Poorer from oil wealth

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 20 May 07

 

The one thing that struck me about seven of the boy/men who were held for Vindra Naipaul-Coolman’s killing is how easily, if you saw them on the street, you could mistake them for the faces of the future.

 

There was potential on face after face: Joel Fraser, with his lively likeable features could be a marine biologist; Keidan Garcia, with broody and compelling, deep-set eyes, an intellectual; Antonio Charles, a technology type; Joey Lewis, the irresistible bad boy with clever eyes, could be an investment banker, Akiel Gloster, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, belongs in Hollywood; Shevon Peters, an academic; and Marlon Tremmingham, chiselled like a model.

 

These boys can’t be responsible for the kidnapping/murder that’s been on all our minds.

 

At some point, the dots that you try to connect in the dark while waiting to fall asleep don’t connect. They bounce about.

 

You start off with one dot. This is a rich country. Oil-lucky rich. So rich that we are constructing a $500-million stadium.

 

So flush that the Prime Minister is building a mansion for a projected $148 million. So rich we are practically a First World country.

 

Except that the dots don’t connect.

 

Except that over 350,000 (and rising) of our people in a country with a population of a little more than a million (people are leaving) now live below the poverty line.

 

Oil wealth is making us poorer.

 

These government essentials—the stadium, the prime minister’s mansion, higher salaries for ministers and multi-million-dollar make-work schemes that keep illiterate and unskilled people quiet and voter-ready—have created so much inflation that the poor are finding their dollar buys them less and less.

 

Paint stones

 

Instead of investing in agriculture, the Government imports foods. Spends more.

 

We knew the situation had got out of hand last week when Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams openly rang alarm bells and warned his employers that the Government spending was “driving” inflation.

 

The business people, the engine room of this economy, have shown they will take a lot. They live in fear of crime, but continue to produce and provide jobs, but when you mess with the dollar and labour they are out.

 

Vocational institutions remain under-subscribed. There is free tertiary education, but we are no longer conditioned to work or study.

 

Fish are being thrown at people. Nobody is being taught to fish.

 

The President himself, Max Richards, who is expected to remain a quiet figurehead, jangled bells as loud as he decently could without making it look as if he were criticising the Government.

 

Why, he asked, weren’t we spending more on education? On developing a sustainable people, and non-oil sector, so we can be self-sufficient when the years of plenty dry up.

 

That allowed us to connect one more dot. About 400,000 of us are functionally illiterate, products of an education system that carelessly shoves people up and out of schools barely able to read and write.

 

Now, connect these handsome bright faces to savagery. They are products of a system where between 300,000 and 400,000 people are poor, uneducated, untrained and expect handouts.

 

When someone comes along and says: “Here’s another handout, instead of painting stones in the hot sun for a little bit of money, you get a lot.

 

You may have to kill, but you get to sit in the shade.” They say “OK. Why not? Nothing else here for us.”

 

The dots connect. Oil burns potential, creates brutes.  

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur