Caring too much about image

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, April 26th 2009

Fifth Summit of the AmericasPRIME Minister Patrick Manning seems surprised that so many people are angry over this country hosting the Fifth Summit of the Americas. I wrote a few weeks ago that having committed the country to the summit when he did, he no doubt thought that we could afford that $500 million or whatever the real cost was.

He must have felt, too, that just having all hemispheric Heads of Government here would boost his image as a the premier Caribbean leader. I do not dispute his reasoning that the country would benefit from world recognition, only because it was billed as the battleground between Presidents Obama and Chavez.

But the comparatively limited resources spent on our world-class athletes at events like the Olympic Games, the football World Cup final and other events that attract billions of sports fans via media coverage, yield far more on a per-dollar basis than the summit did. So while these young, talented Trinis earn their places centre-stage, and promote the country by wearing and waving the national colours, the PM probably feels personally cheated.

Still, the summit did not thrust him onto the global stage. I don’t recall the PM being interviewed on the world’s most popular television stations or in the most widely read newspapers and magazines. If anything, internet “bloggers” were hard at work lampooning him. But global image aside, in what way did the country benefit from the summit? Did we strike some lucrative bi-lateral or multi-lateral trade deals that would open new markets for our goods and services? Were we able to source cheaper food from the big producing countries in Central and South America?

The PM may argue that the Declaration of Port of Spain contains many such possibilities. He would point “summit detractors” to items like: “We therefore renew our commitment to all the peoples of the Americas to improve the quality of their lives by strengthening inter-American cooperation…” Or this: “…deep inequalities continue to exist in our countries and in our region… we will continue to develop and implement social protection and inclusion policies and programmes that give priority to those living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability in our societies… we will continue to promote access to education, health, nutrition, energy, basic social services and to opportunities for dignified and decent work”.

Haven’t we seen similar declarations many times before that invariably yielded nothing for the people their leaders seem so concerned about?

Most Trinis are angry over the way the Government was eager to splurge on the summit, but remains stingy when it comes to dealing with our everyday problems. Outside of the various “zones” from which the natives were debarred, and even inside them, problems that can be easily dealt with are ignored by the PM and his ministers. In my district, for example, there are a few pot-holed parts of the Southern Main Road that can be restored in a few hours. Instead, they are allowed to further deteriorate, and compound commuters’ and motorists’ woes.

Crime continues to stalk us in just about every part of the country. Now the PM has appointed a Canadian brigadier who, he assures the nation, will devise a new anti-crime plan! Instead of adding 2,000 or more policemen to the woefully under-staffed Service, we pay yet another foreigner to tell us what? Growing old in this country seems to be a sin: pensioners literally starve, no doubt praying to die in order to escape their horrible winter years. These are the people who helped build their country, but who will never see the PM’s Waterfront Wonderland from the outside, far less enjoy the inside.

While the Waterfront glitters, many schools are in shameful condition, hospitals deteriorate, vagrancy persists: I can go on and on, but to what end? Instead of addressing these problems that will cost less than the summit did-well, maybe more-the PM and his colleagues seem to care more about their images than the plight of their people. That is why so many people are angry and disappointed and have given up on seeing this country evolve into the paradise for which it has the potential.

I am not suggesting that the Manning Government has done nothing to uplift the country, as opposition parties and perennial naysayers would want us believe. I often wonder if these people did not benefit from education opportunities opened up by the PNM under Dr Williams, which successive governments have expanded and improved upon. While some districts remain mired in conditions that are primitive, others have grown in size and aesthetically. Water for all remains for many a pipe dream-but at least we have good quality water where and when it flows.

The main problem with the Manning government is it refuses to listen to voices of reason when it comes to prioritising development. Patriots are deemed enemies of the State because they speak out. It is in that context the summit was seen, sans legitimate protests, and with many citizens denied certain basic rights by Government-fiat. That was unacceptable, even illegal. Our people must never be cast aside as second-class to visitors, matters not who the latter are.

10 thoughts on “Caring too much about image”

  1. I agree we seem to care too much about image. But what Mr. Shah does the sportsmen, like athlete and footballers do for the country on the world. I have been trying to get an answer to that question years now. Did Richard Thomson silver medal at the olympics bring any tourist to see where Trinidad is? I wonder how many people remember who Richard Thomson is anyway. Does the sporting world know that Trinidad is the smallest country to ever make it to the world cup? I am sure they don’t, yet Jack Warner submits a $30mil budget on the current campaign and it is approved. My belief is that this spending must stop and sporting administration must feel the pinch as well. It just doesn’t worth spending all this money to get there. Why not spend it on the everyday ordinary Trini who is trying his/her best to eke out a living,

  2. It is the hope that homegrown success stories in sports won’t forget where they come from and invest in the communities from which they emerge. Tourism cannot be all that Trinidad and Tobago has to offer. Investing in the people will grow the potential of the country. It’s nice to look well, but there has to be substance behind the look. Athletics seem to be where they country thrives on a international stage.

  3. I am reminded of some lyrics by Ella Andell “shame on a country that cannot protect its women and children…” or something to that effect.
    I cannot forgive the PNM for failing in Government Responsibility 101 (providing for public safety and basic infrastructure).
    I am also reminded of the old adage “beware of a government that is too dependent on consultants, who eventually become the new masters.”
    Now Mr. Manning has a new consultant, a retired Canadian army general, (or so it reads). With 2 crime hot spots in the whole of Canada, one wonders what this general knows about urban crime !

  4. Once more ,a very balanced and thought proving article Mr. Shah. I would not envy this government , this time around, as they attempt to enforce restraint on the growing disgruntled populace.
    You have identified two very significant areas that I am very passionate about as well. These are matters relating to security ,as well as obvious neglected and antiquated social services for our rapidly expanding senior population.
    Security certainly deserves a more thoughtful, coordinated approach ,if sustainable development is a long term goal. A climate or fear, distrust, and uncertainty cannot instill confidence for anyone . These includes the foreign conglomerate , local business investors ,regular blokes with options , and foreign national contemplating a return to contribute where feasible.
    It is a known fact that each year hundreds of officers join the Police Service, but many can also attest to the fact that equal amounts are leaving the service in droves. Perhaps it’s growing politicizations , or yet again a need to tweak the recruiting and training mechanisms . Rest assured however, that if members of the organization lose confidence from within, it affects performances and behaviors , and the public is quick to catch on any apathy to duty and service. This thus making the initial task of national security much more humongous, and challenging- especially for Canadian Brigadiers and Scotland Yard Bobbies.,9171,940711,00.html

    With respect to our seniors , no better display of love ,concern, and gratitude can be portrayed by a nation than when it’s various leaders make senior care and support ,a distinct priority through proper social policies- particularly for ‘the less fortunate, without the means.’

  5. Good article from Mr. Shah that underscores the point “we Trinis” still look to outsiders to solve our problems and ratify our self esteem.

    Massa day ent done…

  6. We, the people, forget that ultimately the power lies in our hands. A people get the government they deserve.

  7. It is so hilarious that it is sad when it comes to how we view ourselves. It becomes even sillier when we try to speculate what others want of us.
    As we become more like our big mom England and Uncle Sam, we are losing a piece of us that they once value the most.
    We would like to rush into “modernizing” every aspect of our society without concern or regard for what we are giving up. Our leaders travel the world and shop for ideas of places and things that they believe would be good for Sweet Sweet TNT. Somehow they think that these changes will make us ignorant folk and less traveled peasants happier and better off in the long run. They forget or pay absolutely no attention to what we may be giving up.
    Many of us come across or have come across people who have left our two island nation over the past several decades who ask if such and such building is still standing or if an old popular road is still traveled. What happened to the railroad line? Do people back home still do such and such etc….
    We always tell them that they have been away too long or tell them that they are old school. The memories that people have of the country are valuable. They are extremely valuable because they in many parts of our society are only memories. Although some relics still exist, others are gone forever as we exit into the future of modernization.
    Here are some facts (according to me but what do I know?):
    1) We depend on former residents and their families to return to Trinidad as a major source of income.
    2) We are trying to boost Tourism.
    3) We are becoming more Americanized.
    4) Carnival and Tourism are suffering because we are becoming more Americanized and less “special”.

    We have the opportunity to capitalize on a niche market only if we remain who we are instead of trying to be like others. Americans don’t want to leave America to go to America. They like to find one or two references of home to be comfortable, but over all want to experience the culture of the country that their plane lands in. Who would want to leave Brooklyn to end up in Brooklyn? Europeans like going to places warm and different from Europe.
    We need to remain who we are. Whoever created all of this hostility between different ethnic groups needs to be exiled. Why fight for scraps of the global tourism economy when we can have a comfortable slice?
    Proof of what I am stating is found in the future of Cuba. Modernization in Cuba has been stunted by the stubbornness of the United States. However, they may have contributed to Cuba possibly becoming the biggest economic earner of Caribbean tourism. Those old buildings, roads, and lifestyles are extremely valuable to tourists who want to escape their mundane existence. Eventually, there will be no embargo and Tourist will come. The old hotels will be the rage. Old Casino’s and anything else still standing from the pre Castro era will be hotbeds for tourist willing to spend their money. That money can be used on improving the standard of living for the people.
    At one point in time, Trinidad and Tobago was definitely on the tourism radar of foreign nationals. I fear that because of the lack of smart development and constant unnecessary in fighting, greed, and corruption that we have gone backwards if not erased ourselves from any serious consideration as a marketable destination for more than two days of the year. As we speak, that is becoming less thrilling.
    Here is a clip of how some islands were once perceived. Pay attention to what is said about Sweet Sweet TNT.

    For the record, I do support smart growth and development. I just believe that we shouldn’t sacrifice the old to do so.

  8. You know where my heart is Curtis. I am with you 100 % , that wise choices are necessary if sustainable development is to be the way forward. I am trying to do my part as well Curtis , and even though I might sometimes come across as frivolous , cynical , and negative , is really looking to find true progressives patriots willing and prepared to move beyond talk so as to play a role via civil society to make a difference. I leave the politics alone for the time , as they can be encouraged to get on board once they could see a win/ win situation. I am 80 pages into penning a book surrounding the same subject. My book is entitled ‘Choices 4 Power.’
    Black Stalin reminded us that “We can make it if we try.” I agree. Travis Smily advised us to “Keep the faith,”and I subscribe to that thinking as well. Wish me well on my birthday today ,and hope that our friends led by Madame Kamela in the UNC, get it right in their quest to move our underachieving country forward.It is when I make most of my resolutions – not Dec 31 st.
    I am on the verge of registering an NGO on the same subject as my birthday gift – both locally and internally .
    Are you “ready for the revolution,” as requested by a late son of the soil brother Stokley Carmiachael ?
    Warm regards. Neal.

  9. Neal, thank you for responding to my post. I hope that you enjoyed your Birthday. I just finished listening to Sam Cook. Give this a listen when you have time.

    Extreme measures for my generation would be to pay homage to those who sacrificed their time and in many cases lives with our lives to make this a world where we can all achieve some universal sense of serenity and prosperity. TNT has nothing but upside in almost all aspects of society.
    The United States claims that immigration boost it’s economy because immigrants can see potential in the things that Americans forgot about and reinvent them. Trinidad and Tobago has been too busy sending people away to contribute to England and the United States.

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