In a ‘freeness’ state

By Raffique Shah
April 18, 2022

Raffique ShahIf we think this point in our history is the worst in our existence as a sovereign state, then it’s easy to blame the incumbent government for taking us there.

After all, the People’s National Movement (PNM) held power longest—35 of 44 years in the last century, 30 of those consecutively (1956-1986), and unless the party is removed from office by means other than elections—its current term expires in 2025, it will have ruled for 19 years in this quarter-century.

That’s a grand total of 54 years, an impressive run by any measure. Little wonder such extra­ordinary success at democratic elections that have never been found to be fraudulent, or even unfair, imposes on it ­inherent blame for the state of the nation at all times, even when its opponents manage to unseat the PNM for brief spells.

More importantly, such absolute domination of elections in a nation where citizens’ freedom to criticise their government seems to be absolute, a party such as the PNM in power is often seen by the said citizens as being the State: l’état, c’est moi (I am the State), a boast made famous by France’s King Louis XIV for which he had his neck sliced.

But staying with the topic I focused on last week, T&T seen as a failed state, or rather, large numbers of citizens, most of them aligned with some political entity that wants to remove the PNM from power, blaming the PNM for rendering this nation a “failed state”.

If the electorate buys that assertion, then when the next general election is held (constitutionally due in 2025), the PNM would be booted from office by a tsunami of angry voters who, for most of the current parliamentary term, have done nothing but protest against every regulation, law or tax that the Government proposed to implement.

If we assume that the unending waves of placard-bearing protesters are genuine, not assembled, stage-managed and paid for by the Opposition, as PNM leader and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley suggests, then the PNM and the country are in serious trouble. Bear in mind my earlier link between the political leader and the State.

The population seems to be convinced that T&T is a “failed state”, whatever the definition of that term may be. The Opposition UNC points to a steep decline in Government revenue, a virtual collapse of the economy, a mountain of debt that is the highest it has ever been, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. They cite high unemployment, widespread poverty, neglect of infrastructure and similar negative indicators elsewhere—they might say “everywhere”—as evidence of a failed state.

I cannot argue with the UNC, or anyone else, that there is an abundance of evidence to show decline in many aspects of life in T&T. When breadwinners take to the breadlines bearing placards, begging for food to keep their families alive, we know they are desperate: Trinis are too proud to beg. They would sooner steal, rob, or actually work at any menial task to feed their families.

Without casting blame for this sorry state of the country on the incumbent government, I should point out that I, and others who think like I do, have long warned political aspirants and those who form government or opposition against wasting what used to be called “petrodollars” on prestige projects, on a wide range of consumer-subsidies that hang like a millstone around our necks.

T&T must be the only country in the world outside less than a handful of oil-rich emirates that spent/spends many billions of dollars on subsidising its citizens’ cravings for what I branded “one-people, two-cars households”, and that is no joke, by allowing eight- and ten-year-old used vehicles from the Far East entry on the local market, fuelled by heavily-subsidised fuels, thereby enabling every Tom, Dick and Harrylal his or her personal ride, air-conditioning and blaring ­audio added for annoyance.

That nonsensical weakness for wastage murdered every effort to establish proper public transport systems, from bus rapid transit to rapid rail. I should add that the UNC was very much a co-architect (with the PNM) of such utter stupidity that milked tens of billions of dollars from the Treasury. And now that the PNM has no fiscal choice but to remove that millstone, the UNC joins in the asinine chorus of “don’t touch we gas”.

Any-which-way we turn, look critically and see how love for “freeness” by leaders and blinded followers strangled us, reduced us from “prince to pauper”: free water, free electricity, free houses, free State land, etc.

We are not a failed state: we’re in a state of stupor, wallowing in “freeness”, drowning in subsidies that benefit the wealthy millions of times more than the poor. The mass of workers at all strata of the middle-income levels bear the brunt of that burden.

Nuff for now…

5 thoughts on “In a ‘freeness’ state”

  1. PNM has been in power for approx. 50 years of the 61 years since Independence. Who are we to blame if the country is going to the dogs. Surely not the UNC. If we continue electing PNM Gov’ts things will continue to be the same. There is a saying that only a fool will do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome.

    A responsible Govt, like good parents will make decisions that in the long run benefit their charges. Unfortunately in T&T, successive PNM Gov’ts have used their time in power to squander the country’s petroleum inheritance to enrich themselves and their supporters.

    Raffique seems to imply that the current economic situation is due to excessive subsidies. Subsidies in fact is fiscal tool used by most if not all Governments to reduce the cost of essential items (food, water, electricity, transportation, medicine etc) for the general public. Rich countries are able to offer more subsidies to their citizens.
    If used wisely, they beneficial to the recipients and the country at large.

    I think that in T&T today, we as citizens need to stop looking backwards, assess our current situation and make decisions that will result in a better future.

  2. What “freeness state” is the author thinking about. Nothing is free in TnT, somebody is paying for it from the empty treasury.

    Trinidad has what is called generational wealth. My fore bearers were 5 generations into Trinidad. They pioneered our success and so the assumption that the State is giving freeness is the most asinine assumption ever. My ancestors work the rice and sugar cane fields to generate wealth for us. There is false assumption that Trinis are lazy unproductive and don’t give a damn. To some extent that is true mainly in PNM areas. I remember when a lady from the north came south and saw all the big houses, the poor gal was traumatized and in state of shock. With bulging eyes she said ” I have never seen such large beautiful homes”.

    A large percentage of Africans do not understand generational wealth and so the seed was sown that Indians thief to get those houses. They grew up believing the lie so when Colm stood up in Parliament and said “allyuh tief”. The balisier brigade went wild. It was the central theme of the PNM political campaign “indian(KPB) tief”. It resonated well with their supporters who do not understand, thrift, saving and living without brand name goods. A lot them got paid on Thursday the party ran through the weekend and on Monday their pockets were empty.

    ” fuelled by heavily-subsidised fuels, thereby enabling every Tom, Dick and Harrylal his or her personal ride,” Trinidad is an energy base nation and the national patrimony gas belongs to people. A liter of gas in Saudia is $2.18 their currency.. Gas price in the US is a $1.18 per liter. In Venezuela it is $0.10 per liter. It is a known fact that when gas price increase so does the cost of goods and services. Everything increases when gas prices go up. The poor man feels the brunt of it. Whilst rich PNMites boast it is a small increase, it gone up everywhere…

  3. My father repeatedly said to us while we were growing up that we must think of the next generation and build wealth by making sure that we “leave something for them”.
    Sacrifices were made by my parents to ensure that my generation would have better chances, fiscally and educationally. I did the same for my children . Building generational wealth is a learned behavior. Each succeeding generation should be left better off than the next.
    This is a lesson that the successive PNM governments have never learned. We have witnessed the wastage of revenue over and over again as they continue to blame two short term UNC governments in power for everything that ails T&T. while they hold the reigns of power for most of the time since Independence.Shamefully, their supporters believe the lie.

  4. “That’s a grand total of 54 years, an impressive run by any measure. Little wonder such extra­ordinary success at democratic elections that have never been found to be fraudulent, or even unfair, imposes on it ­inherent blame for the state of the nation at all times, even when its opponents manage to unseat the PNM for brief spells.”

    Haha I almost fell off my chair reading this drivel. Perhaps the words “gerrymandering the boundaries” come to mind. The highest concentration of seats are in the PNM areas. Williams fixed the seat brought in 50,000 islanders give them ID cards and put them in the oil, nursing, policing field. With the increase in population and the splitting of seats the UNC is in a better positioned to win the next election. However, the PNM is building housing and giving their supporters, case in point the St.Joseph seat converted to PNM. Vasant ran in that seat and got a sound trashing as the housing votes came in.

    The PNM is good at winning elections. They are very good at sinking the economy. And they don’t have a clue about the economy and democracy…… The last election millions were pumped into the East West Corridor. Plus they steal two seats. La Horquetta and Sando East. The PNM have police loyal to them and the EBC is controlled by a minister niece. He made the statement the East Indians have their foot on the neck of Africans. Need I say more…

  5. “Without casting blame for this sorry state of the country on the incumbent government”.
    With leadership comes responsibility, to whom much is given much is required. Today I was talking to my good friend and he said to me everything dead in this country. His business has died and he is very concern about the nation. He is concern because people are suffering. And he is contemplating leaving for a better life. During our conversation he said citizens simply don’t care. He has seen how people behave and surmise that sweet TnT under this Rowley led government has lost its soul.

    Another friend said a pothole could not be fixed on a major road because they don’t have oilsand and gravel. Clearly something is wrong in this nation with pitch. PNM leased it to the Chinese for 99 years. It is as good as sold. As good as gone. The people have no say about the lake for 99 years. Who the hell enters into a 99 year lease with any foreign country? Only Dr Rowley could do that giving away the national patrimony to the Chinese. Trinidad pitch is paving Beijing airport tarmac. Ah here PNMites shouting great is the PNM. Those degenerates are a waste of life.

    When Rowley finish with TNT, WASA privatized, T&TEC privatized, the economy owned by the Chinese. Learn to speak Mandarin. Teach your children.

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