26 Sept 2008

From the pen of BC Pires

FINANCE Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira - one of the more able of the PM's Finger Puppets, sorry Cabinet Ministers - on Monday read her first Budget and its figures were even more impressive than Ms N-T's - and I speak from personal knowledge, having seen the Honourable Finance Minister in a bathing suit as skimpy as her Budget is lavish; we were at the Cave Hill campus of the UWI and, ergo, Paradise Beach, at the same time - though, to look at her, you wouldn't think so; particularly after looking at me.

Ms N-T's Budget, though, coming in just $600K short of a round $50 billion, wiped the image of her white bikini clean from my memory. Indeed, so impressive are her Budget figures, they would knock Destra, Madonna, Selma Hayek and Miss September (Playboy and Penthouse) off their collective posterior; even if they wrestled one another in jello. If you don't agree, you probably don't have a clear idea of what $50B is.

To grasp how much money this little pair of islands will spend in the next 12 months, consider the Chinese - not the ones in the blue shirt & pants building everything in Trinidad, from our First Couple's kissing bridge to the glass case snuffing out the little life left in the Carnival, but the ones in the place they come from, the Chinese in China.

There are one billion of those firetruckers. If they formed a queue walking past you, one every second, 60 would pass in a minute, 3,600 in an hour. If you did nothing but ticked off a Chinaman (or Chinawoman or Chinachild) per second, if you started now and continued without sleep or break for 24 hours, by this time tomorrow, 86,400 Chinese would pass. In a year of counting one Chinaman per second, morning, noon and night, 31,536,000 Chinese would go by. It would take almost 32 years for the population of China to walk past your nose, assuming you did nothing but count a Chinese person every second for every moment of  31.7 years.

And that is just one billion.

Ms N-T's Budget will spend 50.

If you spent a dollar a second for every second without fail from this very moment on, it would take upwards of 1,550 years, every moment from the birth of Christ to that of Shakespeare, to spend the money Trinidad & Tobago will toss away before next September - and that is not counting the supplemental appropriation bill that is sure to come.

And what exactly is Ms N-T doing with all that cash? Well, Express political editor, Ria Taitt - who has forgotten more about reporting than I ever learned though she is my junior (at least I hope so, since she looks so much so) -on Tuesday wrote Ms N-T was "in typical PNM style", coming "to the aid of the poor, aged, disabled, lower-income home-owner and the bright student''.

Now I would never write such a sentence myself, not having an appreciation of just what constitutes typical PNM-style on the one hand (unless it is squandering money other people have earned - and surely that has been the style of every "government'' we've ever had) and given to limiting my editorialising to my own column rather than the news pages on the other - but it did make me wonder what I would do with $50B, if it were mine to spend, about what my typical BC-style would be and to whose aid I would come.

And, honestly, the first thing I would do is try to come to your aid by giving the money back. I would thank you all very much for the faith you showed in me but insist it was misplaced. To be able to spend $50B, I would say, I would have to know its value; and the only way you can know anything's value is by making it yourself, whether it is a symphony, a sada roti or a century in a Test match. Since my last job before being asked to spend $50B was writing shiretrit in the papers, I would tell you, I don't even know what it's like to have enough money, far less too much, even farther lesser, so firetrucking much. I could only muck it up and cause riots.

Because when you're throwing around money that isn't properly yours on a scale so enormous, it is only a matter of time before someone with a gun decides he should have it and not you - and he'd be right; and have the gun. And I'd remind you that the next Trini liberator won't have to persuade himself God wants him to take the money - he'd just have to calculate he can. The future of Trinidad might not be the Soca Warriors but the The Warriors; rent the DVD and see.

In my ignorance, I would suggest that a nation, like a household or an individual, should not spend more money than it makes; and Trinidad & Tobago doesn't make much (not counting the energy company coward tax, without which we would be on more of a scrunt than Guyana).

If Trinidadians were serious about managing their money - and if Tobagonians weren't being paid hush-money at the rate of $50K a head ($2.65B divided by the THA between 55,000 Tobagonians), they would march in the streets in protest over the wastage of such huge sums.

But if you were so damned foolish as to trust a Trinidadian to spend money he hadn't earned and insisted I get rid in one year of money it would take a millennium-and-a-half to spend prudently, I would figure out what it was that Trinidadians did best naturally - and put every penny into increasing their ability to do whatever that was on the world stage. And then I'd take a few hundred bucks and buy Ms N-T a new bikini; just to keep the figures grand.

- BC Pires is counting Trini sheep. You can email your requests for subventions to him at bcmaverick@tstt.net.tt.