Greed for greed's sake

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 24 May 04

 

The respite came with the unexpectedly mild hot season, wispy rain, muted skies watering still green hills. We began, yet again to let down our guard somewhat. Children were walking easy on the streets again, without worried exhortations by parents to take care, people were stopping to give strangers lifts, that shifty vigilant look was giving way to lassitude, in cars in homes.

 

After being parched for some kind of stability, perhaps we gave way a little too easily to the first sign of rain.

 

Brian Lara makes us jump with joy sets a new world record, Nelson Mandela visits humbles us, doubling our resolve to lead nobler lives, to sift out cynicism, from our bitterest experiences.

 

Imperceptibly the horror returns, a poisonous gas permeating our world, seeping into our homes, children are felled, butchered by drivers on un-policed highways who behave, as one foreigner put it if they were six year olds gone wild in a theme park, a policeman commits suicide, a businessman's wife is shot point blank by her gate. Police suspect foul play, a contract killing.

 

Death is always the enemy - never welcome. But when its noxious fumes are absorbed by everyday life, it freezes the present with fear, destroys the future with its futility.

 

The kidnappings return. It jumps off the thermostat with when an MP's son is kidnapped. A five million dollar ransom is demanded. A charred gutted car is found with ominous speed. The next day the son is found, a gentle faced engineer, a married man, brutally murdered at 30 at the hands of bungling kidnappers.

 

The fumes of uncertainty join those of death. MPs feel under threat. Muslims feel under siege. East Indian businessmen feel targeted, raw exposed. Looking over your shoulder, hiring armed guards, locking your children in behind bars is no way to live a life, but now it's the only life they know. It gets uglier.

 

The reek of corruption in public office shoots more toxins to the pall of gray about us. The arrests and million-dollar bail of public figures, former ministers of government, business tycoons, who are held up as pillars of our society are hauled in full view of the nation like common criminals to court.

 

If there is truth to these allegations they have been caught with their pants down, their fingers in the pie belonging to the people of this country.

 

The allegations remind us again that we live in the age of the "smart man" Just as men who have calmly pumped bullets into human heads and bodies are respected in certain communities, the 'smart man' has slyly entered our nations psyche to become the face of success.

 

They are the men who make it, big themselves up, not with hard work, not the sweat of their brow, but because they are able to wheel and deal, in their impeccable Savile Row or Armani suits. Their designer colognes mingling headily to block out the stink and outsmart the system.

 

And if we are speaking about the age of the "smart man"; why restrict ourselves in the context of this alleged corruption? Why not speak of the "smart man" who is sitting there reading this, thanking God he hasn't been caught. Because there are many of you amongst us. Perhaps you haven't left a paper trail, or maybe it was so long ago, people have forgotten, but you have still blazed the trail for those who are standing red-faced in the public gallery now. Or maybe you've got your hand in the public honey pot as you read, confident that you will not be caught.

 

We are relieved for the people’s sake that this enquiry took place. But we want more. We would like it to be spread over 20, 30 years to the present moment to find out the full scale of damage to the public coffers. Lets be fair here. Lets not stop at scapegoats. Lets not make it a politically motivated witch-hunt. Lets keep the momentum going and dig clear the air of all the smart men we can.

 

Hot air rises and the stench is the strongest the higher you go. The men who quietly transfer public funds into their own credit cards by the millions are the original role models for boys on the block who argue with their mothers that it is easier to make a couple of grand a week selling drugs than working for minimum wages for long hours as a cashier in a grocery.

 

You can, if you do a profile of one of these gun toting kids, come up with some reason for their cold blooded criminality - poverty, the absence of a father figure maybe, victims of a school system that churns out illiterates.

 

But what excuse do men of means have? Most of them have degrees, are brought up in homes where traditional family values are pounded into them, of serving your elders, taking care of the vulnerable in the home, saving for a rainy day, working hard. They have what most people aspire to in their lifetime, luxurious trips and homes abroad, private schools for their children, fat bank accounts that could get them almost anything money can buy.

 

They are old enough to have seen their parents use humility sacrifice and hard work to reap success.

 

So why this greed for greed's sake?

 

Corruption in public office, embezzlement, strikes at the heart of communities, of families.

 

Don't they know, these smart men that they are being watched perpetually, warily, enviously, by businessmen who risk their lives by opening their doors 24 hours a day, by young struggling professionals who no longer know what ethical codes to live by, by the resentful poor who step back when they drive by with their posh cars.

 

Don't they know they are partly responsible for a shift in values away from education, and hard work, to quick underhand fixes that invariably leave somebody badly damaged.

 

Didn't they realise that their wheeling and dealing was emitting poisonous gasses destroying the heart of the society they lived in and drove by everyday? That in some way their actions would keep the people in Sea Lots and Beetham half naked and hollowed eyed without hope. That the millions collected in foreign accounts directly correlates with the high level of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty (more than 40 per cent, that's more than 400,000 people living below the poverty line), with the ignorance on HIV/Aids we have here. Those little nest eggs in private banks abroad should be working to save an entire people in this tiny developing nation.

 

Yet we live and breathe here, albeit with our handkerchiefs to our mouths. That is because despite it all we do get some oxygen into us.

 

A few months ago at a Muslim wedding, witnessing a close knit family gather together and repeatedly speak of the values of education, hard work, honesty, saving, of giving back to the community; I had a shot of that oxygen.

 

Yesterday at the bank speaking to a single father whose son had gained a scholarship to attend a university of his choice, hearing his father say that he sacrificed many nights of liming, many relationship possibilities to stay in so his son could study in a secure environment.

 

These are the antidotes to the noxious fumes pervading our little island these days.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur