By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 09, 2021
I am still trying to understand why Blue Waters needed to import 39 non-nationals to work on its bottling plant when there is such high unemployment among our youths and specialized workers from Petrotrin and other related enterprises.
When Kamla Persad-Bissessar questioned Stuart Young about this matter, the latter mansplained: “This was a request by a manufacturer to bring in specialized workers to upgrade their plant. This is not unusual or unique. The persons entering would have presented their negative PCR test, they will be paying for their quarantine at a State-supervised quarantine facility” (Express, January 30, 2021).
Young’s explanation was unnecessarily censorious. It is unbelievable that after twenty years in business Blue Waters has not trained local people to undertake such a simple function. The process of producing bottled water is well established. De-ionization and reverse osmosis are two of the better-known methods. It entails the removal of contaminants, trace metals and micro-solids, to render the water palatable and to give it a consistent flavor.
Blue Waters is situated at Orange Grove Sugar Estates (OG), Tacarigua on the site on which William Burnley’s factory was located during and after slavery. In the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, sugar production was Trinidad’s most important industry. By 1900, like 14 other sugar factories, OG was using the vacuum pan process which led it to produce some of the best cane sugar (“the yellow crystals”) in the world.
In 1902, the U.S. Department of the Treasury reported that Trinidad estates, with few exceptions, have “taken advantage of the most modern improvements in boilers, furnaces, multiple evaporators, crushing mills, and other machinery. Most of the estates are now fully equipped for producing the best qualities of sugar at the cheapest rates” (The World’s Sugar Production and Consumption).
Local men ran and maintained these sugar factories. The colonists relied on them to perform those functions. Clement Payne, a Trinidadian of Bajan origin, was the master engineer at OG. He knew that factory as the back of his hands. When anything went wrong with the factory, the owners didn’t send to England to get engineers to repair it.
This expertise was available at most of the sugar factories. C. L. R. James says there “were always one or two colored men foremen who had no degrees and learnt empirically, but who knew their particular engines inside out.” His grandfather, Josh Rudder, was one of those men.
One Sunday the engines at the factory where Josh worked broke down. The manager sent his carriage to pick him up to repair it. When Josh arrived, the manager invited him into the engine room and wanted to go in with him. Josh informed him: “I would like to go in alone.”
James describes the outcome: “No one will ever know exactly what Josh did in there, but within two minutes he was out again and he said to the astonished manager, ‘I can’t guarantee anything, sir, but try to see if she will go now.'”
“The foreman rushed inside, and after a few tense minutes the big wheels started to roll again. An enthusiastic crowd, headed by the manager, surrounded Josh, asking him what it was that had performed the miracle. The always exuberant Josh grew silent and refused to say. He never told them. He never told anybody” (Beyond a Boundary.)
Black men ran the sugar factories during the 19th and 20th centuries. How is it that in the 21st century, in an operation as simple as a water bottling plant, Blue Waters hasn’t trained local men to maintain and upgrade its plant? Angostura has long depended on local men and women to run their even more complex distillation process!
When Persad-Bissessar raised objections to this exemption, Young responded: “It had become worrying that the Leader of the Opposition ‘may be becoming delusional…as she continues to struggle for relevance.'” Young drew on his psychiatric expertise, as he pronounced on Bissessar’s mental health:
“I was hoping that after her dire and abysmal failure, in front of the country in the Parliament on Wednesday, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar would take some time for her personal health and do some introspection. I am saddened to realize she has not done so. It truly saddens me to see a former prime minister so desperate for attention.”
Who, may I ask, is the delusional one: a man who permits 39 Honduran technicians to come into the country, in spite of the pandemic, to fix a bottling plant or a woman who recognized the insult perpetrated against local specialists who could have done this job without blinking. With the recent shutdown of Petrotrin and the closure of several other downstream -processing plants, Blue Waters could have found numerous well-qualified engineers and plant operators to upgrade its facilities.
This leads to the question: If our slave and colonial masters developed the talents of the formerly enslaved and depended upon their skills, how come a nationalist government, dedicated to making us a first-world country, can’t do a similar thing? If our energy industry was developed through the skills of our local engineers, planners and operators, why isn’t a similar thing possible for water in 2021!
Our present government lacks faith in our people. It seems incapable of harnessing local talent, and building “the indigenous knowledge, technology and innovative capacity” of our people as Mary King suggested (Express, January 4). It’s almost as though it wishes to take us back into a state of perpetual dependency.
Isn’t it time that Young and his colleagues fade into the darkness and allow our people to see the light of a new day. Shouldn’t we be going forward rather than moving backward?