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$8 billion under the mattress

PETER O'CONNOR Sunday, December 8 2013

Our banking system has $8 billion sitting idly around, not earning anything, not creating jobs or improving infrastructure, not doing anything.

In fact the country is like some peasant who hides their money under a mattress. Apart from a couple of oil rich sheikdoms, we are probably the only country which is suffering this state of affairs. And suffering is what we are experiencing. It is not as though nothing needs to be done. So much is wrong, failing and crumbling before our eyes. So much to make right, to fix and to restore. All we need is the will to do it.

And I am not talking about the “political will”, which, as we know does not exist. But what about the “owners” of that eight billion dollars — the banks and the corporate sector? In other countries, real businessmen, seeing the crying need for infrastructure, water, security, health and education, arts and entertainment, and the reasonably efficient dispensation of State services, combined with billions of idle dollars looking for investment, would shout “Opportunity!”.

But not here! Not in this land where most of business is import and retail, and where banks still promote loans for carnival costumes, holidays and bling over business opportunities. Let the government change the laws to try to absorb that money under our mattress. We, the Corporate Sector do not know what to do with it, because apparently we have enough, and do not need the bother of coming up with investment ideas on how to utilise this huge fund to diversify and increase business opportunities, and in so doing increase employment and see the country develop.

And strangely none of those economists who make the rounds of the talk shows after Budget Speeches and elections seem to be concerned with this money hidden in a mattress. Maybe it is a good thing we have going here, and I am the fool for wondering about it, and what it might mean to the redevelopment of our cocoa and our coffee — two crops of great value and outstanding quality, or what it might do for our Creative Sector, always starved of funding because we refuse to acknowledge that there is value in our creative talents, or –but God forbid!—that we actually make the lesser investment in sustaining our natural environment, rather than continuing to destroy it and look for billions outside the mattress in years to come.

We have a corporate sector so chained to the philosophy of the metropolis that creative thinking simply cannot exist. When the collapsing economy in the United States had big business calling for government stimulus, our corporate sector parroted the same suggestion.

What is this stimulus? An injection of capital? Is that what you want? And precisely what do you want it for? Another import and sell retail store? Another American Fast Food franchise promoting diabetes and obesity? What original investment ideas do you have that need this stimulus funding? And when you identify the opportunity, just go and look under the mattress. There is eight billion dollars waiting there for you.

There is something very wrong in a society which “invests” more money in elections chicanery that in corporate social responsibility, the environment, the arts and the needy. And we need to accept that we are sick to the core when we have reached this state.

But I have little hope that we will recognise this, far less try to change it. We are all too comfortable in this place; even the seemingly dispossessed, who obviously survive on the alternate economy which thrives here.

I don’t know what else to try to say or do. We like it so? Are we totally blind and deaf to the reality that we are hurtling down a slope to disaster? Oh, I am an alarmist, and “things will get better soon”? Really? And who is going to bring this improvement? And how? And when? And if someone actually tries, will we run that person out of town for trying to change “our culture”?

But I want to give you a suggestion, something for you to try this Christmas: for everyone on your gift list consider something created or made here in TT by Trinis. Whether a book, a painting, music, formal or “rootsy” jewelry, carvings, ceramics, scents, soaps, beautifully designed and sewn clothing, the range of choice is vast. And you will be giving gifts inspired in the hearts and minds of your own people, and made with their own hands.

So will you do that, or will you still buy some “brands bling” made by slave labour in the Far East?

And who knows, maybe your gifts will make people realise that the mattress money could do something meaningful for us—our economy, our pride, and our souls?

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