Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fooling ourselves

Martin Daly logo39

Mark Fraser

 Many of us do not appreciate a Minister of National Security who behaves like a five-cent badjohn. Gun-slinging talk, emanating from such an official, demonstrates that the office holder does not understand the depth of his ignorance when he portrays himself as the head of the fight against crime.

Before I go further with that—a footnote to last week’s column about the use and abuse of oil wealth materialised. Norway reached another milestone in its prudent use of oil wealth.

Norway has now saved so much of the proceeds of its oil wealth that the value of its sovereign fund now stands at a sum equivalent to one million kroner or crowns per citizen, a crown being the Norwegian unit of currency. Ironically it is a currency unit similar in value to a TT dollar when measured against a US dollar, namely US$1 equals 6.14 crowns.

Regarding the true importance of the Minister of National Security, fighting violent crime is equally the business of several ministries in addition to National Security.  It is the business of the Ministries of Education, Culture, Sport and Social Development to redress the underlying social conditions that breed crime; but first we have to stop fooling ourselves if we are to make progress.

Dedicated, civic understanding and output from as many of our citizens as possible is also required. Civic sentiment needs to be harnessed and action taken to force public opinion to have effect on the behaviour of the political powers.

We cannot remain sitting on the fence locked in the post-colonial insecurities I mentioned last week. We must also shake off the restraint induced by the need to own and admire several hot cars in the yard while condoning the widespread corruption masquerading as business opportunities.

The advent of electronic media has greatly enhanced the expression of public opinion. In the words of Purna Sen, a public affairs expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science (the LSE), the public stage is “an expansive space” and one can have political influence “without holding any formal office”. She sees the Internet and social media as wresting authority away from the traditional power centres.

Ms Sen makes the point in the latest edition of the LSE magazine in connection with countries, unlike ours, where women have been forced to be reticent in public appearances and are able through social media to challenge the exclusive authority of male leaders.

Perhaps we need to have all-inclusive flash mobs descend on ministries, Parliament and State enterprises every time news of a new outrage breaks and spreads across the social media so as to prevent the rulers from responding to an outrage merely by describing it as collateral damage or a mis-step, blaming the predecessor government and “moving on”.

In education we are fooling ourselves the most because illiteracy has risen dramatically with corresponding feelings of alienation, hostility and low self-esteem. In the incisive words of another columnist last Sunday, Colin Robinson, “we don’t realise that an education system that makes losers out of so many is a key driver of criminality and endemic violence”.

In fact we are in complete denial over the failure of the education system.

In the course of fooling ourselves one grave and dangerous set of platitudes favoured by the previous government and repeated by this one is that our international reputation is holding up.

The present lot sounds more like the Manning PNM on crime everyday.

Now they are braying that visitors will still come for Carnival regardless of the murders and that the bloodbath will not affect foreign investment.

Oh yeah! In response to last week’s column a reader sent me a link to the Investor’s Chronicle published by the Financial Times of London on December 19 last year, 2013. It featured “The Caribbean in Crisis” and included a graphic piece on the “grip” of crime on Trinidad despite our billions.

Meanwhile, the Minister of National Security is purporting to dilute the murder figures by asserting that criminals are killing criminals. This is an old refrain.

As long ago as May 1993, when the Manning PNM was saying in a similar vein that crime was confined to certain areas, in a column entitled “Targeting Laventille”, I advised the political parties to break from the underworld of political favouritism and to take back the distribution of our resources from cronies and pardners, armed and unarmed.

Ten years ago I predicted the breakdown of ordered legal control in the face of banditry if our Governments did not break away both from grassroot bandits and the “devils in disguise”.

Sadly, despite pressure for providing inconvenient truth, I turned out to be right. The appetite of the devils in disguise has since grown bigger and bigger and, as confirmed in pictures recently, plastic wrapped pellets remain a meal of choice on the menu.