Minister Ken Valley was on
television recently, conversing on the impact of the Ryder Scott report,
which he dismissed, saying it was nothing new.
But when Trinidad and Tobago was compared
unfavourably with Barbados’ huge success with tourism, Valley’s response to
the effect that “necessity is the mother of invention” (implying he hoped
the report would jolt us to imitate the Bajan work ethic), I was taken
At the cusp of an election and a budget the
Minister of Industry and Trade was actually (albeit mildly) exhorting the
population to help itself.
One week before the budget presentation, both
the Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Finance, and Minister in the
Ministry Conrad Enill were announcing at a public forum that Cepep workers
were to get a raise to shouts of approval from his potential voters.
The Prime Minister added (albeit mildly), that
there was a training element in the programmes implying (perhaps) this was
not a signal that it was “freeness” time.
Recently, Enill, even as he stoutly defended,
condoned and justified increased Cepep and URP spending, said it was not the
Government’s job to “change the public.” He also admitted “from where I sit,
the biggest challenge that we face is the challenge of attitude.”
He also admitted that the Government could be
And although one would have thought that the
trade union leader Vincent Cabrera of Natuc would be thrilled over the wage
hikes in Cepep and URP, he was not.
Cabrera criticised the move, saying the
Government was now both employer and trade union, “When you begin to give
increases you are actually telling them to depend on you for their
The Government claims that Cepep and URP exist
to help the poor and single mothers. The questions the whole population is
Why, in the midst of one of our biggest oil
booms, don’t you help the poorest to help themselves? Why don’t you forget
the “make-work” programmes entirely and turn them into skills creation
workshops so the poor can become employable in a sustainable way by the
private and public sectors?
Why are you mopping up the labour desperately
required in both sectors to boost productivity?
Dr Rolph Balgobin reminded Mr Enill in a
business forum that there is “a lot of hostility in the society” and that “a
quarrel in a bar could turn into a murderous situation.” He noted that
wealth creation was the “work of a lifetime,” but “many people wanted it
Dr Balgobin, deferring to Enill perhaps, said
it’s “unfair” for a budget to deal with “attitudes.” That he said was the
job of the family and the home.
But what if the home is run by a single parent
who has access to an easy Cepep wage? Will that single parent be inclined to
learn a new skill? Will that parent pass on the value of working and
studying towards a goal, be it a job or a degree that will make the entire
family independent contributing members of society?
The signs of irreparable damage by
government-instituted “attitude” are all there: A spiralling murder rate,
protesting workers, spending inflating food prices, rising illiteracy, a
crumbling infrastructure (utilities, roads, customs).
Still there is room for cautious optimism to
see that finally, the Government, even in the zenith of its oil-fuelled,
booming euphoria, realise (albeit mildly) that the spending fete will end.
A general election may be too huge a price
to pay for the irreparable damage that populist policies create in the
“attitude” of our people.