We know why we are in this mess

By Raffique Shah
March 07, 2022

Raffique ShahThis country is losing large numbers of young people at an alarming rate. No one seems to be intrigued with, or concerned about, their disappearance from their communities and school systems. Yet we hear and see thousands of undocumented citizens make cameo appearances at venues in the forests that are never far from us, and then they simply vanish again, mostly to reappear when next some government agency is distributing food, clothing, grants, etc—and then they’re gone.

I have heard some public officers allude to this bizarre phenomenon that seems completely out of character with the simplicity of our living styles (distinct from our lifestyles), but nothing further is ever heard about them… unless or until something bizarre occurs.

Now, since Covid-19 struck a little more than a year ago, and in the confusion that followed where food and various grants were distributed to those who claimed not to have even food, the pandemic pried open a Pandora’s Box of puzzles. In what seemed to be an effort to escape being branded profligate in their disbursement of cash to people who suddenly found themselves penniless, applicants for the reliefs were asked to provide different forms of identification as proof they were “real” people, not robots, as some computer programmes and applications require before you gain entry to their platforms.

The exercise turned into a tailspin when supposedly bona fide citizens could provide no form of identification, no registration number showing that the Board of Inland Revenue knew anything about them—which tells us that they never paid income tax, national insurance contributions or any such compulsory obligations that at least half the population, which comprises working people, employers and employees, pay what is due to Caesar when it is due, and if we subtract retirees and school-age children who are out of this orbit, there lie the “lochos”, they who range from millionaires to paupers, but all of them ill-intentioned, meaning they pay no taxes except VAT, which is built into the consumer system.

Now, among these 400,000 or so “skulduggers”, you’d think most of the missing people, who are dropouts from the nation’s schools, would have joined gangs or eccentrics who embrace solitude, or descendants of “characters” out of the past—Mother Corn Husk, Mano Benjamin, and so on. But I feel certain that readers will be shocked when multi-millionaires show up as missing from the tax register. They will have cleverly worked out creative accounting mechanisms through which they escape what most citizens pay up, albeit not enthusiastically.

Of course in such “Incognito Ghetto” one can find some of the most heartless, brutal criminals who live their lives and share their beds with seemingly normal people, feasting off the spoils of their criminal enterprises, multiplying their ugly DNA with equally heartless spouses who think nothing, casually washing the blood of victims from the proceeds of crime they are about to enjoy. In fact, I shan’t be surprised if they recite “grace before meals”, thanking the butchered ones for enabling them to live high off the hog.

When we think about people living off the “proceeds” of crime, invariably we think of fully and expensively-if-not-tastefully furnished mansions, flashy vehicles, SUVs preferably, lots of bling and other symbols of having-made-it, which speak loudly to the law-abiding who labour day-in, day-out, and can barely put adequate food on the table, far less think of the family vacationing abroad. Eat your heart out, Nice Boy, the thug seems to say every time the eyes of the law-abiding and the lawless “make four”, as Trinis say.

So I gripe over this patently unjust, upside-down society in which the good live badly and the ugly are re-invented to appear pretty, today’s rant having begun innocently, perusing some statistics to try to determine just how many children of school-age are roaming the streets, lured or coerced into gangs, and add rank and rewards to their portfolios, while those who remained in the system struggle to become educated, as defined by the system, the society, but said achievement destined to leave the determined struggling to survive.

And because I know how all the systems that make the society orderly, make it safe for the lawless rich and render it unjust for the law-abiding, I cry out in anger at those who ensure it stays that way, and my heart bleeds for those who remain permanently aggrieved.

For example, who gives approval for mansions to be erected on State or private lands not owned by the occupier? And, I mean all approvals in record-quick time. Who enables the WASA, T&TEC and sewerage connections?

I know some of them. You know many of them. The authorities know all of them, but they will do nothing. That is why we remain in such a mess.