Misplaced Philanthropy

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 20, 2019

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOne cannot help but be amazed by the indigestible piffle that emanates from the mouths of our politicians when they speak about issues concerning the society. We hear their speeches and read their statements, yet we wonder if they understand what they are saying and the implications of their actions.

Take, for example, the prime minister’s response to the concern that most of the students who were selected for the national mentorship program in energy are Indo-Trinidadians. After fierce criticism about this imbalance, he replied with self-evident pride: “I initiated this program by sending out personnel to find our national scholars…trained in areas of expertise useful to the Ministry of Energy. We decided that those who had done extremely well, with first class honors, should be gathered to rebuild the pool of expertise in the ministry and enable the country to cope with the requirements of the energy sector….

“There were 35 young people at that function….Thirty-three of them were Indo-Trinidadians. That didn’t make the news. In fact, people looking from the outside would have thought that we ignored Afro-Trinidadians.”

Why was the PM happy with that picture? “Indo-Trinidadians can mount no successful argument of ethnic under-representation or of being discriminated against on any sector of the society since the factual evidence is to the contrary….Given that recruitment is done on the basis of education and entrepreneurship, Afro-Trinidadians need to do some more introspection” (Express, September 8).

Such statements, coming from an Afro-Trinbagonian prime minister, elected primarily by Afro-Trinbagonians presumably to advance their well-being, deserve closer scrutiny since the selection committee ignored Afro-Trinidadians.

First. The classification system upon which the PM based his judgment is deeply flawed. It speaks largely to a student’s academic achievements “under examination conditions” rather than an unambiguous demonstration of his or her depth of knowledge and original thinking. The difference between First-Class honors (70 percent or higher) is only a percentage point from second-class honors (60 to 69 percent).

Many academics question the reliability of making major educational decisions upon this minuscule difference in grade points. Kat Lay, a correspondent at the London Times, reported: “First class honours from Cambridge [University] could become a thing of the past as the university considers an overhaul of its degree classifications.”

She continued: “Graham Virgo, pro-vice-chancellor at Cambridge, said the university was looking at alternatives to the ‘blunt tool’ of the classification system.” Professor Virgo said that the review was prompted by the fact “that a largely binary classification system does not reflect the range of academic performance.” (The Times, London, January 29, 2018.)

The classification system that differentiates between first- and second-class honors does not tell us everything we need to know about a student’s academic ability to perform and his/her capacity to make future contributions to his or her field of endeavor. The PM should not be so infatuated with “first-class” honors, since many other factors should be considered when one tries to gauge a student’s capacity to perform in future educational or employment activities.

Second. The fear of Indo-Trinidadians saying that the government is racist should not be a major rationale for selecting students to participate in one of our most vital economic industries. Students should be selected on three major considerations: how well it allows us to achieve our economic objectives, develop a balanced workforce, and conduce to social harmony. It is not socially desirable for 90 percent of our physicians to be Indo- or Afro-Trinbagonians no matter how good they are.

Placing Indo-Trinidadians into this vital sector of the economy shall not prevent them from painting government actions with a racial brush. The Nigel Henry poll suggests that Indo-Trinidadians have little faith in the PM (79 percent do not) and fewer still have confidence in the government. Ninety percent of Indo-Trinbagonians have no confidence in the even-handedness of the government. This is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

In his interview, Ria Taitt told the PM that some traditional PNM (supporters) felt they were not benefitting from his government in ways that “non-traditional supporters” do. He responded: “If they believe that the benefit will come simply by being PNM, they are sadly mistaken. Because the country ought not to be run by the largesse being given to one group because of their political persuasion or ethnic complexion.”

Does the PM mean to suggest that when Afro-Trinbagonians vote for PNM that they are voting primarily for the benefit of the country and secondarily for their own advancement as a people, and that they ought not to expect anything favorable from the government? If this is true, why should they vote for PNM?

This way of thinking belies how human beings behave. Some philosophers believe that altruism (the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others) reflects a heightened form of self-interest. So that even when people act in their own enlightened self-interest they also act on the behalf of others.

It is legitimate that Afro-Trinbagonians should expect, nay demand that a PNM government look after their interests. It’s part of what it means to vote for the PNM. Promoting the group’s interest is not necessarily incompatible with promoting the national interest. If the PNM is unwilling or unable to look after Afro-Trinbagonian interests, they should look to others who are willing to do so.

It took Ronald Reagan, the most cold-blooded US warrior, to make an agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR to eliminate intermediary and short-range ground-based nuclear weapons from their arsenal. Perhaps, it may take an Indo-Trinidadian woman, who is not afraid of being called racist by her Indian compatriots, to deal with the challenges that face Afro-Trinidadians.

4 Responses to “Misplaced Philanthropy”


  • The PNM “modus operandi” has always been to further Africana interest. In the 1960s islanders flooded the nation where thousands of Vincentians and Grenadian found lucrative jobs in the oil industry. Many settled in Point Fortin. I was speaking to an Afro-Vincentian and she said her brother is a “big boy” in the oil industry in Trinidad.

    Obviously a lot of Indo Trinis were passed up for positions in the oil industry in favour of Africanas from the Caribbean. The OWTU made sure that indians were kept out of the oil industry. Those in leadership position were subjected to constant abuse. I remember in the 1960s my neighbour worked in the oil industry, he could not get his son a job there because the executives were astute PNM party hacks who hired friends and family.

    “It is legitimate that Afro-Trinbagonians should expect, nay demand that a PNM government look after their interests. It’s part of what it means to vote for the PNM.” At last check there are six Indians in Rowley cabinet. Obviously the interest of indians does not matter. As Sat Maharaj said the Central Bank looked like the Congo when Prof. Cudjoe was on the board. There I rest my case!

  • The selection of the candidates for this program was based on a fixed set of criteria established by the selection committee.
    Academic achievement in the first class honors range was established as the criterion for selection.

    I have no problem with lowering standards in the future to accommodate Afro-Trini candidates, but it would be unfair to tamper with the requirements in mid stream.

    Also, first class honors academic achievement by these students does not eliminate the fact that these same students also possess “an unambiguous demonstration of his or her depth of knowledge and original thinking”
    Cudjoe makes a biased assumption those selected lack thinking skills, social skills and a depth of knowledge in other areas.
    One cannot assume that top academics are lacking in skills unrelated to their fields.
    Cudjoe’s suggestions to make this group more diverse are very welcomed, but it seems that the PM is challenging African
    students to achieve higher, while he rejects the lowering of standards to accommodate others who achieve lower.
    At the same time, Cudjoe is offering up a racist sentiment, that is, top academic Indo-Trini students lack thinking and social skills.
    My advice to Indians is to stay away from his classes.

  • Good article.well written…

  • “Placing Indo-Trinidadians into this vital sector of the economy shall not prevent them from painting government actions with a racial brush“. So the level to which one ascribe is based on ethic thinking?

    That type of thinking is so 1960s. Indeed we have come a long way. Today I read an article where the OWTU purchase part of Petrotrin. It was indeed a sobering article. Roget and his band of warriors finally taking over the national patrimony. Dr. Rowley had fired over 5,000 of them in an effort to make the oil sector more productive (lol).

    The failures of the PNM most benignly failing black people as this article suggest requires a return of the KPB administration. She has done so much for black people, laptops, schools, low unemployment, etc. A record that Rowley could not “best”.

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