Challenge of attitude


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Category: Trinidad Society 26 Aug 07


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 aback.

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 “saving more.”

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 existence.”

Mopping up

The Government claims that Cepep and URP exist to help the poor and single mothers. The questions the whole population is asking are:

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 right now.”

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.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur