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Trinidad and Tobago

Why can’t we get foreign exchange when Starbucks, Wendy’s, etc keep popping up?

The allocation of foreign exchange to Jane and Beharry Public continues to be inequitable and discriminatory. The ordinary citizen cannot get foreign exchange but franchises keep popping up all over the place. Clearly if you operate in the right circles you can get foreign exchange at will.

Who needs another Starbucks, Chucky Cheese, Wendy’s, Porche dealership etc? Why are we importing dried mangoes from Thailand instead of encouraging local entrepreneurship?

Photo: Starbucks is believed to be thriving in Trinidad

I recall that the Couva Children’s Hospital was supposed to bring in foreign currency by attending to patients from other countries but it remains closed. These are just mundane, everyday examples of how our foreign exchange is being mis-allocated.

I came across three cases of citizens who are angry because they cannot get foreign exchange to carry on with their lives.

Case One is of a returning resident who sold his property in England, brought the funds to Trinidad and built a home with the intention of retiring.  After 10 years he is so disenchanted that he wants to move on, but cannot get access to the money after selling his newly built house. He is now stuck in a place with money which he can only spend locally.

Case Two is a woman who has been living abroad for 15 years and has been investing in financial instruments which have matured; and she cannot get the funds out of the country now to continue her life abroad.

Case Three is of another woman who emigrated 20 years ago and cannot get access to her retirement lump-sum or monthly pension.

I have had the humiliating experience of having to line up daily to get US$100 in order to carry out some random transactions. Something is terribly wrong with the system. It appears to favour those with contact and access.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago is feeling a foreign exchange crunch.

Is the reason that the ordinary citizen is experiencing these problems rooted in our corrupt systems, which are based on who you know and not what is the right thing to do?

The population understands that the energy sector has contracted resulting in a reduction in foreign exchange inflows. We also understand that very little has been done to diversify the economy to make up the shortfall, despite decades of experts telling us that we need to diversify the economy. What is clear is that citizens without contact or friends in the right places will continue to feel the pinch.

So if your son, daughter, tanty, etc, ‘in foreign’ need some help, you can’t offer it because you can’t get the foreign exchange to send. For the hundreds of thousands of Trinidadians who have migrated but have funds in Trinidad from pension plans or other instruments, that money remains unavailable, locked away from their access.

This is simply inequitable, unjust and unfair. Additionally, it does not inspire confidence that the system will work in your favour at all times.

Governments must inspire confidence in people by operating even-handedly and transparently so please let us know who are the users and recipients of this scarce resource.

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
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