Every Trini wants to go to heaven

By Raffique Shah
October 11, 2017

Raffique ShahAs I digested details of Government’s 2017-2018 Budget and monitored the furore that followed its presentation, I kept hearing “in mih head”, somewhat like calypsonian Shadow and his “Bassman from hell”, the lyrics of a song that was popular about ten years ago, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die (to get there).”

This universal truth is so applicable to our society, it’s not funny: all Trinis want to live high on the State-subsidised hog, but few are prepared to work hard to produce the wealth that might allow us to enjoy that extravagance.

The Government, indeed all politicians know that they who have held power conjured a false sense of prosperity among the populace that was premised on recklessly doling out our petro-dollars, which was always unsustainable, and which inevitably must be reined in or completely dismantled. But pursuing their narrow self-interest of winning and retaining power, they were prepared to share money to win votes, even if that led to economic ruin.

And when, as happened with this Budget, they finally summoned some fortitude to bite the bullet and mount a rescue mission that may yet prove to be too little, too late, they continue to “chinks”, as the late Lloyd Best might have said.

As for recipients of the largesse, the bulk of the population, rich and poor, who participated in the feasting, knowing all along that the freeness they enjoyed could not continue forever and ever, since they had not sacrificed to get to this half-heaven, they are now prepared to kick and scream and riot if need be to retain the suite of subsidies they see as their entitlement, whatever the state of the economy.

Watching the charades command prime-time television, especially the headlines-stealing side-shows—who is mad and what is sterile, illegal casinos taking centre-stage, learning that this country actually allows the importation of foreign-used tyres, hearing that even our fishes are preparing to flee our waters in protest against the increase in the price of diesel—I could not help but conclude that this nation is simultaneously mad and sterile.

I cannot believe that the population does not see the stupidity in having across-the-board fuel subsidies that cost as much as $6 billion a year, with Jaguars and Range Rovers pulling up at the pumps alongside Lancers and Datsuns, their drivers shouting, “Fill ‘er up!” Equal opportunities, unequal pockets.

Billions of subsidy-dollars frittered away on water and electricity, on the inter-island air and sea bridges, enjoyed equally by millionaires and paupers, and everybody’s happy. Free education for all, from nursery to tertiary. Free health care, however dysfunctional the system and service. Hell, free medications for all.

Why should the wealthy or the upper-middle class decline the generosity of the government in the only country in the world, that offers hefty taxpayer-dollars support to them? They don’t need it. They didn’t ask for it. But our not-so-smart government, over many years, offered free or heavily-subsidised rides…well, thank you very much, sir or madam!

What bother me are not the expressions of outrage by the masses: they have been politically conditioned to expect the freeness in exchange for supporting Bim and Bam. It is the righteous indignation of supposedly intelligent people, their demand that the subsidies stay.

Look, I understand poverty: I was born into it and I’ve spent most of my life living among the poor and advocating on their behalf. So no one has to tell me about their living conditions, that they need State support to survive. But I have shown that most of the State funds allocated to alleviate poverty through subsidies end up further enriching the well-to-do and the wealthy.

Government could save $10 billion a year, maybe more, by removing them and by focussing directly on the needy. I assume by now the ministry or agencies responsible for social mitigation programmes have comprehensive databases on the destitute.

They should be categorised by (a) the able-bodied who are jobless, and who will receive support until they find employment (or be kicked out if they are plain lazy); (b) others who are in persistent poverty because of poor choices (illiteracy, many children); and (c) the aged and infirm who cannot help themselves, and who will need State support until they die.

If there are 200,000 such persons, and they are each given $1,000 a month via a “smart card” that will also enable them to access free public transport and medical attention, that will cost the Exchequer $2.4 billion a year-a massive reduction from $10 billion.

In the above scenarios, I have not factored in URP and CEPEP that cost $1 billion a year for approximately 25,000 unproductive persons, or non-essential State enterprises that perennially lose money, which should be sold or shut down. I haven’t mentioned corruption that must cost another few billions.

We can re-create heaven in this hell-of-a-country…but that calls for serious sacrifices by all. Who knows? We may not need to die to get there—just work hard. And “hard-wuk” never killed anybody.

6 thoughts on “Every Trini wants to go to heaven”

  1. The inter island air and sea bridges are massive drains on the budget. They are maintained by governments to buy the support of Tobago voters mainly. The excessive Tobago budget allocation from year to year serves the same political goal. Compared to other state corporations in T&T, Tobago is overfunded.
    I do agree that subsidies should end since the glory days of high oil and gas prices will never return, in spite of wishful thinking by all segments of the population. People must adjust to realities.
    The artificial propping up of the T&T dollar is also detrimental to the economy and provides a false sense of currency security. Let the dollar float to its true international value, reducing the foreign spending craze.
    The excessive taxing of casinos is going to lead to more unemployment. Regardless of your moral outlook regarding gaming, these businesses exist and unreasonable and excessive taxation will have negative consequences.
    The present tax laws in T&T are more than adequate. The problem is that the government fails to collect all that is due to the people of T&T, because of corruption by taxpayers and tax collectors, tax evasion and other illegal practices to avoid paying. It is not necessary to increase taxes in so many areas, just collect the taxes within the present laws and at the existing rates.
    There has not been a single jurisdiction where any government in any country has taxed its way out of a recession.Imbert’s budget is attempting to do exactly that. The proposed deficit is still within a reasonable range but the budget offers no concrete plans for future diversification, without which we dog’s dead.

  2. Also, privatise all state corporations and entities by selling them off at current market value to foreign buyers. Local entrepreneurs have proven to be incompetent and corrupt.

    1. I agree. Privatization of state corporations will ultimately make them run more efficiently since the directors and management of state Companies are there with appointed Bagmen who don’t strive for making profits but depending on the Govt to bail them out and the taxpayers to pay the pipe. Oil companies should never be run by Govt as all first world countries have learn decades ago but the third world countries believe they are helping the common man and call it nationalization which is call raiding the public purse

  3. “This universal truth is so applicable to our society, it’s not funny: all Trinis want to live high on the State-subsidised hog, but few are prepared to work hard to produce the wealth that might allow us to enjoy that extravagance”—Shah

    The purpose of government is to bring the “good life” to the citizenry. Today citizens are being ask to bring the good life to the government and their friends. TV6 did an investigation and found government & Opposition along with some government employees imported expensive cars and did not have to pay $25 million in taxes. Those taxes are now being required by citizens. So the putrid behaviour of the condescending Minister of Finance as he grindingly increase taxes, whilst living a high end tax free life does not do well for future governance. Why? Because he quickly becomes alienated from reality. Such is the mental disonances of the bourgouise class in TNT.

    It is surprising the PNM government has not done anything to end the money devouring Petrotrin. Reports just sit on shelves untouched and not executed. This practice is found throughout the modus operandi of government. Currently Petrotrin has 5000 unionized workers making over a billion dollars. Marla the economist ask the Minister of Finance if Petrotrin is a net earner or drain on the treasury, to that the short man responded with a grin, then a smirk.

    Whilst government ministers and friends enjoys the perks of office. The small man is left to paddle his dingy in the tax shark infested ocean. If he defaults on payments, do not have money to live,falling into the tax shark infested waters, his short life meets an abrupt end. But the song and dance and demands are mainly to feed a savage and misguided beaurocracy. A bloated endemic and marasme government is dangerous for all.

  4. “CEPEP that cost $1 billion a year for approximately 25,000 unproductive persons, or non-essential State enterprises that perennially lose money, which should be sold or shut down. I haven’t mentioned corruption that must cost another few billions.”

    An economy is not driven by the rich. The rich accumulate wealth put it in a bank or in real estate and grow their nest egg. Some open businesses, pay the lowest income and live the lavish lifestyle.

    An economy is driven by the middle class and the lower class. The majority of businesses are small businesses. They are the engine of the nation. CEPEP and URP employees quickly “plow” back their earnings into economy by purchasing goods and services. That money help to ensure that small businesses remain. Mr. Shah do you really believe that a rich man is going to buy a case of soft drink at the local shop? More that likely he will go to a whole saler and purchase 10 cases at the lowest price using his business privilege.

    The government have to first cut its expenditure, something this government refuses to do! Instead they are looking to disable the small man by imposing taxes that goes to pay the wages of lazy government employees. There is something call “a fair taxation” system. It is tax that is necessary for health, roads, bridges etc. This government is not working for the small man, they are working for themselves!

  5. All over the World, folks pay TAXES, People in Trinidad and Tobago. is in a Welfare State of mind. Gimmi this–Gimmi that. I have to have that–How Lucky. No one want to share the Burden. Think , Greedy people.— No big Disasters, to be burden with. Come Carnival time, most folks can buy Costumes at mad prices, and they get that money, without walking the street with PLACARDS–SHOUTING. On their Tables at holiday times, Best high end Drinks, no matter the price.They shop for the best food that man can buy. Sure, one have to treat themselves.BUT. Your Country have to run on sound fiscal restrains. Think that is Not so,—-Then YOU get involve and HELP.You Folks know that word—HELP—With CRIME/Garbage–beautifying your surroundings—Controlling your Children behavior,/Paying your fair share. business pooing up all over the place, half not paying Taxes, Even folks from other Countries playing their trades Bold face around the Country. LARGE houses been erecting , where are the Taxes, to Clean your Roads. –Pave your Roads Give you Water, to pay your civil servants–Ect, Ect, Ect,–Folk,-Go to other Countries.with lots More resources then T&T–You pay through your Nose, and cannot say—BOO.—Ever wonder??

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