By Raffique Shah
September 19, 2022
I cried for my country on the eve of Republic Day celebrations, this one marking the 47th year as a sovereign state. That graduation of sorts removed the Queen of England as our Head of State—a contradiction so many former British colonies cling to long after they became independent.
We did, too, but opted to shed the colonial shawl in 1976. Still, we retained a critical umbilical cord that leaves us clinging to Mother England, to the Privy Council as our final court of appeal. If that sounds jokey, think about the embarrassment that we have lived with for so many years.
The good lords who preside over that appellate court have repeatedly told countries like ours to cut our dependence on that very expensive tie that binds us to Britain. “Take your Jahaji bundle and go” (not “Georgie” bundle, Madam President), they scream. But among us whose fat brains and deep pockets remain chained to the PC, pay the lords no heed, even when they deliver some judgments that reek of stale-ale-vomit.
It was not the Privy Council connection that caused me to shed tears of frustration. It was a discussion on food security that was hosted by Ardene Sirju on I95.5FM last Friday morning, with Mariano Browne as co-host, and a UWI academic, Dr Garcia.
The latter, when he got going, caused me to “trip off”, because almost everything he said with respect to rationalising local food production, water resources, modernising production and establishing functional marketing agencies to market what we produce, to ourselves, as a start… produce what we eat, eat what we produce, has been said a million times before, to no effect on the planners and the politicians.
Because I am among the oldest of that group of visionaries still alive, and by far the most vociferous when we met with ministers, ministerial committees, regional and international agencies, and worse for them, I have an almost institutional memory of most of what was discussed and what opportunities went a-begging, I am a dangerous person to have around.
Suffice it to say that what Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Caricom colleagues have been commissioned to get off the ground soonest can happen if leaders have the drive, the fortitude and the conviction that they must happen—otherwise. “All ah we ar*& dark.”
There are numerous other problems most Caricom countries face, but quite possibly the most far-reaching, pivotal to success or failure in any endeavour we must tackle to free up their advancement is corruption.
It is so institutionalised, certainly in T&T, you must be wary of the farmer whose opening word is “subsidy” to the transnational who thrives only in a tariff-free environment. Such elements seek to cream-off as much as they can from multi-million-dollar projects as their main goal. Only by countering their bound-to-happen, thieving and imposing rigid controls and heavy penalties will you keep corruption under control.
I cried not only for the lack of food security in my country, but for the dogs-of-crime who certain elements, usually well placed and well-funded, have been using to strike terror in the hearts of the majority of the population.
They comprise fewer than five per cent of the youth population, but their Hamas-like armaments and strikes seem intended, maybe even coordinated, by unseen but powerful hands to inject deep fear among the wider population, even the security forces.
It seems strange to me, what with my training and capabilities, that the intelligence services make few and harmless dents into these gangs. Many things are not reading right here. Unless the Government formulates strategies that may require consultation and coordination with other Caribbean services and mounts effective strikes that take out the heart of these terrorist organisations, we are going nowhere close to driving gangsters to the ground, preferably below the ground.
It may seem strange that I have focused and literally cried for my country over two issues as diverse as food and crime.
Food security is an imperative that governments have allowed to dwindle and die until the Covid pandemic shook the world into reality: people are going hungry. Hunger can spark criminal activities: a hungry man is an angry man. We are not that badly off, but terrorism that our population is being subjected to, while it has a connection with general crime, seems out of place on our idyllic islands.
It must not be allowed to continue as freely as it has over the past few years. We cannot claim to be a responsible republic and we can’t defend our people against terrorism.
We must fight for, not cry for, our beloved country.
Happy Republic Day, people.