to social functions did not appeal to me personally. I remember my
repugnance and abhorrence at a banquet held at what has now become
President’s House. It should have been over by midnight.
about 2 am the next morning some of the women began opening their purses
and bags and stuffing into them as much as they could fill of the
delicacies and sweets remaining on the long banquet tables. “Behold,”
I said to my husband, “our new elite!”
time I went to one of these lavish occasions and saw the pomp and
splendour paid for with taxpayers money I would think of how many children
in nearby John John or rural back-waters like Caroni, had gone to bed
without a square meal for the day. That spectre would arise in my mind’s
eye. To me all the glitter and show by the nouveaux riches who replaced
“Massa” were revolting.
from Untold Tales of Politics and Politicians by Balgobin Ramdeen, former
MP in T&T (1961-1966), author and attorney.
didn’t know who he was until I found a review copy of his book dated
January 2000 under some old papers. Reading his unassuming but absorbing
book shed light on the politics of the late 1950s and early 1960s: cut
throat, back stabbing, tribal, self-serving, with intrigue, peppered with
“favours” of foreign travel and safe parliamentary seats for the
highest bidder among wealthy businessmen.
wives of politicians stealing food in President’s House in 1962 and
Dhanraj Singh the former Government Minister who has been granted bail of
$150,000 for 27 alleged crimes of corruption in 2001, are products of a
society that makes up rules as it goes along.
has its advantages. It makes us ideally equipped to operate in the new
economy where flexibility, lateral thinking and the pursuit of wealth are
playmates and the “smartman” who may not necessarily be respected, is
social contract in developed countries is this: you follow the rules, pay
your taxes, stand in queues, fasten your seatbelt, stay on the right side
of the law. In return, the State looks after you and protects your
interests, in all areas of your life: health, transport, security,
pension, police protection, education with efficient well-run public
institutions. Quid pro quo.
social contract is embryonic and in danger of being aborted altogether.
Consider our rules in the context of our history and culture. In Trinidad
in 1970, unless you were white or “white looking” you couldn’t get a
job in a bank or top-notch firm. You had to convert cynically to
Christianity if you were Hindu or Muslim to get into a prestige school.
You realised that talent had nothing to do with getting ahead. Contacts,
colour and class did. Unless you were exceptional academically and won an
island scholarship, you had no opportunities to progress. The rest of the
country had to survive. Survive it did.
from the regular criminals, you got the genteel ones - those in public
office and in the business world who bribe and commit fraud and siphon
public funds. While their wives were filching doggie bags, they were, with
a blank Government chequebook in hand, siphoning the people’s money into
their Swiss accounts.
before in the 1960s, Government has brought in businessmen who are
ultimately “able to get the job done”. Remember Johnny O? Got the job
done all right, and a lot more besides. But who’s checking?
created a society that has no problem with the idea of opportunism in the
age of expedience, a land of no conviction, of juggling party loyalties -
anything to be on the winning side.
average citizen looks around him. He is working hard, catching his royal
to pay his mortgage, in debt, watching mounting bills. He looks around at
the men in high office with no greater talent than him, smartmen play with
their stolen spoils and thinks, well, I would do the same if I get the
opportunity, and does.
we laud the smartman our hero, our king, because he’s done what most
would like to do. Get rich fast, anyhow, anyway.
that with the African and Indian traditions, of the big man, the man of
patronage who maintains his power not just with wealth and support, but
also by his ability to grant favours.
it all together and suddenly you understand the creation of some of the
politicians amidst us. Anybody who has heard of Bhadase Maraj the
gun-toting politician, of the 1960s a dispenser of favours, will know.
haven’t learned from Bhadase Maraj and we haven’t learned from Johnny
O, and we haven’t learned that Abu Bakr is not a celebrity, and we
haven’t learned that it’s not OK to fiddle our taxes while pointing
fingers at Dhanraj Singh.
better learn about the quid pro quo. If we want Government Ministers to
stop being corrupt, if we want a well-oiled Public Service, we need to
keep our part of the bargain by becoming law-abiding citizens.
for God’s sake, let’s first give ourselves a chance by forcing the
smartmen to step down from their thrones by recognising them for who they