“Integrity is the cornerstone of our business. We conduct our affairs in a manner consistent with the highest ethical standards.” Guess which company has this bold proclamation displayed on its official corporate website. If you said First Citizens, go to the head of the class. Despite this declaration, a senior bank official, a principal custodian and defender of the company’s core values, suggests “ethical standards” are irrelevant in evaluating the conduct of one its top managers. Perhaps just like politicians, bankers now have a morality of their own.
This is not a unique situation in T&T where it is difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and reality and where what is said and what is done are often in direct conflict. When a crisis occurs, we feign shock and horror, pretending to be totally unaware such a problem ever existed. Prison conditions which have continued for decades are suddenly found to be deplorable and each time a child is raped or murdered the reaction suggests it is the first time such a tragedy occurred.
At the time of writing, there is a video making the rounds on the Internet featuring a fight between a group of girls at a secondary school in Port of Spain. And while the sheer brutality and obscene language are absolutely disgusting, it is the response to the incident that typifies the hypocrisy and double standards that prevail. It is unfortunate the cries of “lock them up” are not as persistent when other more prominent citizens, especially those with deep pockets, are involved in criminal conduct.
The reality is these girls did not wake up one morning filled with hatred and anger, but they are growing up in a society that is increasingly violent and uncaring. They have learnt might is right, and wrongdoers are more likely to escape punishment than to be held accountable. To promote the fantasy that this is just an isolated incident is to continue the charade and extend the ole mas beyond Jouvert. A few weeks ago pupils set fire to a school in South Trinidad, while there have been numerous reports of stabbing incidents, including a few fatalities. Ask any schoolteacher and they will tell you similar stories, including violent assaults by parents in full view of pupils.
And while the schools continue to reflect the violence and corruption of the adult world, the health sector is also facing its own difficulties. The recent death of a baby during a Caesarean section is but the latest example of the decline. While protesting the incident, former senator Verna St Rose Greaves provided an important insight when she exclaimed, “We spend time on all kinds of other things, but the things that are important we don’t.”
In an article last year, I wrote about the triumph of trivia and the preoccupation with pipe dreams and fantasies. As a result, there is an obsession with PR gimmickry as the preferred method for dealing with serious, complex issues. Even Carnival has not escaped the fascination with minutiae. We recently learnt there is a 30-page booklet of rules and guidelines for mas bands. However, despite the bureaucratic stipulations, there was more confusion than ever before, so maybe the document will now be expanded to 100 pages for 2015. The problem with Carnival is not an absence of rules and regulations, but a shortage of creativity and common sense.
With a general election on the horizon, the reign of the trite and the superficial is likely to continue. Already we are hearing “niceness” is a key characteristic in the selection of a political leader. Experience, knowledge, wisdom and integrity are irrelevant and it seems the width of the smile is now more important than the depth of the intellect. No wonder there continues to be widespread disappointment over the quality of leadership at all levels.
Again it was the outspoken Verna St Rose Greaves who exposed another area of fantasy and “mamaguy” when she stated on television “in this country, there are some people who are important and there some people who are not important”. Prejudice, nepotism and discrimination are also issues that are conveniently ignored, while colourful tourist brochures proclaim “all ah we is one”. If this is true, then why is it some Government workers are given five-year contracts while others get only month-to-month extensions, making them ineligible for a mortgage or a loan of any sort? Can this be fair, especially in a public sector which is funded by taxpayers?
And while illegal drugs and guns continue to move comfortably through the nation’s territorial waters, the focus is on semantics and whether an LRV is the same as an OPV. But then again, we were told recently “the days of crime plans are over”, thereby elevating “vikey-vie” and “vaps” to the status of official policy. In comparison, the drug cartels remain highly organised with meticulous plans and deliberate long-term strategies to infiltrate weak governments and to corrupt law-enforcement agencies. Who do you think will succeed?
Between 1977 and 1984, one of the more popular TV shows both here and abroad was a series called Fantasy Island. The concept was that an island existed where people went to escape reality and to fulfil their fantasies. It was a world of make-believe where visitors were in fact paying to be fooled and deluded. Unfortunately, as soon as the vacation ended and the veil of deception disappeared, they were forced to confront the same problems they were trying to avoid. Sooner or later, whether you like it or not, the illusion of Fantasy Island comes to an end.
• Richard Braithwaite is a