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Category: Reflections 27 Jul 14


This week, amidst the horror of reports of the spate of child abuse in this country, I have decided to defer part two of the article on Sarah Beckett, the British-born artist in Trinidad.

Perplexed foreigners say our politicians rarely participate in any developmental project unless it’s linked with a PR event which allows them to dress up for a photo opportunity.

Now, apart from the daily fare of bullet-riddled youth, something else grabs our attention. We are turning against our children. The headlines of the last few days say four-year-olds, seven-year-olds have been raped; that there are reports of abuse at the St Michael’s School for Boys; that mothers are lashing at their children with shovels and threats to kill them.

Our primitive, lazy response is a call for blood: Hang them high. Hang them all. Our policemen— with their increasingly military armour—are beginning to look like killers in computer games. But do those big guns prevent abuse, prevent violence, or do they aggrandise it? We look fearfully at these men in combat gear who, in ignorance of their role as peacekeepers, revel in their costume and power to intimidate.

But what is the solution? Sadly, the solution requires sustainable work, behind-the-scenes work, which is something for which we are not built.

We love First World ideas—hospitals that are like hotels; special schools that encourage critical thinking; teachers’ colleges; music literacy schools; monuments to great statesmen; Nobel prizes for science and literature; a literacy-, art- and reading-based culture; hallowed libraries of great universities; cobbled streets of beautifully laid out cities with flowers on lanterns; degrees in social services; the joy of quick service at a coffee shop; the aesthetics of heritage buildings; the convenience of Internet grocery shopping; the freedom of feeling relatively safe walking downtown in a city.

We love all that. We even adore Obama’s forward thinking on issues such as global warming and gay marriage. We love Michelle O for encouraging America to be healthier. We love that GPs in the UK have to do compulsory ongoing education; that their performance review is based on prevention of disease rather than expensive cures. We love all that, and talk about it like it’s the man on the moon.

What do we have here? Fear; murder; rat-infested hospitals; 400,000 functionally illiterate people; 40-year-old rusty WASA pipes which will only be changed when they disintegrate and flood our cities. We are the third-fattest country in the world. We have one of the highest rates of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

We’re an entire culture based on evading hard work—three generations of variations of the menacingly- led Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme. We have Carnival.

We’re among the most polluted in the world on a flammable, unregulated oil-and-gas industrial estate. We’re tumbling down the transparency index. And generally, we offer sour, pedantic, slow service, be it in coffee shop, bank or licensing office.

Some people say they wish it were Carnival all year round. Well, guess what? It is. We are a country that’s always on show. Our outer layers are tinsel that falls apart when we go home. Without our glitter and shields, we are sad, egotistical, naked leaders who don’t like to look at ourselves.

There is a reason for this. Sustainable development in this country is as dirty an expression as “f--- off.” It’s boring. When development-funding organisations say: “Look, you need to create a degree in social services at UWI; you need to identify 500 families who will be willing to take in children from institutions and give them a financial incentive to do so. You need to de-institutionalise, rather than box in, children who have been orphaned, abandoned, abused, or whose parents are in jail. You need to rehabilitate them and integrate them into society as productive civic citizens”—that’s another f--- word.

We need to give financial incentives to unemployed single mothers to send their children to school, and to social workers to protect and nurture our children.

Who has time for that? There is no PR value on it. No need to dress up. There are all kinds of dress-up. There is PR dress-up and there is police-and-machine-gun dress-up. We are waiting to explode like a dumb computer game. Why money for Soca Warriors now? Dress up. PR. Why more money for soca and chutney stars every year? Dress up. PR.

Why statues of calypsonians and not a single one dedicated to a statesman, or a man of letters? Dress up. PR. Playing not just to the gallery, but to the lowest common denominator, has weakened our developmental muscles.

All we can manage to do is dress up and allow the cameras in to mask the rising stench of sloppy, lazy, hubris-filled, corrupt self-aggrandisement based governance. Meanwhile, some child is being abused quietly somewhere, everywhere.

It is said the mark of a truly civilised society is demonstrated by how we treat our most vulnerable.

We have turned ourselves into some kind of perpetual show of Minshall’s Carnival of Danse Macabre.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur