Some people took offence at my blanket statement about party supporters
being “sycophantic and illiterate” in last week’s column. I apologise
for that blanket statement to the people of this country. I want to put
the statement in context, something I failed to do last week. Let’s do
Illiteracy is widespread in a small oil-rich economy. According to Alta
(the Adult Literacy Tutors Association) that teaches in 52 locations
countrywide, some 500,000 of us may be functionally illiterate. That’s
almost half of our population.
Take this section of the population, add them to the school dropouts and
the numbers get higher. What is almost half our population qualified to
do? Most of them are qualified to wait, perhaps do a trade, or join a
make-work gang to survive.
It’s chilling to think how little else they can do but wait, helplessly,
or angrily, to be placated by the parent state (which provides
employment, or buys goods and services from over 70 per cent of our
This cannot be sustained in a country that already has the tenth highest
murder rate globally. What will happen when the money runs out? But let
us not say we were not warned. Former independent senator and past
president of the Law Association of T&T Martin Daly, attorney, recently
wrote: “At the moment, the current Government is promising to continue
unrestrained expenditure on social programmes for which dollars and
cents accountability is weak and difficult to trace through the myriad
agencies that spend the money.
“Not surprisingly the Opposition can only hint at the need for financial
responsibility because Trini lifestyle assumes that good times will
always roll. Lack of serious concern for the future is a normal feature
of our general elections. However serious commentators on the economy
have detailed the downturn in oil and gas revenues and the use of
capital to sustain the good times. We have a Carnival costume economy,
that is, spend plenty cash on declining material.”
Now, take our tribal, winnertakes-all Westminster system, which lacks
checks and balances (such as an enforced procurement legislation which
could mean that up to 20 billion dollars or ten-12 per cent of our GDP
is going down the drain).
What do you create? Sycophancy and corruption. The recent reports of how
easily money was allegedly siphoned off the State in the Life Sport
programme, headed by the former minister Anil Roberts, is an example.
When a people depend on the State or party to provide them with an
income, it means that we are disenfranchised. It’s like telling a grown
son or daughter who lives at home, is fed, clothed, housed, and
financially dependent on the parent, okay, now go and be loyal to
another family or, be independent. Too late. The child is already
crippled by dependency. Our politics has made the State our parents.
Those of us who follow blindly, who, without studying a manifesto,
(blithely unaware of the role of the State to provide sustainable
development (jobs), security, education, health, housing, strong
institutions) go in busloads to support various leaders dressed in
yellow or black, are waving a flag as if to a parent ‘look at me, I
showed up, I'm a good boy or girl. Now, will you support me? That is,
give me a little money, or contract nah.'
I don’t know what kind of politics that creates. I know for sure it
doesn’t create a strong, independent population that can lobby for, and
legitimately ask for an account of every penny of their tax dollars. The
State creates up to 70 per cent employment in this Trinidad. That figure
is higher for Tobago. That’s why I referred to supporters who have not
had a chance to study various manifestos or the track record of
political nominees as sycophantic. They are compelled, thrust into this
position as they have no other choice if they want to survive. So they
are rounded up, hoarded like sheep in buses to show support, to make up
the numbers for the photographers. The not so subliminal message is
'come, be part of the winning side.'
That brings me to, as I see it, some points of hope in T&T. The first is
civil society. Someone once said we have among the highest number of
NGOs worldwide. I have seen their work first-hand. They help children in
remote areas, neglected teens in hotspot urban areas, with autistic
children, with battered women, with the disabled. The list goes on and
on. We all suspect they are doing the work that the State should be
The second is the middle class. Gate, free tertiary education is the
best thing that the State has done for this country. This means that
despite the high numbers of functional illiteracy, substantial pockets
of professionals, lawyers, economists, doctors, accountants are
qualifying each year. Businessmen are doing well.
The alleged ‘box drain’ contracts awarded by governments which cut up a
large contract into many small bits has allowed cash to filter down and
spread. A reasonably strong middle class is the backbone of our society
and it seems to be holding up, for now.
The third point of hope is that as Timothy Hamel-Smith said, “Young
people are moving away from racebased politics. The two bases are
shrinking. The middle is growing. Political parties have to be alive to
society. If they see the base in the middle growing they have to
Whatever the outcome of the September 7
election, we know for sure that a large section of the population will
feel disenfranchised. That’s why the first task of the new government
must be constitutional reform.