Saturday, February 24, 2018

Before They Go Too Far

Sunity Maharaj40

Mark Fraser

 With scandal piling on plunder and the national course locked on to Destination Uncertain, life in T&T remains lost in limbo where nothing is ever known for a fact and nothing comes out of everything. 

Unresolved, unclear, unknown might, on a jaundiced day, better describe the national state of affairs than discipline, production and tolerance. On issues from O’Halloran to Galbaransingh, truth dwells in a twilight zone, sipping champagne one step away from bread and water. It is as if in Independence, all the tools developed for surviving the terrors of our history have now come to overwhelm us, keeping us chained to the past and robbing us of the self-confidence to face the world confidently, squarely and without ambiguity. Instead, we remain slaves to the codes of our old world, still the Anansi, still masking, still hiding inside the language of double entendre, afraid to raise our gaze, look them squarely in the eye and declare in recognition that, yes, “Mas, I know you!” 

Take the latest cocaine bust involving drugs found by US authorities in tins with a Trinidad product label. Hard experience has taught us the cynical lesson that this, too, shall pass without us ever knowing the truth of origin. In the end, all we are likely to be left holding will be David Rudder’s immortal observation that “somebody letting the cocaine pass”.

Once again, we have political ineptitude to thank for this.

Twenty five years ago, our feeble attempt to get on top of the drug trade was blown apart with the release of the Scott Drug Report by the NAR administration. The hodgepodge of information, allegation and accusation collated by the Commission of Enquiry established by George Chambers was an explosive draft description of the drug trade with details about those supposedly in the know and involved. Having denounced the Chambers administration’s failure to release the Commission’s report, the NAR government followed through on its campaign pledge of full disclosure, using the cover of parliamentary privilege to escape the legal fall-out of libel and slander in publicising the report. 

For about a week, the Scott Drug report was a burning topic of national outrage, tongues wagging furiously with the names of politicians, businesspeople and police officers supposedly involved. Then, with nowhere left to go, it fizzled and died, taking with it any hope for prosecution due to the tainting by public release of uncorroborated statements.

If, in 1987, we were blessedly innocent about how to tame the multi-tentacled monster of drugs, by 2013 we have laundered our consciences to live with it. We no longer ask where the money comes from; we ask only ‘how much?’

For a country that has been heavily affected by the drug trade, we remain remarkably innocent about the details of how it functions here. The bone-chilling theories espoused by UWI researcher Darius Figueria about drugs, politics and US foreign policy in T&T are among a minute body of literature on the subject. 

For the most part, however, we remain in the dark about the impact of the drug trade on our society, economy and politics, content to dwell only on its symptomatic expressions. No state description of the national economy takes the drug trade into account even when it might explain certain economic phenomena, such as the prices of imported goods, rapid expansion of certain import businesses and the relative absence of a black market for foreign exchange. Similarly, data on the relationship between the drug trade and crime is notoriously superficial, tending to stop at the foothills of Morvant-Laventille. If Morvant-Laventille were indeed the heart and centre of the drug trade, it would be a city of mansions. Just consider the mark-up that the Virginia police put on the shipment from Trinidad last week by estimating the wholesale value of the 732 lbs of cocaine at US$12 million with a street value of US$100 million.

In the politics, where the prevailing doctrine is money with no questions asked, there is even less interest in plumbing the source of the money supply. More than anything else, however, it is the politics, with its high demand for campaign finance,  that runs the risk of entrenching drug barons firmly in power and, even, high office.

Worse, it is taxpayers’ money, leaving the treasury in the form of state contract payments, that can be used to launder their operations and establish them in the business landscape of Trinidad and Tobago, their names held up in bright lights as the face of Successful T&T, role models for generations to come.

The paradox of our politics is that even those who yearn to change it are consumed at the point of entry. To engage the politics on its own terms is to surrender the hope for change and to be lost even before you start. 

Already, as we approach the final year of this Bissessar-Persad administration, the horses are lining up. The men and women vying for our vote are on their knees before the captains of money, competing for cash to pad the campaign war chest.

Before they go too far and consign us to another long season of quarrel and contestation, they must be stopped. Only we, the people, have the power to do so by rejecting the politics of freeness sponsored by wall-to-wall advertising. We, the electorate, have it within our hands to free our political representatives from the albatross of the political financiers. 

We can do so by ourselves rejecting the free ride, insisting that they declare the source of every cent collected and spent, and by forcing them to turn down the volume of wine and jam. Then we must demand that they engage us, citizen-to-citizen, in detailed dialogue about how each of them intends to deal with the many challenges of our time. After we talk, we will evaluate the options and, only then, should we choose.