A page from Keshorn's book
By declaring a public holiday last week Monday, Government may have not only made this country look "jokey" in the international arena, but it may also have contradicted the spirit of what was meant to be celebrated—Keshorn Walcott's gold medal achievement at the Olympic Games. Even as the nation feted the young conqueror with cheerful abandon and an outpouring of patriotism, we learnt that Walcott achieved what he did through extremely hard work and dedication. We were told that the Toco athlete trained on Christmas Day, and presumably on other public holidays as well, to hone the skills that took him to the highest pedestal in the sporting world.
Indeed, such dedication and discipline, not to add sacrifice, are the common thread that ties most if not all successful sports achievers. We feel sure that our other Olympians also trained on weekends and public holidays to reach where they did in their respective disciplines. Jamaica's Yohan Blake, the brightest spark at the Olympics after Usain Bolt, earned the nickname "The Beast" because of how hard he trains—several times a day, and most of all on public holidays when others are having fun.
Here was an opportunity for Government to use this young achiever as a model of discipline and production, two national watchwords that we have all but abandoned, but they blew it. Pandering to the lowest common denominator among the majority of the populace, any reason for a fete, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared a public holiday, giving an already struggling, barely productive nation, four hours notice.
National Security Minister Jack Warner, who said that he and the Prime Minister bucked the rest of Cabinet on the holiday issue, justified it on the basis of the public display of patriotism from Piarco to Toco. If it takes Olympic gold to trigger patriotism, then we may well have a long wait for the next burst of pride. If it takes a holiday, then Mr Warner may want to plug for one-a-month...or more.
Already, this country ranks among nations with the highest number of public holidays, and at the lower end of the productivity index. When we add at least a week for Carnival, any number of "casual" days off and, well, "stay home" days, Trinidad and Tobago is in a sorry state. Our productivity levels are woeful. All of the business organisations and most trade unions agree with this sad reality. Yet, in order to appear politically correct, many among these interest groups supported last week's holiday-by-vaps.
As we observed earlier, here was an opportunity for Government to use Walcott as an exemplar. They could have hosted a reception for him and the other Olympians at the airport, attended by persons who were not working that day. They could have then allowed the very tired athletes and officials to hasten to their homes for local receptions and much needed rest. Further, they could have carded a major reception for Walcott and his fellow-Olympians at a proper venue (maybe the Hasely Crawford Stadium), say, on Saturday or Sunday, with the attendant motorcades from Toco, San Fernando and other districts where these athletes grew up.
Such celebrations would not have disrupted business and other activities (courts, critical appointments and meetings). The authorities would have had time to focus attention on the disaster area in north-west Trinidad. Most of all, it would have measured the real level of patriotism in the country. We would have seen who would wear the national colours with pride and turn out to honour our heroes on a non-holiday.
Clearly, in matters like this, we are being naive. Politics always trumps common sense. It was not the first time a government took gold and turned it into political brass...and it won't be the last. The already-struggling economy suffers another self-inflicted blow, but who cares? Come September and the Budget, we shall hear the Prime Minister and Mr Warner and Finance Minister Larry Howai call on citizens to be more productive.