Economist questions long-term benefit of state of emergency

“We were all hoping for this reprieve and it is nice to get up in the morning and not read about people being murdered but this is happening under conditions that are very controlled. “It is only when we lift these controls, will we be able to determine whether the sacrifice we are making now—in terms of the economics of the country—was truly worth the effort,” she said. Sagewan-Alli added: “If it is that we see then, a sustained reduction in crime, we would be able to conclude that it was worth it.”

She was speaking with the Sunday Guardian in a telephone interview when she shared her views on the possible outcomes of the state of emergency and its impending extension. Sagewan-Alli said it was “difficult” to comment on the impact of an extended curfew after the initial 15-day period comes to an end tomorrow, as the populace was uncertain as to what the government’s objective in the entire exercise was. She said too that it was fair at this point, to give them (government) the “benefit of the doubt” since the decision to call a state of emergency, may not have been “an easy one to make.” “We’re not clear whether what was set out to be achieved in these 15 days was in fact achieved and whether there was a rationale for an extension.

“I am sure the Prime Minister would have taken into consideration all of the employment issues and if in her wisdom—given the information she had available to her—she was of the view that we needed to extend the period, then so be it,” the economist said. She added that from an economic perspective, T&T has “allocated the largest budgetary amount to national security” in the fight against crime over the past ten years and “we have not been able” to make any considerable “dent” along those lines. “When you look at T&T’s competitiveness, one of the factors that influence our decreasing stature has been crime, so without a doubt we need to invest more of our energies there,” Sagewan-Alli said.

Management extremely critical

In the same breath, she admitted that the social issues which lead to crime were not being addressed under this current initiative and saw the manner in which the government managed its citizenry during this state of emergency as “critical” if we are to realise any sustainable goals. Sagewan-Alli said: “Depending on how you deal with the state of emergency, we could actually exacerbate the situation. “If your approach or attitude is arrogant and we antagonise the parents and relatives of those whom we have incarcerated, we will not get the support going forward so how we manage the process now is extremely critical.”

Foreign investment on hold

Sagewan-Alli alluded to the volatile situation in which a state of emergency places a country when it comes to the investment market, stating that any prospects we held for investment had to be placed “on hold, because the foreign investor is not going to bring his money” during such a “vulnerable” period. “Investors are very protective when it comes to their money and a state of emergency sends an indication that crime is out of control and you really have to go to the most drastic tool that is available to you in order to control it. “So the longer it (state of emergency) is protracted, the less likely we would see foreign investment coming into the country.

“Even without the state of emergency, we were not seeing any real signs of foreign investment and this will obviously worsen that situation,” the economist added. Sagewan-Alli said that if the “trends” that existed under the state of emergency continued long after it has been lifted, “then the country’s attractiveness to foreign investment will increase significantly.” “If we have the kind of outcome that is anticipated, which is a substantial reduction in crime post the state of emergency, the country could then find itself a lot more attractive to foreign investors,” she added.

Entertainment, food hardest hit

“The industries (entertainment and food) that really thrive in the night time (after 9pm), employs about 30,000 to 40,000 individuals and it is not just them that are affected when working hours are shortened. “You have to multiply that by an average of about three because these are individuals who have children and families to support,” Sagewan-Alli said as she cited one foodstore—Extra Foods—which was forced to close its doors by 6pm due to the curfew restrictions in the area. According to her, the popular supermarket located in Grand Bazaar, previously opened as late as 10 pm. She said too that there were those employees in the entertainment industry who depended on tips “to supplement their basic incomes” which would have been highly sought, particularly around this time, where parents were in the process of sourcing various school supplies for their children.

Sagewan-Alli added that while consumers may have readjusted their lifestyles in order to facilitate the curfew period, it (consumer lifestyles) was not going to naturally revert once the state of emergency was lifted. “Businesses will then have to spend money on marketing and advertising in order to regain that kind of economic situation (profits) they had prior to the state of emergency, where individuals were more prone to being out late,” she said. “I commend the PM’s decision to revise the curfew hours and I think it tells us that there is a kind of rationale thinking and an understanding that—we cannot spend unless we earn.”

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