The diversification that wasn’t

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Above: It’s sunset for the oil industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by cta88/Depositphotos.

BitDepth#1195 for May 02, 2019

For 26 years, this country has vigorously defended its foreign exchange rate.

That’s led to a compelling illusion of a stable economy, but it’s an expensive fiction.

In mid-April, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that he would continue that tradition, buoyed in making that decision by TT’s net reserves of US$7.5 billion.

There are few apolitical economists that agree with that decision, pointing to the shadow exchange rate, most visible when you use the currency converter on Amazon that pegs the real-world value of a US dollar at just over TT$7.

It’s also noteworthy that the Finance Minister saluted the “tight ship” of the first three and a half years of the PNM’s administration as a foreshadowing, entirely predictable, unfortunately; of increased spending over the 20 or so months leading into the next election.

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert

That spending will target the easiest ways to lubricate the economy, boosting circulation of local cash and an accompanying glow of satisfaction that the government hopes will offer consequential good regard at the polling stations.

There is nothing new about this, and every political party in office has followed the same path to the polls or risked a disastrous result.

This is a sensible and rational path for a political party to take, one that assures survival over a five-year arc in the face of diminished cash reserves.

It’s also a terribly shortsighted way to run a country.

Effective governance demands calculated risk, sober long-term planning and deep strategy to align all a nation’s resources for the long term benefit of all.

The current Finance Minister holds no monopoly on cynical governance strategy.

Former Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie ardently pursued a strategy of “innovation” that dramatically misunderstood the term and ultimately led nowhere.

Over the last decade, considerable lip service has been paid to ICT as a lever point for diversification of which ideas of innovation were just one.

Over the last decade, considerable lip service has been paid to ICT as a lever point for diversification of which ideas of innovation were just one.

Many sensible people from other nations who have embraced and implemented ICT initiatives have visited this country and delivered comprehensive and inspiring speeches.

We have dutifully listened, made notes and done nothing of significance.

iGovTT, the tip of the spear of the Government’s ICT planning is currently running a hackathon, HackTT.

Hackathons have their place.

Teleios has run a very successful and quite inspiring annual hackathon for students over more than a decade and given hundreds of young tech students their first taste of programming with purpose.

But that isn’t the job of iGovTT, which purports to be “the premier ICT solution provider to GoRTT, enabling efficiency, increasing productivity and transforming the delivery of government services to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”

HackTT is a placeholder for the enabling diversification strategy that iGovTT should be immersed in and an abdication of everything that was discussed at last year’s ICT Symposium hosted by the Ministry of Planning.

If anything, iGovTT should be creating an enabling environment for a new generation of local ICT savvy professionals, programmers and hardware integrators to first survive and then thrive in a still nascent technology space.

The Government has, instead, collectively embraced Information Technology only as babble for speeches.

There is talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; ICT is discussed as a pillar of the economic future and data is the new oil.

Except that we aren’t quite done with the old oil, a cathedral to which we are still cheerfully and somewhat hopefully being led to worship.

A reimagining of the TT economy with a projection to 2030 will have a role for the petroleum sector, but it’s one that should be increasingly relegated to providing cheap energy for diversification initiatives that address the future and should be in the process of being seeded today.

That process must begin with our education system, which is creating a workforce almost perfectly unsuited to the demands a data driven future.

We’ve just come around to considering the importance of critical thinking in the school system when we need to be preparing students for agile thinking, bringing flexibility and an appreciation of information value to the education system.

The National ICT Blueprint mentions the need for “increasing human capacity.” But we are far from enabling it.

Those processes simply aren’t present and won’t be, until they are demanded.