Sunday, February 18, 2018

Handsome payments, ugly purposes

Richard Braithwaite18

Mark Fraser

 Dr Merle Hodge, an island scholarship winner and university lecturer, made a simple statement recently that offers considerable hope for Trinidad and Tobago.  

In responding to the reproach that she was “handsomely paid” for her role as a member of the Constitution Reform Commission she questioned whether professionals are hired “not for their work, but to buy their acquiescence”. 

Dr Hodge then added a statement that should send a powerful message to politicians as well as to those who believe money will always be more important than principle. “You must know,” she said, “that you will never be able to buy everybody.” It is a timely reminder that, contrary to a popular view, not everyone is for sale.

Many will scoff at her remarks and deem them to be naive and even foolish. 

After all, this is the country of LifeSport and Section 34 where bribes, kickbacks and stealing from the Treasury are par for the course. Where, for the right price, doctors will remove cocaine from the stomach of a drug mule and return it to the criminals. Where bankers will manipulate the sale of public shares for their own private gain and where religious leaders will use their “divine” authority to promote “earthly” political agendas. 

The Mighty Sparrow once sang about the hypocrisy of our exemplars, the so-called “good citizens”. He pointed out that “these fakes and phonies live a long life of luxury while they spread corruption throughout the society. When they should be arrested they’re protected and respected in the society”.

During the recent debate on the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Terrorism Financing Bill a senior Government minister admitted that organised crime “could not flourish in Trinidad and Tobago unless there were “big people” within the system, creating the right conditions. Yet when a state of emergency was declared to curtail an alarming rise in crime only the “little people” aka the small fish were caught in the net.

In December 2011, I wrote an article entitled “Not all ah we t’ief” and I  stated that “there are many Trinbagonians who refuse to succumb to the immorality and sleaze. Their numbers may be shrinking but there are still those who strive to be honest citizens”. 

I also noted that “over the years I have had the good fortune to meet professionals who aspire to the highest levels of integrity and competence in their various fields”. Last year, for instance, a former programme director at UWI’s Arthur Lok Jack School of Business chose to resign rather than support what he saw as a questionable award of a degree at the institution.

Dr Hodge’s spirited defence is therefore another example that professional  integrity is not dead and politicians are doomed to learn the hard way that when you lose the trust of the people no amount of money can restore it. A friend recently asked why do our leaders keep making the same mistakes over and over again, ignoring the legitimate concerns of the people. 

A previous PM refused to acknowledge serious questions about UDeCOTT even from within his own administration and his immediate predecessor turned his back on widespread public outrage over corruption at the airport. 

History seems to be repeating itself as citizens continue to make the claim that their voices are being ignored. A referendum mechanism is therefore the most important constitutional amendment at this time. If democracy is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people then let the people decide. 

A major reason for the arrogance that eventually afflicts all our leaders is the cocoon of fawning sycophants that surrounds them. Their primary purpose seems to be filling the leader’s head with visions of grandeur, lambasting anyone who dares to criticise, including media personnel. 

They surface in different forms from the foot soldiers bearing crudely constructed placards to the more sophisticated advocates from academia and the legal fraternity.

Fortunately there are those who will not allow “handsome” payments to deter them from doing and saying what is right. 

They will not be distracted by the red herrings that are tossed around, neither will they be silenced by the crass personal attacks of politicians and their paid bloggers. After 52 years of Independence, the days of “not a damn dog bark” are gone.... never to return. 

—Richard Braithwaite is a 

management consultant