There is an ever-present strand of incompetence and lack of coordination and planning that underlies every debacle that occurs in Trinidad and Tobago. The destruction of the highly endangered leatherback turtle nests at Grande Rivière last weekend is the latest testament to the low calibre of "officials" who are charged with running our nation.
The half-hearted apologies and statements by the ministers are nothing more than hollow words full of rhetoric and add up to nothing. There can be no excuse or justification for the disaster that took place over the weekend. In a normal nation, someone would be made to pay and pay dearly. However, in our own brand of paradise, where money and influence can buy you anything, no one will be held accountable and very soon this incident, like all the others of the past, will be forgotten.
This incident is not isolated and, rest assured, similar incidents reflecting stupidity, negligence, destruction and greed will occur in the future. The underlying problem is the quality of the people who are trusted to run our nation. We deserve knowledgeable and competent people who have heard about feasibility studies, who know about coordination and planning and who put country above self-interest.
The current regime wanted exposure for Trinidad and Tobago on the world stage to promote tourism and a prosperous image. The image was of untold numbers of dead baby turtles and eggs was plastered all over the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX the Associated Press and other news outlets and agencies. If this is the image the Government wanted, then it has achieved beautifully as, for a brief period, we were under the gaze of the world, which called us "backward", "third world", "destroyers", "stupid", "ignorant" and a host of names that are usually reserved for terrorists and murderers. Usually such blatant displays of neo-imperial judgment would elicit rebuke from proud T&T citizens, but the buzz of the blogosphere and Facebook tells a different story. There is a collective feeling of shame and outrage from citizens of all walks of life, and especially the young.
On this occasion, the labels ascribed to us may not be far off. There have been some poor attempts by ministers and others to justify this debacle, citing danger to human life and property. Anyone with an ounce of a brain would know that erosion does not occur overnight and, as reported by many media houses, the erosion was noted as a problem since December. Turtle-nesting season is around March to September, thus logic and common sense would dictate that the work should have been done in the dry-season months prior to March.
It does not take a genius to be aware of these variables and coordinate them, but what it does take is competence—and that is something which is lacking across the public sector. The public sector is one of the strongest bastions of nepotism and corruption in our nation. There is little wonder why Trinidad and Tobago ranks very low in the International Transparency Index, as our entire system is festering with graft and incompetence.
As usual, there has been little information forthcoming from the State and the media have been less-than-stellar in chasing down this story. The natural resources of our country belong to every single citizen and, as a result, we have a right to know. We need to know the name of the contractor that did this work. We need to know why, when the first scoop of earth was removed and hatchlings were seen, the work was not immediately halted. We need to know who authorised this work and who did the planning.
We need to know who at the EMA is responsible and why the head of the EMA—who is supposed to be looking after the environment—is not front and centre, calling for heads to roll. We need to know what is going to be done to ensure something like this will not happen again and, most of all, we need to know the Government actually cares.
It may be foolish of me to expect any of these questions to be answered, or for anyone to pay. There has even been commendation for the destruction by one counsellor for the area, which has been mind-boggling. Anyone who can watch the last breaths of struggling and dying baby turtles and feel proud needs to check both his priorities and his sanity. This situation is not one that pits man against nature. That is a false story and is only being used as a fig leaf. No turtles had to die and no property had to be lost. All that was needed was some will, effort and competence. If this work had been coordinated and everyone was doing his job, this would never have taken place.
I am, however, not deluded. The ink I have spilled here, just like the blood of unborn and new-born turtles, will be washed away from the minds of the public very soon. Pretty soon a new scandal or fete will take place and all of this will be forgotten. But while we party and gossip, our image will continue to languish on the international stage and our populace will continue to be robbed of good governance, as the public sector and the political class continue to be filled by people of poor calibre.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President's
Medal in 2006 for business/modern
studies. He is an MSc candidate in
international relations at the
London School of Economics.