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Category: Trinidad Society 30 Jan 11

Dear Minister Housing and the Environment, Dr Roodal Moonilal: I am becoming an obsessive compulsive letter writer. Although I am a woman and a journalist, when I look at a homeless old man on the street, looking bewildered as an enormous ministerial car with tinted glass roars past, splashing water on his face, or an employee at the industrial estate walking on a dirt track at night by the light of an industrial flare piteously weeping on the way home because he has cancer, a sense of powerlessness overpowers me, and I feel like they do, forgotten, invisible, wretched. Last week after my letter to your colleague Dr Tim Gopeesingh, (conveying shocking statistics given to me by Paula Lucie Smith, the founder of the only adult literacy programme in T&T, of the 500,000 illiterate people who inhabit our islands, explaining the brutality on the roads, homes, swollen bellies of teenage girls, sour face of our services) pleading with him to call her, a good corporate citizen pledged funds to Alta. I have assured Paula that Dr Gopeesingh will be very open to hearing from her. He delivers babies, after all. He’s a meticulous man who cares about lives. He told me recently that he “hasn’t lost one yet,” meaning a baby.


 If, Dr Tim as he is affectionately known by the people, brings this systemic care to the 4,000 “missing” students, hooks up with Alta and restores the light of knowledge to hundreds of thousands of our people, can you imagine the transformation to our nation? We can join Barbados and say “Hey, we, too, can be first world.” “We, too, have low crime; we, too, pride ourselves on our high literacy from which flows world-class services, and good healthcare. We, too, are law-abiding. Like you, we recycle 75 per cent of our waste. You can feel safe here, too. The potential murderers are now artisans, men with vocational skills, professional people.” You will say that’s not your area. Ah, but it is, Dr Moonilal. The way we treat the environment impacts on your job. If more of us are educated, more will be self-reliant and it will make your job as housing minister easier. When the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan (then a fellow columnist) asked me why I didn’t write about politics I couldn’t say why. Now I can. Because when we, the people, get our kicks from watching or creating soap operas to escape from the squalor of the real world we distract you from doing your work. Our people who love a spectacle, sabotage ourselves, expressing a thousand opinions over a “missing piano” or the appointment and resignation of an individual. Gluttonously, like a blood sport, we go for the jugular for personalities, Manning, Ramlogan, Reshmi enjoy it like a commercial break, only to return to our sad lives, finding relief in the next distraction Carnival is next.


We, the people, forget about the guns held to their heads, the dreary hours waiting in hospitals where the sick emerge sicker is not unexpected. We forget the toxic dumps that poison our air, water and food; we forget the remote rural communities where children have never of a sugar and agricultural industry drink and rape their daughters; We forget the urban hotbeds of illiterate boys with guns, the lawless roads where drivers navigate vehicles like weapons butchering themselves and innocent people. The people forget that we need to check out if the hazardous emissions from the Point Lisas estate are making us sick because there is no law to monitor it. We forget that due to our high illiteracy of over 500,000 people we have among the highest rates of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, heart disease, cancer in the world due to our lifestyles. We, the people, distract you, the politicians from doing proper work. We always take the eye off the ball. We sabotage ourselves. We sabotage you. Then we complain. I know, it’s unfair. We don’t begrudge you your perks because your workload is heavy. You are responsible for the well-being of over a million of us. The first-class trips, the flying past traffic lights, the private nursing homes, the fact that you are exempt from the very ills you are required to fix for us.


If you had stayed at the Environmental conference (where you heartened us by opening up the green fund, and promised a beverage bill by the end of this parliamentary term) you would have been warmed by the people who voted for you. You would have met the citizens who escaped our rubbish education system through sheer talent, brilliance or luck and will help this county rise. I moderated a session on waste management. I don’t think I am being maudlin when I was moved to tears at the sight of your people. Professors, engineers, students, business people, young, old, rich, struggling—all passionate about their country—articulate, hardworking, intelligent, one by one, they came to the mike, and I prayed as each of them spoke that their voices would one day be heard by a man like you who can affect change. “Where are the representatives of industry in Point Lisas?” they cried, “Why are we among the most polluted small island states in the world?” “When will EMA return the CEC controls on the quarries expediently removed under the PNM for big business? When will we recycle the 50 million bottles in our dumps (not landfills) every month. When will legislation force polluters from industry to reveal their waste discharges? The people who care about the environment, Minister, care about everything else—education, health, the elderly, the poor, the illiterate. You have so much power to give a voice to our masses of shambling, lost, vulnerable people. Don’t get sidetracked by the mob who wants a show, a lynching, a mob mentality. Perhaps when next you drive by one of your wretched people in your ministerial car—a hustling child who should be in school, a tired-looking woman waiting for a taxi after a long day waiting to go home to her neglected children—think of how your power can transform their lives.

Yours sincerely,

Ira Mathur


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