Monday, February 19, 2018

Stuck on the roundabout

 In 2002 popular soca artiste Benjai complained bitterly that he was “fed up of the same thing over and over”. Since then his lyrics have become something of a mantra for many people who are deeply concerned about the future of the country. They understand that, like many other countries, T&T is beset with serious, complex problems but their frustration stems from the continuous flow of superficial, ad-hoc schemes instead of comprehensive, long-term programmes.  

There seems to be an aversion to dealing with problems honestly and directly preferring instead to spout platitudes and toss around red herrings. At the drop of a hat empty rhetoric fills the air with hollow threats about ‘cockroaches’ and promises to address the issues ‘assiduously’. And to give the semblance of concern, a committee is hastily assembled to investigate an issue that has been repeatedly investigated over the years.

A few days ago Express columnist  Dr Sheila Rampersad commented on the latest episode of child abuse and stated “there have been a number of lengthy, detailed reports......there is no need for more”. She urged that “professionals must stop agreeing to sit on committee after committee to replicate work already done”. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that a Child Protection Task Force was established amidst great fanfare and publicity? Has anything changed? Instead of turning the corner and moving ahead we keep going around the same roundabout year after year pretending that we are making progress.

A few weeks ago British High Commissioner Arthur Snell stated, “I am genuinely unable to discern any distinctive policy of any major political grouping in this country beyond, ‘when we are in power we look after our people’”. In other words the dominant political philosophy is nothing more than “we time now” and serious issues remain unresolved while trivia dominates the national discourse. One week it is the lineage of an opposition senator and the following week it is the name of a cricket team with two ministers squabbling like little children fighting over a ‘sweetie’.

However the archbishop of Port of Spain stated recently that “only when inequality and exclusion come to an end in this country will the security for adults and children become reality”. He pointed to “the discrepancies between the salaries of executives and the salaries of workers, the inequalities in legal representation, the inequalities in health care, the inequalities in housing and the inequalities in educational opportunities.” The Archbishop could have added “the discrepancies between gated communities and ‘at risk’ communities” because there are differences in the way citizens are treated depending on where they live. It is a sentiment that was brilliantly captured by calypsonian Alana Sinnette in her 2014 composition “Sea Lots” and the authorities would do well to pay attention to the lyrics.

Communities in east Port of Spain need much more than ‘dogs of war’ and there are excellent proposals for sustainable community development by the Inter-American Development Bank and the East Port of Spain Development Company. Other proposals range from Lloyd Best’s seminal ‘School in Pan’ theory to the more recent study by Prof Selwyn Ryan et al. Yet we encourage the ‘gimme gimme’ syndrome with makeshift programmes like Colour Me Orange and then turn around and condemn the same people for depending on handouts. 

Fortunately all is not lost and there are community groups that continue to make meaningful contributions despite a lack of financial support.  The Birdsong Music Academy in Tunapuna is one and the La Brea Sport Foundation in the deep south is another. There are many others but they are often ignored because they do not offer the high-profile mileage that political strategists require. Instead their requests are given lip service while priority is given to billion dollar mega-projects where public funds can be secretly siphoned off into overseas bank accounts. 

Perhaps nothing illustrates the national merry-go-round better than the response to crime. In 1996 David Rudder sang that “somebody letting the cocaine pass” referring to the ease with which drugs and guns pass through T&T leaving a trail of murder and mayhem. Since then several reports have reiterated that the gangs terrorising innocent citizens are funded by local white-collar criminals with international connections. William Brownfield, US assistant secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs recently referred to the brutal murder of Dana Seetahal and concluded that it was “a criminal organisation that clearly had a presence in Trinidad and Tobago which decided to perform this repulsive and repugnant act”. What more do we need to hear?

The old folks have a saying that “all who don’t hear, will feel” but there’s another adage that is perhaps just as relevant....”pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.