJ went only so far as to admonish that, following the vote of no confidence, the government, until next elections, should not perform more than a “caretaker” role, “and so restrain the exercise of its legal authority”.

President David Granger, leader of the ruling coalition, has signalled his own readiness to abide by the CCJ ruling, promising polls “that would be a crucial choice for our citizens”. Voters in Guyana, a country with an infamous history of electoral rigging by President Granger’s party, have long deserved the right to make such a critical choice. With T&T latterly engaged, Caricom should make sure they get it.