By Raffique Shah
September o4, 2021
No state of emergency, lift the curfew and let’s get back to normal. We are fed up with Covid-19, 20 or whatever edition or variant is stalking us. No more. Time to show this beast just what Trinis are capable of. We will beat him to death with ‘wining’ and ‘jamming’, drinking puncheon rum. Release the Trini beast, Mr Prime Minister, and we shall show the world how to fight Covid, David, any id.
That’s the loud chorus of protest against the continuing emergency that Dr Rowley faces everywhere he turns. These are not small numbers of fringe elements whose sanity is questionable. These are mainstream Trinidad and Tobago, people from all strata of the society, different political persuasions, religions, races, who are war-weary.
Thus far, the PM has kept the rising tide of discontent at bay, holding fast to his conviction that only self-constraint by citizens at large will save us from the Covid-carnage that we have witnessed in many countries, ironically advanced states that enforced anti-pandemic measures similar to ours. Over the past few weeks, having loosened up, given the people some slack, they now face daily infection and death rates much like they did during the dreadful early days.
Now, I have no quarrel with those who want to throw caution to the wind, arm themselves with catapults and clubs of the B.C. comic strip era as they engage an invisible enemy that mutates seemingly at will, and fights dirty with no regard for rules of engagement. I will ensure, as far as I am able to, that my family, friends and I, steer very clear of their battlefields. Hell, ours is not to do and die—at all.
The return to normality is a far bigger challenge, and I don’t think many of these pandemic veterans are ready for the new normal. Job losses will be severe, especially at the lowest—income level. The very bars and restaurants owners who cry long tears for their no-income ’employees’ will suddenly and heartlessly abandon them to face the new order without any support. I envisage staggering numbers…maybe 50,000 jobless as the opening salvo. There will be claims and counter-claims from government and opposing parties as the nation fumbles to its feet. I have argued before that if the post-Covid world is to have any meaning, it must manifest itself in a new world of work and production in which small-to-medium export-oriented establishments (or import-substitutes), highly revolutionised in their organisational and ownership structures, will be the model of the future.
When jobs become available, they should be seen and promoted as opportunities, not ‘wuk’. Employees ought no longer to work ‘for de man’, but ‘with’ the firm or company. There is a fundamental work-relationship shift by just using such terms. Giving them life, making them practical, will radically transform attitudes, a sense of belonging, maybe even a stake in enterprises, which, in turn, ought to stimulate productivity, improve efficiency, and offer incentives for what one adds to the organisation’s growth and profitability.
Just as I anticipate there will be a significant number job losses, I expect a tide of new ‘start-ups’, as they are called, as young and not-so-young entrepreneurs seek their place in the sun. In the past, I have mentioned a rush of food-production businesses trying to capitalise on import substitution. Already, a number of ready-to-be-cooked cassava meals can be bought at certain groceries. Think of raw and pre-cooked provision packs, local mutton sold in meal-size packs, and vegetables like siem, bodi, caraille, with pre-baked sada roti needing only to be heated-to-taste, delivered to working people’s homes in time for dinner.
The prospects here are boundless, and they are local. Healthy delicacies such as fresh fruit-salads attractively packaged, containing bite-size chunks of paw paw, pineapple, mango, sapodilla and more, as the fruits come into ‘season’.
At another level, how do you fare when you urgently need well-trained, preferably certified technicians specialised in plumbing, electricals, appliance—repairs? Or even a simple ‘whacker-man’ you can trust to clean up your premises while you are at work? Maybe a reliable half-mechanic who can go to a lady’s garage and check fluids-levels, adjust belts, change a flat tyre, etc?
I can boast that I have had such gems, only they are few and far between, and they operate as individuals, not as teams. Think of their prospects if they pool their skills, tools and maybe shared transport. Think of the Uber safe-ride option which never got off the ground in this country because of an archaic vehicle insurance obstacle.
In half of my column, I have suggested options for possibly 10,000 jobless persons who, post-Covid, will not know how they will survive, except through government’s costly, non-productive, 10-days programme.
Look, give me a sturdy bullpistle and give me the strength, and I’ll solve all this country’s problems…whaatapp.