By Raffique Shah
April 11, 2022
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said¸
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf, all in self,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And doubly dying, shall go down,
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d and unsung.”
—Sir Walter Scott (1771—1832)
Rarely do I use poetry in my prose, and rarer still my use of such an extensive quote to open my column. However, as I pondered the issue I want to address, and to bring it to life quite differently to readers and, hopefully, more readers and leaders in the society, those considerations guided me to one of Scotland’s great men of letters, Sir Walter Scott. He succinctly summed up the depths to which many leaders and their vocal supporters descend into and the ostracism they deserve for such sins.
I am not here saying that people do not have the right to criticise politicians and public officials who are charged with the responsibility of keeping our country in a good state, failing to perform adequately. Citizens must monitor the performance of the economy which affects our daily lives as we currently note higher prices for all basic goods and services, a virtual devaluation of the dollar, the loss of jobs—all of which combine to deny us the quality of life we deserve.
And lest Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who gleefully points to his many graphs that show the economy is in fact growing and expects us to accept that, he knows only too well that our GDP has sunk to its lowest level in many years, and any slight upward variation may seem like a leap to the sky. In other words, whichever way we measure it, the economy remains in deep trouble.
We can complain, too, about the state of the nation’s roads from highways to byways, a mass of unkempt villages, towns and cities where we citizens provide the litter and the Government agencies remain blind to it. There are so many negatives we can point to, we can complain for weeks on end and not touch half of what’s undermining the environment, the neatness we ought to enjoy in spite of our financial woes.
Indeed, we may even resort to fist-fighting over which government was responsible for the worst governance we had in, say, post-Independence years. I accept all of these as legitimate avenues through which the citizens can keep Government on their toes, making sure they perform before they ask for our votes.
What I find incomprehensible, though, is the extent to which some nationals, especially those in political leadership, dive as they seem to battle to ensure that this country becomes a failed state. Oh, I’m not arguing that some of their points are invalid. But when we resort to painting the ugliest and invariably inaccurate portraits of Trinidad and Tobago, we become the soulless vagrants about whom poet Scott penned his classic poem.
The celebrated poet gave no quarter when he wrote this untitled poem in which he described them as being concerned only with self, not the country that nurtured them, quite likely educated them, and provided the opportunities that made them wealthy.
Mark the “wretches” well, he advised fellow citizens. They had no souls, and deserved no recognition, in life or in death.
I am not about to pass such harsh judgment on anyone, however I may feel about their commitment to their country, or lack thereof. On the other hand, I cannot help but note “wajanks” are aligning with foreign, albeit Caribbean politicians, in dragging our image in the swamps, gleefully portraying T&T as a state that has stood still for all the years we have been independent.
Oh, they will tell you we are worse off than when the colonial powers governed us. Oh, yes? You are telling that to me, I who have been here for 76 long years, seen all kinds of governments, from local to national to federal, function and left us sorely wanting. We do not make a pretty picture, that I accept. But it could have been much worse if we’d had dictators that some of our neighbouring countries endured, an unenterprising government that did not have the vision to take us from a crude oil producer to a state-of-the-art oil, gas and petrochemical sector that has brought us great fortune. We may be limping but we are not a failed state.
To be continued.