Now that we have quietened after the
festivities and the daily grind has begun, we look away from the empty
wine bottles and the Christmas tree which gathers melancholy by the day
(as if aware of its inevitable march towards a cardboard box in a dark
room). We look towards 2015, make resolutions—we will break most of
them, but they are all a step towards feeling better about ourselves.
Then, a windshield smashed, a robbery,
another bullet riddled boy, medical malpractice which results in death,
a child’s corpse on the road, a lost job, a debt that makes us peer
anxiously at our grocery bills, and the personal becomes political. We
have no choice but to look forward, and around.
Oil prices have fallen to around $54; we
budgeted at about $80. We are not yet alarmed. Stable gas prices give us
a buffer, but hold on...this is an election year. In the past,
politicians paved roads to get elected. For two reasons: to make people
think their government was “working” for them, and the kickbacks they
got from contractors to finance the upcoming elections.
Sadly, given our relatively
unsophisticated population, we fall for the quick fixes because that’s
how we were brought up—a Band-Aid mass. A lethargic ‘massa day done’
post-colonial paradise where entertainment is the main thing. Nobody is
going to listen to a speech about the 50-year-old creaky WASA pipes (now
emitting filthy brown water) desperately in need of replacement. What
impact will a speech like this have? None. Compare a WASA news story to
that of a photo of a beaming child who has been handed a toy from
Government Santa. Now that’s something shiny.
Our country floods badly every time
there is a medium rainfall. The Government acts surprised every single
time. There has been a plan in place to control flooding since the
1960s. One government minister told me on national television within
days of the UNC election victory that soon flooding will be a thing of
the past. The photograph of the new PM in her hard hat rolling up her
sleeves for the people is iconic. Four years on, is flooding a thing of
the past? No.
Sparrow getting a cheque makes a far
better caption. I don’t begrudge him his cheque but I don’t expect the
British government, for instance, to go around giving entertainers money
which can be used for a million other worthy causes. He’s a national
icon, but he’s had plenty of opportunity to make a good living.
I would much rather that money went to
an underprivileged family towards health or education. But that PR has
paid off. I genuinely believe this Government will be re-elected.
Admittedly, they’ve done some good stuff under the welfare umbrella for
pensioners, housing and healthcare. They’ve expanded the makework
schemes. My worry is whether sustainable development is happening.
Let’s not underestimate the neediness of
the 400,000 functionally illiterate amongst us, the ones who work for
minimum wage, the ones on the run. The election machinery is targeted at
the poorest, the least literate, the most dependent and possibly the
most criminal minded. It’s been chugging away for this entire term. Many
giveaway promises were made and kept.
But what happens when the budget won’t
balance given that it was based on about $80 and the oil price has
dipped to around $54? The first thing to go is capital expenditure. I
suspect the billion-dollar highway will slow down. A WASA-type loan will
feed the dependent angry population who feel it’s beneath them to work.
This collective monster that has been created by successive regimes has
to be fed to keep quiet. But what happens when the money runs out and
the beast is unleashed? There will be a lot more enraged people out
there in a population that is already pegged as the tenth most deadly in
the world in terms of our murder rate. We are already killing one
another for being asked to turn down the music, over a traffic accident,
and even “watching somebody hard.”
The sad thing is that nobody, despite
our efforts to report the news, knows what’s going on. The Central
Statistical Office hasn’t released meaningful figures in years. What is
our actual poverty, literacy level? What diseases are killing us, and
why and where?
Where are the majority of the murders?
The lack of statistics combined with the lack of transparency has kept
us prisoners in an emotional fog. Our only outlet is entertainment. But
there is hope. The Government has done some good work in schools,
healthcare and agriculture.
The elderly and weak are protected. But
now they can look for legacy projects. They can fix the CSO, procurement
procedures, infrastructure, health and education. They can start a
nationwide campaign to encourage productivity, make our people proud to
serve, work, excel. We have some bright politicians and technocrats.
They can plan. There
is still time to do the hard work that will make us great, not today but
in five, ten, 15 years time.