TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
One of the assumptions of democratic politics is that citizens have some awareness of the basic issues which are the subject of political debate and discussion; that they have some knowledge of the institutional arrangements through which political issues are resolved and knowledge of some of the persons who are responsible for making decisions which affect them. According to “classical” democratic theory democracy works best when one has a well-informed public opinion, when open channels of communication exists between citizens and political elite and when there is a willingness on the part of both to listen and respond to what the other is saying. It also assumes that political decisions are arrived at in a “rational” manner and that in the final analysis, there is a general feeling on the part of citizens that the regime and those who rule are legitimate. In other words, citizens must feel that the leaders share their beliefs, and conduct public affairs in their interest. Surveys in a number of countries which are considered to be democratic indicate that these assumptions about levels of public information are invariably a far cry from reality and that the size of the critical public which is genuinely concerned about details of public policy is exceedingly small. Other studies have also shown that assumptions about rationality in public policy making are exaggerated and that policy decisions in democratic countries more often than not tend to he made in a disjointed incrementalist manner and that decision makers tend to “satisfice” rather than optimize when they act.6
In order to determine the level of political awareness and consciousness, and the extent to which people believed themselves to be involved in the political process, we asked the following questions: —
-What do you think are the two issues most frequently discussed in the election
— - What do you believe to be the two most serious issues, facing Trinidad and
Interviewers were asked to inform respondents that they should distinguish between what the politicians were talking about and what they themselves felt to be important. In dealing with the issues raised by the politicians and those which our respondents themselves thought to be most-pressing, one was concerned with the number of times (i.e. the frequency) the issues were actually mentioned. A surprising number of people were unable to determine what were the major issues being discussed by the parties or to say what they themselves thought were the most pressing issues. Of those who were able to identify and conceptualise the issues, the need for a change of government, high taxation and the rising cost of living were seen to be the ones most frequently raised on the political platforms. Also seen as important campaign issues were problems such as inefficiency in government, inadequacies in the supply of social services such as water and roads. Unemployment was also seen as being critical. Also mentioned were immorality in public affairs and problems related to education. Surprisingly but encouragingly, the problems relating to race were not seen to be very significant. This finding confirms Krishna Bahadoorsingh’s 1964 study of voter attitudes. According to Bahadoorsingh, “hardly an interviewee stated any problems relating to race. The vast majority of them indicated that they were concerned with social and economic matters such as bad roads and drainage, inadequate number of school places, insufficient electricity and water, unemployment, and juvenile delinquency”.9
While the major platform issue was seen to be the need e the government, the people themselves actually identified high cost of living and unemployment as the two most ones. The results of the elections indicate that the opposition parties were unable to persuade the electorate that the solution to the problems facing the country could only come with a change of government.
What these findings seem to suggest is that inspite of the intense campaign mounted by the radical intellectuals, the trade unions which came together to form the United Labour Front, Tapia and the Democratic Action Congress, a large section of the Trinidad electorate continued to remain loyal to the P.N.M. and relatively immune to appeals for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. The Trinidad electorate can in fact be described as a very conservative one. As we have seen, only 10 per cent of the sample believed that violence was an appropriate strategy for solving the problems facing the country and only one-third felt that government should take over the banks, large estates or multinationals. In fact, as many as 45 per cent felt that government had already gone too far in this direction with a mere 25 per cent disagreeing. There was also significant support for the proposition that workers should themselves own the means of production. Only 21 percent said workers should own and control their workplace. Another indication of the electorate’s conservatism is the finding that only 45 per cent of the sample accepted the U.L.F. claim that only labour leaders could properly represent the working class in Parliament.
The figures also reveal that the P.N.M. and its leader, Dr.. Eric Williams remained firmly lodged in the minds of many. The claim that twenty years of P.N.M. rule was enough, notwithstanding, only forty-three (43) per cent of the sample believed that it was time for a change. A clear majority (75 per cent) was in fact prepared to admit that the P.N.M. had been a force for good up to 1970. Many (62 per cent) also indicated that they approved of Dr. Williams’ performance as Prime Minister. Forty-six per cent felt that the P.N.M continued to be a good party for the country even after the 1970 black power revolution with 23 per cent disagreeing. 1t came as no surprise therefore to find that Dr. Williams and the P.N.M. were clear favourites to win the election with the other parties trailing miserably.
Another discovery which is worth highlighting is the fact that respondents were not enthusiastic about either the change to republican status or even independence. There was a general awareness that there were some elements who believed that the monarchy (i.e. the formal British connection) was in itself a guarantee of stability and due process, but it came as a surprise
to us to find that as many as 59 percent of the sample feared that the replacement of the Governor Genral as Head of State by an elected President would in the long run lead to chaos and disorder. Clearly, the colonial tie continued to remain strong. What was even more alarming was the fact that 53 per cent of our sample actually said that they agreed with the view that Trinidad would have been better off had had it remained a British Colony. This after more than thirty years of agitation for self-government. The majority of the public clearly d-h1 not have confidence in their political leaders (Dr. Williams excepted), in the institutions through which they were ruled such as the courts and the Parliament, the members of which they barely knew, or in the ability of the country; to cope. with stress in the years ahead.
It has always been assumed that race has been an important factor in understanding political behaviour in Trinidad. Most studies had hitherto relied on aggregate election data or indepth interviews to provide some kind of empirical foundation to this claim. Our own findings help to support the conclusions of these studies, viz, that ethnic pluralism is indeed a persistent feature of Trinidad society and that many Indians do indeed see issues in terms that are quite different from other groups. Our survey showed that Indians are the least sympathetic to intermarriage, particularly with Africans. A substantial number from both groups also expressed unwillingness to work under the supervision of the other. Only 37 of the Indian respondents and 54 per cent of the Africans felt that it really made no difference to them whether their boss was Indian, white, mixed or otherwise.
Indians also clearly felt more alienated from the society than other groups. More than a third of them felt that they could get no protection from the Police, one-half of them felt that Indians had no influence on how the country was run, while as many as two-thirds (63 per cent) felt that politicians were a waste of time compared to two-fifths (40 per cent) of the African respondents. In terms of the official allocation of resources, Indians clearly believed that Africans have benefited more from P.N.M. rule than they have. For this and other reasons, more of them (67 per cent) believed it was ‘time for a change” than did Africans (27 per cent). Although two-thirds of them were prepared to concede that the P.N.M. had done some” good in the past (compared to 84 per cent for Africans), a majority felt that the P.N.M. ‘s ability to remain in power was due more to things like electoral fraud, patronage and opposition disunity than to its leadership and capacity for organization. In fact only 47 per cent of them said that they approved of Dr. Williams’ performance compared to 72 per cent of the Africans.
The persistence of ethnic pluralism is equally evident when one looks at the findings relating to voter intention in the 1976 election. Just about one—third of the Indians said they would prefer to see Dr. Williams remain as Prime ~4inister. Even fewer (13 per cent), said that they would vote Lot the P.N.M. as a party which they felt was not capable of solving the problems facing the country. Indeed, while 60 per cent of the Africans felt that the P.N.M. was still the party most capable of solving, the problems facing the country only 26 per cent of the Indians believed this to be the case.
The responses of the Africans in the sample also showed that they had little regard for Indian political aspirants. They were even less willing to cross the race curtain in matters relating to politics than were Indians. Whereas some Indians were willing to embrace Dr. Williams and the P.N.M. very few Africans were disposed to endorse Basdeo Panday for Prime Ministerial office (1 per cent), or for the post of leader of the Opposition. Only 6 per cent of those who responded to this question chose Panday above the other aspirants. It may he that Mr. Panday’s race was not the main obstacle and that his political record and his association with the ILL.F. was a more important consideration. We note that even Indians seemed to prefer Dr. Williams to Panday as Prime Minister. Of interest is the finding that Africans showed no predisposition to support the U.L.F., and that only 4 per cent felt it could solve the problems facing the country. Indeed, only 3 per cent said they would vote for it even though it presented itself as a multi—racial party of the working class. It is clear that Africans saw the 1I.L.F. as an Indian party despite the fact that prominent African labour leaders like George Weekes of the Oilfieid Workers Trade Union was associated with it.
On other questions, the responses given by Indians did not support the conventional assumptions about their attitude towards Trinidad or the region. They seemed less anxious about the consequences of the change to Republican status than did other groups, less nostalgic about the colonial past — perhaps because they were then clearly at the bottom of the social and economic heap —less isolationist, more confident in the local courts and less critical of the administrative competence of state officials. This is not the conventional view, and the findings present Indians in quite a different perspective, indeed, they displayed greater confidence in and commitment to the nation and the region than did other ethnic groups.
The survey confirmed the view that the young were more radical than their elders, but they were far less so than had been assumed. Although the under 21’s did not display much confidence in Government’s administrative ability, they seemed more sympathetic than other age cohorts to the proposition that Government should take over the commanding heights of the economy. (See Table 3.3). Yet there is an apparent lack of consistency in their replies in that 64 per cent of them said that Government had already gone too far in taking over businesses in Trinidad and Tobago.
The under 21’s also showed a surprisingly strong pro- Williams, pro-P.N.M. tendency. Three out of four said they approved of Dr. Williams’ past performance as Prime Minister, and two out of three said they were still prepared to see him continue in office. Indeed, when compared to other age groups, the under 21’s were not one whit less pro—government. It should be recalled, however, that the sample was drawn from the voter’s list rather than from the general population, and it might well be that the radical youth who “hung out” on the “blocks” and street corners were not well represented in the sample. Despite this possibility, one is still surprised that radical sentiment was so muted among the young element.
With respect to sex, the survey yielded no surprises. It merely provided more empirical evidence to support the belief that women were more pro-Williams and pro-P.N.M. than males, less prone to opt for political change, and less aware of the issues and personalities that were the stuff of party politics.
Contrary to our assumptions, the professional and business elites were not uniformly and unequivocally the most conservative of the various occupational groups. In fact on questions relating to nationalisation (See Table 4.3,4.10, 4.11) they gave answers that appeared to be contradictory. While 31 per cent of them felt that Government should take over the banks and large businesses, 41 per cent felt that the state had already gone too far in this direction. These need not of course all be the same persons1 but the responses do not appear to be consistent. It is however clear that a sizeable number of persons in the top economic group seem to be equivocal and not unalterably opposed to state involvement or even worker participation in the private sector. The strongest support for these policies however came from the white—collar element rather than from the manual workers.
The findings also indicate that manual workers were not as pro—U.L.F. as that Party assumed they would be. Only 12 per cent said they would vote for the labour party. In fact, just over a third of them endorsed the principle of nationalization which was the main plank in the U.L.F. platform. Agricultural workers were even less convinced of the virtues of nationalisation. roth working class groups seem to want a change of Government, but seemed unwilling to translate that predisposition into a vote for change. About one-third of the non-agricultural workers picked the P.N.M. as the favourite party. The agricultural workers, on the other hand, (many of whom were Indian) did not endorse the P.N.M. but were uncertain as to how they would vote, at least at the time the survey was conducted. Many eventually voted U.L.F.
Neither type of manual worker seemed to share the view that blacks were oppressed by whites or that violence was necessary to change the society. Consistent with this is the finding that only 6 per cent of the manual workers felt that things had reached rock bottom for them. Surprisingly, more clerical workers felt that this statement described their condition. Clearly Poverty is not merely a function of material deprivation but depends in part on how persons see themselves in relation to others.
On questions relating to Trinidad’s status as an independent republic, the professional cum business element were the most disenchanted and apprehensive about the future. Only 13 per cent of them believed unequivocally that republicanism would not lead to violence and disorder compared to 79 per cent for manual workers who did not seem particularly anxious about the matter. A majority of workers however shared the view that Trinidad would indeed have been better off if it had not become independent. They seemed to be saying that things were not likely to get any worse merely because a President replaced the Governor General as Head of State.
With respect to unemployment, our findings did not reveal that the unemployed were any less conservative than the rest of our respondents or any less partial to the P.N.M. Only 45 per cent of them were in favour of a change of regime and only 19 per cent felt this very keenly. They were a bit more disposed to favour nationalisation than others, (51 per cent) but not in favour of violence as a strategy of change even though many (46 per cent) said things were quite difficult for them. Seventy per cent of them in fact denied that violence was necessary compared to 83 per cent of the fully employed and 68 per cent of the partially employed.
These findings about the unemployed support the view of Farley Brathwaite that unemployment may not necessarily lead to increased radicalism.
As Brathwaite points out, whether poverty gives rise to radical behaviour or not depends in part on many variables — the age of the unemployed, the nature of their previous job experience if any, their material condition, the extent of their savings, debt or family commitments, their self image attitudes towards work and their concern about loss of status or prestige. Important too is their feeling of self-competence, or alternatively, their lack of concern or sense of resignation about their fate. The existence or otherwise of supporting friendship or family networks and the attitude or ideological orientation of such networks are also of crucial significance. As Brathwaite writes: “With respect to the political implications of unemployment it can be hypothesised that where networks are highly supportive, radicalism is rot likely to be the outcome. But arguing along the same lines that we did above, the outcome will depend not only on whether the network is highly integrated and supportive or not, but also on the nature of the network, its ideology, and patterns of socialisation. Given this, we would anticipate radical political behaviour among the unemployed only where the ideology of the network of membership is radical. We need therefore to look at the groups in which the unemployed Interact”.
The relationship between level of education and political perception was not altogether consistent. Generally speaking, however, some of the conventional assumptions of this relationship found support in our findings. As we have seen, the higher the level of education, the lower the rate of racial prejudice —at least as this expressed itself in the question as to whether the race of one’s boss mattered at all. Those with secondary education were also less likely to perceive whites as oppressors of blacks. Two out of every three of them disagreed that this was the case.
Our figures also reveal that the higher the level of education, the greater was the satisfaction with life In Trinidad and Tobago. As one would expect, the better educated were more familiar with the names of political incumbents although they were less certain that the bureaucracy was functioning as well as it should. Forty—six per cent of them expressed the view that anything which Government ran, was badly run. Given this, it was not surprising that a majority (56 per cent) was of the view that the Government had gone too far in the direction of nationalising firms in the private sector. They were however not unwilling to contemplate allowing workers some measure of control over their workplace. Fifty per cent were of this view. By comparison, only 18 per cent were In favour of full ownership of the means of production by the workers themselves. Given this antipathy towards socialist—type policies, it is understandable that few (7 per cent) wanted to see Panday as Prime Minister, or planned to vote for the U.L.F., (9 per cent). Tapia gained the support of a respectable number of the better educated (16 per cent), hut the
P.N.M.was the most favoured party. The U.L.F. was the Party preferred most frequently by the unschooled, and Panday their most Popular choice as Prime Minister. One assumes here that the bulk of the unschooled were Indians.
Our survey pointed to some interesting aspects Of electoral behaviour in Trinidad and Tobago, chief among which Is the continued importance of ethnic loyalties, the dominance of the P.N.M. and the emergence of the U.L.F., the relatively high level of alienation and uncertainty of the electorate, and the perceptions of various class and racial groups that on the whole preferred Eric Williams’ leadership from among the others who challenged him for the position of Prime Minister. There is no single explanation for these tendencies. Nor does the overwhelming victory of Williams and the P.N.t4. in the 1976 General Election find a parallel with experience elsewhere in the English Speaking Caribbean. The Williams regime has successfully withstood the challenge of various opposition groups for twenty years. There have been oc2asional accusations of electoral malpractices during that period. By replacing the voting machines with ballot boxes in 1976, Williams conceded one of the main sources of grievance by the opposition. Unlike the electoral practices in Guyana, those in Trinidad have by and large been considered a fair application of the competitive democratic model. The result is that the Williams regime is perceived by both supporters and opponents of the ruling party to have a kind of political legitimacy whether it is empowered by as low a voting turn out as 35 per cent in the 1971 Election, or a moderate one of 56 per cent in 1976.
It is evident from the results of our survey that the legitimacy of a governing party and people’s feelings of alienation need not be positively correlated. While the former is a recognition of some entitlement to office based on fair competition, the latter reflects feelings that the objectives of the regime and those in power are not necessarily consistent with the aspirations or desires of individuals in the society. The 1970 revolt in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, shows how alienation may manifest itself in widespread social discontent which erodes the legitimacy of a government. Yet a regime may hold on to office as did the P.N.M because it retains control of the main instrument of state power which include the army, police, other agencies like the civil servants who man the day to day administrative apparatus and sources of patronate. If in 1970 the Williams regime suffered a crisis of legitimacy, what are the factors which help to explain the P.N.M.’s landslide victory in the 1976 Election?
First of all there were too many opposition groups competing for the elector’s vote. In the circumstances of having eight opposition groups to choose from, the electorate represented in our survey expressed a high level of confusion. This may have largely accounted for the relatively high proportion of respondents in our survey who were undecided about whom they intended to vote for (34 per cent), and about which party they thought would win the election (33 per cent). Yet it cannot be the only explanation of indecision. In both Barbados and Jamaica where similar pre—election surveys were done, one—third of the respondents in the former and one— quarter of those in the latter were undecided about how they would vote. In Barbados, as in Jamaica, the electoral contest was essentially between two parties.
In the particular context of Trinidad and Tobago) a low voting turn out was, more likely to benefit the incumbent party than the vast array of groups that opposed it. Figure 7.1 shows the relationship between the level of voter turn out in the six elections since 1956 and the ratio of votes between the P.N.M. and the opposition. It indicates that the larger the voting turn out, the greater the votes received by the opposition. Given the relatively high level of alienation from the P.N.M. expressed by the respondents of our survey, it is most likely that a higher voter turn out would have enhanced the popular vote for the opposition groups though not necessarily a commensurate number of seats in parliament. The figure shows that only in the 1958 Federal election did the D.L.P. win an electoral contest with the largest proportion of votes (58 per cent) ever received by an opposition party in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1961, while getting 40 per cent of the votes cast, it received only 12 of the 36 seats contested. This, in fact, leads to another explanation, not only of the P.N.M’s landslide victory, but of the differences in electoral experience between Trinidad and Tobago on the one hand and Barbados and Jamaica on the other. It relates to the impact of the marginal constituency on the Outcome of elections.
In Trinidad and Tobago election results between 1961 and 1976 (allowing for redistribution of constituency boundaries) show that only two of the 36 constituencies may be considered as marginal, i.e. a less than 10 per cent swing in support will bring about a change In the party holding the particular seat.26 Of the 24 seats held in 1961, 1966 and 1976, between 15 and 18 required a swing of 15-25 per cent to defeat the P.N.M., and even then this assumed that the opposition parties did not split each other’s votes. In Barbados as many as one-third of the 24 Seats in 1976 were marginal, while in Jamaica before the 1976 election, 16 of the 53 parliamentary seats were considered to be margina.27 Given the two party system which has prevailed in Barbados and Jamaica, it is understandable how, with such high proportions of marginal constituencies, there has been a char of party government three times in the former and four times the latter in the twenty years of single party rule in Trinidad and Tobago.
Issues, too, are important in trying to explain the P.N.M’s survival. Our survey showed that the Trinidad and Tobago electorate is relatively conservative and that with the exception of the U.L.F., there was an absence of any substantial cleavage to the ‘left’. Most of the issues presented in the electoral campaign were devoid of any radical ideology as was the case in Jamaica where the ruling P.N.P.party decidedly placed “socialism” on the agenda and opened up a set of election issues on land reform, employment, social welfare among others, that exposed the electorate to some choice between ‘right’ and ‘left’. Whereas our survey showed that a large percentage of respondents (75 per cent) either rejected or had no opinion on radical tendencies, Carl Stone’s election polls showed that the lower classes in Jamaica were aware and responded favourably to those initiatives of the governing P.N.P. which they perceived to be radical.28
One of the significant differences in electoral patterns between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica was the relative shift in party loyalty among class groups. Stone shows for Jamaica that approximately 12 per cent of the middle class support previously identified with the P.N.P. was expected to switch to the J.L.P. while 18 per cent of the lower classes were expected to switch from J.L.P. to P.N.P. A high percentage of the new (18—21 years) voters were also likely to choose the P,N.P.29 Our analysis shows that in-so-far as switching of party loyalty is concerned the respondents in the Trinidad and Tobago survey have literally consolidated support for the ruling
party. Very little switching of party loyalties was identified except from the D.L.P. to U.L.F. In this respect the prominence of the ethnic factor as a determinant of voting behaviour In Trinidad contrasts with the influences of class that Stone identifies in Jamaica. In other words, unlike Jamaica, potential behaviour In Trinidad and Tobago seems to be more a function of race than of how people perceive left-right tendencies in the society.
Figures 7.2 and 7.3 illustrate the overwhelming importance of ethnicity in determining voting behaviour in Trinidad and Tobago. The 36 constituencies were classified according to the dominant ethnic groups. Hence 19 constituencies contained 50 Per cent and over of Trinidadians and Tobagonians of African descent. Thirteen had over 50 per cent of East Indian descent and 4 with the mixed group numbering more than 50 per cent.
Table 7.1 summarizes the data presented in the figures and compares the distribution of votes in 1976 with that in the 1966 Elections. What is evident is that the distribution of seats in 1976 showed virtually no change from the patterns of ethnic voting in 1966, and provides empirical justification for our conclusion that ethnic pluralism continues to be the major factor in determining how people in Trinidad and Tobago see their politics and how they vote. In our election survey we found, for example, that in spite of the stated intentions of the U.L.F. to promote socialism, it emerged as the second most powerful parliamentary group by gaining votes essentially from the Indian section of the population that previously gave their support to the Democratic Labour Party (D.L.P.). Similarly, the P.N.M. continued to receive support essentially from4the black electorate. This is not to say that issues relating to social class were not themselves important. It is evident from our survey that different political groups tended to attract people of different classes. While the P.N.M. received very little support from the managerial and highly placed professional
DISTRIBUTION OF SEATS ACCORDING TO
RACIAL BIASES OF CONSTITUENCIES
Distribution of Seats
Constituencies P.N.M. U.L.F./D.L.P.
1976 1966 1976 1966
% % % %
African 17 20 - -
4 1 9 11
Mixed 3 3 1 1
TOTAL 24 24 10 12
Distribution of Seats
Constituencies D.A.C. Total
1976 1966 1976 1966
% % % %
African 2 - 19 20
Indian 0 - 13 12
Mixed 0 - 4 4
TOTAL 2 - 36 36
groups, D.A.C. claimed their support. While the U.L.F. gained a cross section of the Indian vote, it received an overwhelming proportion of the votes of those Indians in middle level occupations.
Within this complex of factors, perceptions, attitudes and actual voting behaviour can be meaningfully analysed. When therefore in this study we referred to the level of cynicism on the part of some respondents in our sample, we were really examining the nature of their suspicions of the political leaders and parties operating in the general milieu of ethnic pluralism and social class divisions simultaneously. Political cynicism is reflected in such beliefs as “regardless which party comes to power, nothing will change” or ‘people like me have very little influence on what the government does”.
The strategy which political leaders generally use to gain or maintain power is to manipulate the frames of refer-ench within which people’s opinions operate. At election time in particu1ar, there are many symbols which they use- types of candidates, issues, patronage - to achieve their objective i.e., to win political office. While this study does point to the persistence of racial voting in Trinidad and Tobago, it also shows that there is a relatively high level of cynicism about, and growing alienation from those who govern the country. So, for example, as many as 31 per cent of our sample believed that life in Trinidad and Tobago was worse in 1976 than it was ten years before, and that corruption within the government was the main reason. In response to a similar question 26 per cent of our sample thought that social and economic conditions in the country could not be worse while 21 per cent could not decide if in fact conditions were better or worse. In addition, only 37 per cent wanted to see Eric Williams emerge as Prime Minister after the Election, 45 per cent thought there was a time to change the Government but 54 per cent thought that the P.N.M. would win the election.
We give these general figures here only to illustrate that a significant number of social and economic under-currents existed to undermine the legitimacy of Eric Williams as Prime Minister. Yet the P.N.M. won a landslide victory. What this means Is that cynicism and alienation, though present in how people saw their politics, was either not at a sufficiently high level to be translated into anti-Williams or anti-P.N.M. votes or sufficiently consolidated in the apparatus of another party or group of parties. If they were, the results of the 1976 Election would have been very different.
One factor that has consistently influenced the outcome of elections in systems that practice the competitive model is the economic climate prior to the contest. In Trinidad and Tobago, the racial factor and the large number of political groups notwithstanding, the P.N.M. benefited greatly from the apparent economic buoyancy at the time of the 1976 Election. The economy of Trinidad and Tobago had literally been transformed (speaking in gross terms) between 1971 and 1976. In 1973, the substantial rise in world oil prices resulting from decisions of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C.) increased the viability of high—cost off—shore petroleum deposits at a time when on--shore wells neared exhaustion. The price increase not only strengthened the P.N.M. Government’s bargaining position for greater participation in and revenue from the foreign owned oil companies, but made it possible to abandon plans for the country’s substantial offshore reserves of natural gas and Instead to regard them as an energy source for the expansion of local industry.
By the end of 1975 Government revenue had exceeded expenditure by approximately TT$ 200,000 compared with a deficit of TT$ 75,000 in 1973 and TT$ 175,000 in 1971. The country had established a trade surplus of TT$ 800 million in 1974 and TT$ 500 million in 1975 in spite of the incessant labour disputes which in the latter period was estimated to have cost about TT$ 120 million in foreign earnings. In addition, Trinidad and Tobago ‘s international reserves totalled TT$ 751 million In 1975 compared with TT$ 45 million In 1973, while the level of crude oil production in 1975, about 220,000 barrels per day (b.p.d.), almost doubled that of 1971. What is more, through the introduction of a new tax structure in 1974, the Government ensured that it would participate directly in hitherto unexploited oilfields by including a production - sharing clause in new off - shore concessions. Earnings from this arrangement have been estimated to yield an annual -revenue of TT$ 70 million at the production level of 100,000 b.p.d. without any contribution to the equity capital of the operating companies. In 1974, the Government took over Shell Trinidad Limited, setting up a new Trinidad and Tobago Oil Company (TRINTOC) to take over Shell’s refinery, its on—shore and of f— Shore production operations in addition to the chain of petrol Stations. By April 1975 when the Government also took over Texaco’s chain of petrol stations, it had become the country’s sole petrol retailer.
Economic fortunes were however not only limited to oil. In the Agricultural sector, the economy benefited substantially from a sharp rise in the world price for sugar in 1974—75, which was of direct advantage to the Government through its 55 per cent share holding in Caroni Limited, the principal sugar company.
By the time the 1976 campaign had begun the economy of Trinidad and Tobago was literally booming in stark contrast to the experiences of its CARICOM partners, especially Guyana and Jamaica. Nevertheless, the extent to which this economic success was benefiting the working people of the country was questioned by the opposition groups, in particular the U.L.F. Unemployment still remained high at 14 per cent, the cost of living was increasing at a rate of 10.5 per cent per annum between 1974 and 1976, the utilities such as electricity, water and telephone services were functioning inefficiently and so were the health services and the system of public transportation. Most factors therefore that contribute toward an increase in the quality of life were still deficient and provided grounds for dissatisfaction among a cross section of the society and in particular those on the fringes of that buoyant economic system.
It is in this context that a more united
coalition opposing Williams at the polls may have enhanced their chances
of victory. The variety of interests, the diversity of political groupings and the persistence of the ethnic issues created too ephemeral a basis for a lasting coalition. Herein, perhaps, lies an important lesson. In Grenada (1976), St. Lucia and Dominica (1979), alliances among opposition groups led eventually to the defeat of incumbent governments. In the case of Grenada, the ultimate result was a coup d’etat which toppled -the regime of Eric Gairy. While the political circumstances differ in Trinidad and Tobago, much of the fundamental discontent exists. As was the case in Jamaica in the 1960’s under the J.L.P., the present economic buoyancy may yet underscore the levels of alienation and cynicism that our survey identified. The difference between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago is that in the former the electorate has had a viable alternative to turn to. In 1976, the people of Trinidad and Tobago appeared to be conservative. The majority of those who voted chose the P.N.M. from among the variety of splinter parties that presented themselves as possible alternatives. In the final analysis, there were too many alternatives.