Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The chickens are coming home

“There is nothing that is wrong with Trinidad and Tobago that cannot be fixed by what is right about Trinidad and Tobago”. This statement was made recently by a visiting Jamaican attorney when asked for his views on the local crime situation. It is an adaptation of a quote by former US president Bill Clinton which he made during his 1993 inaugural address.

While it seems trite, the statement contains a powerful message for those citizens who are increasingly worried about the future of the country. There is much that is right about T&T which can provide solutions for many of our problems but we lack the confidence and self-belief to pursue the possibilities. Instead we seem to believe that ignoring a problem will make it magically disappear.

Take crime, for instance. In a previous article I quoted local anti-money laundering expert David West who stated, not for the first time, that “the first place to fight crime is white collar crime. That’s where it starts. If you take away the money from the criminal there will be no crime ... no money to buy a gun, to pay for lawyers, no money for anything”.

He added “the increase in criminality must be looked at from the perspectives of white-collar crime. It is not just about the poor man in Laventille with a gun but about the money laundering which is taking place”. Yet the focus remains on so-called “at risk” communities whose young residents are mere foot-soldiers in the network of organised crime.

The recent execution of Dana Seetahal reminds me of a question that the late British actor David Niven asked in the movie 55 Days at Peking. After witnessing the beheading of a Chinese peasant, he queried, “Where lies the guilt? Is it the one who wields the sword or the one who gives the command?”

There is a video currently circulating locally and abroad entitled “Corruption, Cocaine and Murder in Trinidad”. Despite a bit of melodrama it exposes some harsh truths about the root cause of crime in T&T. The response in some quarters is typical ... ignore the message, attack the messenger and pretend it is totally false.

Even when evil stares us directly in the face we bury our heads in the sand and hope that it goes away. Whenever a brutal murder takes place or another crooked official is exposed there is shock and horror as if it is something new and unique. There is a persistent refusal to admit the extent of the corruption even as the chickens are coming home to roost.

A recent article in The Economist stated that “16 per cent of cocaine imports into the United States came through the Caribbean islands last year. That is up from 4 per cent in 2011”. How much of that drug money is now being used to pay bribes, fund criminal gangs and arrange for “hits” on innocent civilians?

Some years ago, I met a representative of an international law enforcement agency who explained that, apart from its geographic location, Trinidad and Tobago offered “a hassle-free environment for drug trafficking”. He indicated that drugs and guns move through the country with relative ease and the transshipment is facilitated by corrupt officials operating at high levels in both the public and private sectors.

So what is the solution? First we must discard the petty and the partisan and focus on “what is right about Trinidad and Tobago” especially the rich diversity of our social fabric. However, as long as we maintain that only people who think like us, look like us and vote like us are worthy of consideration we will remain stuck in the current morass. Nepotism elevates ethnic and political allegiance above competence and leads to the phenomenon of “square pegs in round holes”.

In an analysis of the recent Petrotrin oil spill, Express investigative journalist Camini Marajh noted that the state-owned company has developed “a culture where loyalty and friendship counts far more than competence, adherence to the rules and accountability”. The absurdity of this philosophy is reflected in the fact that while the country has produced many highly qualified professionals, persons are appointed to senior positions with “false papers” and bogus degrees.

In July, the Nova Committee of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce is staging a conference entitled “Innovation in Business” which features some outstanding innovators in various fields.

Among the presenters are several T&T-born trailblazers who have achieved international acclaim. One wonders what would have been their fate had they stayed here and sought to contribute to national development. Would they have been embraced or would they have been overlooked because he or she is “not one of us”.

The challenge facing our leaders on all sides of the political spectrum is to bring together the country’s “best and brightest” and put their talents to work.

There is enough creativity and brainpower available at all levels and in all communities to turn things around, even the crime situation. It will not be easy, especially for those whose see power as nothing more than an opportunity to raid the Treasury and to enrich friends and family. In such a scenario the sycophant and the party-hack are preferred partners since they are guaranteed to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.