Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trinis in a fool's paradise?

Part II

Prof Bernstein concludes his discussion on the factors that may impact happiness as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago and Singapore. In Part I, which was published in Wednesday's Express, he discussed statistics relating some of those factors.

THERE are objective and non-objective, or subjective, aspects of the parameters that constitute who may or may not be "happy". Non-objective parameters are highly individual, hard to define and may vary greatly from person to person, time to time and culture to culture. Objective ones are much easier to enumerate, but typically reflect the larger context in which the person lives. They include examples such as life expectancy, infant mortality rates, literacy and education levels (discussed in Part I) and physician/people ratios, crime rates, homicide/murder rates and education expenditures.

Physicians (per 1,000 people)

Singapore, 2010: 1.8

T&T, 2010: 1.2

The higher physician ratio in Singapore becomes even more noteworthy in relation to Singapore's world-class medical system, with its world-class medical outcome statistics.

Current worldwide homicide/murder rate

Singapore, 2006: 0.39/100,000 population

T&T, 2008: 36.69/100,000 population

This is a horrifying situation! How is Singapore able to achieve these results and not T&T? Why is the Singapore police force so effective in controlling crime? Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the conjecture is that the Canadians tried to change the equation but the "old boy network" managed to defeat their efforts. Meanwhile, the crime rate in Singapore is one of the lowest in the world.

To be considered along with crime is corruption. In the Corruption Perceptions Index 2010, Singapore was ranked first out of 178 countries for corruption (least corrupt countries are at the top of the list). On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the most corrupt and 10 the most transparent, Transparency International rated Singapore 9.3. Unfortunately, Transparency International does not index every country, but to give some relative understanding, the United Kingdom at 7.6 ranks 20th. Considering Section 34 and airport and stadium construction issues, where T&T would rank is anybody's guess.

Education expenditures

Expenditure per pupil, primary (% of GDP per capita)

Singapore, 2010 12.3

T&T, 2009 14.9

Expenditure per pupil, secondary (% of GDP per capita)

Singapore, 2010 18.8

T&T, 2008 15.7

Expenditure per student, tertiary (% of GDP per capita)

Singapore, 2012 27.5

T&T no figures available

T&T's education expenditure per pupil is roughly similar to Singapore's, except perhaps at tertiary level. Yet, its education system is widely considered to be in disarray; teachers are disrespected and work for abysmally low pay scales. In contrast, Singapore is judged to have the best education system in the world. Why? In Singapore, teaching is a highly sought after and well respected and highly paid profession; candidates for teaching positions come out of the top one-third of university graduates. (In the United States, for comparison, they come out of the lowest one-third of university graduates; the US education system is also losing ground.)

Having been in Singapore on four occasions over the years, I cannot say that I am totally enamoured of the place but, at the same time, I am impressed that it works. What do I mean by that? In Singapore, people have very adequate housing (especially government-built housing for low-income citizens), everyone has access to clean, potable, pipe-borne water, the roads are in excellent condition with no potholes, public servants are well paid and perform well, they have one of the world's best education systems, they have a world-class medical care system, there are no mounds or bags of rubbish on the streets, crime and corruption levels are extremely low, and it is safe to walk the streets at night. How does T&T rate on these parameters?

The January 13 edition of the Sunday Express presented large amounts of data from the MFO poll. Included was a graph displaying people's confidence in 15 civic and private institutions. The question asked of people concerned the degree of confidence they had in these institutions. For 2012, the confidence level ranged from a low of 11 per cent (the police) to a high of 39 per cent (the media).

Look again at the comparisons between Singapore and T&T on life expectancy, infant mortality rates, literacy and education levels, physician/people ratios, crime rates, homicide/murder rates and education expenditures; and look again at people's low confidence levels in 15 civic and private institutions.

What conclusions can one draw from all this? Given what I describe above, a question can be asked as to what constitutes the basis for the happiness of our T&T citizens that Ms Maharaj describes? Perhaps, if the citizens of Singapore are as unhappy as Ms Maharaj describes, she should invite them to come live in our putative happy T&T paradise. I just hope the happy T&T paradise that Ms Maharaj describes does not turn out for them to be a "fool's paradise".

Leonard Bernstein has worked as a professor

of orthodontics at Boston University School

of Dental Medicine in Massachusetts, USA,

an environmental consultant and

a medical education consultant.