The menace is always present


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Category: Trinidad Politics 28 Mar 10

For long months and sometimes years, we flail about, like people in a desert, our view opaque with sandstorms. We are too close to the ground to get a bird’s-eye view of these islands. We see the menace through peepholes, newspapers, on the roads and through other people’s stories. Without looking at the day’s newspapers, I can tell how many murders took place on the previous day, the number of hearses parked outside the Forensic Science Centre on Barbados Road, which I drive past every day. The menace is always present, but we never tackle it head-on because our post-colonial legacy of government-led propaganda, and a maximum leader style democracy encourage our people to develop a schizophrenic personality of helplessness, resignation and aggression. The breakdown of the social contract has meant that we have given up our power to the Government, but have no redress when the state fails to keep its side of the bargain. We put up with our family members lying on the floor in hospitals, and interminable waiting rooms.

Abusive policemen

We put up with abusive policemen and bad drives. We put up with an education system that spews out illiterate, aggressive teenagers every year. We put up with a murder toll of 110 in less than three months. We put up with the knowledge that those living in rural areas remain the poorest, least literate, with minimum access to jobs and housing. We put up with a legal framework so sluggish that it’s easier to think of ourselves as lawless. We distract ourselves from our own lives; we thrive on gossip; we rush to the nearest spectacle, a personal lynching, a carnival, a comedy “show.” It’s a small town thing. Yet, there comes a point, and somehow, for me (no Christian) it often happens around this time of year when flames engulf the sun-dried hills that the only thing left standing is the truth.

The rumblings began with the two conferences last year, the Summit of the Americas and CHOGM, totalling close to a billion dollars. At the time the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd (Udecott) was already exposing its corrupt underbelly. The dry season threatened a drought. The days got hotter; water got scarcer. Angry villagers, their faces cracking with the heat, protested. There was talk of importing water. An unmasking of WASA is a long time coming. Too many multi-million-dollar contracts have been awarded (Remember Severn Trent? What happened there?) for us to still be saddled with rusty infrastructure carelessly cobbled together with Band-aid jobs. All this oil money and we can’t get water right.

The then Basdeo Panday-led Opposition was trapped in a web of in-fighting that precluded any representation of their abandoned supporters when the denouement began. Against all the odds, Kamla Persad-Bissessar made history, becoming the first female head of the United National Congress, the first to challenge the incumbent and the first female Opposition Leader and the first to come along after a long time, some said like a phoenix rising out of the ashes with the capability to bind all the tribal elements of this country. Heady words, but it’s been a guava season when it comes to leaders, and we need to hope again. The then former opposition leader, Panday, spontaneously revealed the current state of politics (and, perhaps, its essential nature) driven by the machinations of a cadre of sycophants and financiers hungry for power, for power’s sake.

By voting against his successor, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s move to get Government to respond to allegations against Udecott chairman Calder Hart “as a definite matter of urgent public importance” in the House of Representatives, he put the final nail in his own political coffin. Along with his acid-tongued colleague, Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath, Panday might as well have shouted from every rooftop in this country: “I don’t care about the people. I cannot think beyond my personal animosity, and I would much rather get the satisfaction of spiting one victorious opponent (who leads my party) than the good of 1.3 million unrepresented people whose treasury is being pillaged.” Mr Panday spoke his truth. And it was ugly. But there was no stopping the unravelling which, thanks to the seed planted by the good Dr Rowley came to fruition (with a great deal of effort from the media, which has functioned as an excellent watchdog).

Judge rejects requests

The news that less than 24 hours after High Court judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer rejected requests from Calder Hart’s lawyers to stop the submission of the report of the commission of enquiry, Hart resigned as chairman of Udecott and other state boards and took off to Miami. That truth is nearly out. There was more. The white elephant of NAPA also lay exposed, as it emerged that the NAPA in Port-of-Spain and its sister academy in San Fernando (at an estimated cost of TT$818 million) would need a further injection of $80 million to service the arts. On these small islands people are seeing the big picture. The two billion dollars (from the conferences and NAPA alone) should have been used to build another hospital in Tobago, and upgrade the facilities in Trinidad.

It should have been used for our crumbling infrastructure and towards sustainable job creation in various industries. And finally, the truth came in the form of the average citizen who is generally brushed aside. Retired. No longer employed. Unknown. Percy Villafana, who had the guts to refuse Prime Minister Patrick Manning entry to his home, became wildly popular, finally representing the “Everyman.” This elderly man had the courage to be the voice of truth of the people, to stand up to a prime minister and his bodyguards. On that day, I heard it was raining in Freeport. Fire and water bring their own renewal to our parched and hollowed-out islands.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur