Welfare state with no returns


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 17 Oct 04


I was sitting amidst the residual breakfast clutter, the suited businessmen, the television cameras, at the T&T Chamber of Commerce in Westmoorings last week where expert financial panellists were presenting the private sectorís response to the 2005 Budget.


Disturbing images intruded.


As the panellists took their place at the head table I wondered what this meeting had to do with the 400,000 people who live below the poverty line, or the impoverished and forgotten children in Couva whoíve never seen a toothbrush in their lives unaware they live five minutes away from the biggest methanol plant in the world.


Might not this heady matrix of power, position and wealth, this cozy conglomeration of politics and business prove to be a little too entwined and self seeking, and preclude the interests of the general good?


The answer came soon enough. In his opening remarks the president of the Chamber, Christian Mouttet, was asking for accountability from the Government, (well represented here, by Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Mr Conrad Enill) reading the now embarrassingly long undelivered shopping list of measures promised in last yearís budget to combat crime.


I was thinking about the woman who was held up just next door at the West Mall Car Park, in broad daylight.


The young woman was putting her baby in her car when she felt a gun on her back and heard a manís voice telling her to do as she was told. She was ordered to drive into the nearest ATM machine to withdraw a specified sum of money.


There is savagery out there. Desperate acts by people who feel they have nothing to lose.


The private sectorís overriding interest may be to make money but they understand that the wolves of illiteracy, unemployment, disease and poverty are at their doorsteps too, and will swallow them with everyone else.


While Mouttet was saying that itís wonderful that Government has built more schools, but it is more important to ensure that systems are put into place so children emerge literate from them.


While speculating on whether the low unemployment figures included make-work programmes, William Lucie Smith was joking about Hype and other such programmes, saying that according to the dictionary Hype is just thatóa lot of activity without substance. He was expressing widespread anxiety that Government is creating a welfare state of dependency, handouts with no returns.


Then there was Ronald Ramkissoon of Republic Bank stating the obvious. That for the past decade our economy has grown by four per cent because oil has a life of its own, no credit to politicians or budgets. He suggested that we have not used our oil money to develop our non-oil sectors, which remain stagnant; that we have simply spent it with the prospect of spending more again. No returns.


And you just have to think of the collapsing health care, the illiterate, the increasing poverty, the escalating murder figures to believe him.


The ďbuzzĒ word, as one panellist put it was ďsustainability.Ē Thatís what the private sector wants, thatís what this country needs. A market economy that would thrive with literacy, education, skills. Thatís what we donít have.


If I hadnít heard it with my own ears I never would have believed it. Mr Enill, without actually mentioning them, blamed everything on the inefficiency of public servants. There was no point he said, in pouring money into health, education, or anything else if the systems didnít work. Neither he nor his colleagues could discipline them or motivate them, he complained. He wanted to deliver and so did all the other ministers but their hands were tied.


With tied hands, they throw money, helter skelter, at the wolves, but for how long will that keep them at bay?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur