Ten years and a ‘po’

By Raffique Shah
October 13, 2012

Raffique ShahRECENTLY, as I mused on the state of “permanent politicking” that citizens of this country have been victims of for decades, I thought, why not elect a government for ten or 20 years? Before readers condemn me to the gallows for instant execution, or cart me off to the lunatic asylum to spend what is left of my miserable life, hear me out. Over the past 21 years, we have had—what?—seven general elections. We have changed governments four times and faces in government at least ten times.

In conventional thinking, such record would be deemed “robust democracy”. You hear it around all the time: they play the fool, we go vote them out! Good. But what do we have to show for the regime-changes we have made? Given this country’s abundant resources, especially its human resource, are we as a nation better off today than we were two decades ago? Better put, have we realised anything close to our real potential?

Some people might point to certain material benefits—better housing, more appliances, more private vehicles, more tertiary-level graduates, changing skylines—as symbols of significant progress. Yet, when we look at East Port of Spain, to name the most prominent of our depressed districts, we see the ugly side of the country, a manifestation of what those seven elections, and however many before them, failed to change.

Civic-mindedness has all but disappeared, making way for wanton lawlessness, from top to bottom. We have so many educational institutions, but far fewer educated people. Personal hygiene has deteriorated. Nastiness is now a national plague. Our highways and byways are permanently clogged with traffic.

In spite of claims to the contrary, crime stalks the average citizen at every corner, even in the sanctuary of his humble abode or secured mansion.

All of these ills and a whole lot more after however many elections and changing faces in government. It cannot be that all the persons elected to office were evil, crooked, intent on self-enrichment. There must have been patriots among them, men and women who wanted to pursue noble goals, to uplift their country. But along the way, either they got lost or they decided it was futile swimming against the tide.

There may be another reason for this stagnation. A party or coalition of parties spends one to five years campaigning to get into office. Its principals promise to transform the economy from its near-absolute dependence on dwindling oil and gas resources. They offer seemingly attractive alternatives to take us to new levels. We are treated to expositions on a knowledge-based economy, on the magic that technology can weave, on how broadband can turn T&T into a Singapore. They will focus on food security, achieving self-sufficiency in short order. They will reduce crime, budget-style, to a deficit, and more, much more.

The electorate, exasperated by the shenanigans and shortcomings of the incumbents, falls for the promises of nirvana, and presto, come elections we have a new government … for five years. Now, the more discerning among us know that many of the promises on which the new government is elected are either unrealistic, or long-term goals that cannot be achieved in five years.

Inevitably, the new regime reneges on some of its “instant” promises, and, recognising that campaigning and governance are poles apart, opt to dive straight back into campaigning for the next elections. So rather than steer the economy in a direction that could bring long-term prosperity, but which requires short-term sacrifices by all, especially the ten per cent at the top of the incomes-ladder, it continues with unsustainable populist measures. Re-election comes before restructuring.

We have witnessed this repeatedly over the past however many governments. They remain in the campaign mode, later for good governance. And the masses lap it up: URP, CEPEP, contracts for communities and community leaders, colour me orange or red white and black. Remove VAT from non-essential, especially pigtails, and Muslims in the crowd are delirious: Allah hu Akbar! Manning’s choice was the PoS skyline (even as the city’s drains and drainage stank), and the natives chanted: we looking like New York.

So, realistically, we are going to be stuck with mediocrity for as many years ahead of us as we have behind us. Why not try something different? Give the jokers ten or 15 years in office, guaranteed—with certain strict caveats.

Not having to face elections in five years offers them time to execute long-term policies that could change the country for better. Instead of deficit budgets, which started back in 2009, they could balance the damn thing and not expand the 2012 public sector debt sinkhole that stands at an alarming $51 billion. Social programmes could be confined to the really needy, not “hampers for all” or “colour me dollars”.

Give them time, allow them space to perform, security of tenure … of sorts. Because such latitude must come with constraints. What must citizens demand in return? First, parties must produce their policies, programmes and promises clearly and concisely in a legal document that everyone who runs for office, or who is appointed to office, must sign. The other legal document they must sign (and I won’t recommend it be drafted by the current AG) is one that holds all of them liable if they fail to deliver on any and every thing they committed themselves to.

A People’s Tribunal, elected referendum-style, would be the body to adjudicate on matters arising from these agreements between the government and the governed. Punishment for any breach? We could start with ten years in jail, no appeals permitted. Leaders could fetch “ah twenty”. We would add perks: after all, we are not primitive. So, one cell per culprit, guaranteed … and a stainless steel “pozy”!

14 thoughts on “Ten years and a ‘po’”

  1. Now Raf, you know I ascribe to you a tremendous intellect, perspicacity, and a willinness to speak out on the issues; that being said, I want to know, seriously now, whether you would want to saddle our beloved country with this bunch of criminal, lying, self-aggrandizing, under-qualified misfits for ten years? People who cause the country to leap from scandal to scandal with nary a pause? They are just past the half-way mark of the period when they would have to call elections, and so, the people have hope. If there was no hope, they would be sharpening knives, buying poison and guns, and making incendiary devices to bring about drastic political change. The only ting standing between the people and total chaos is five years terms.

  2. “This bunch of criminal, lying, self-aggrandizing, under-qualified misfits for ten years?” (LINDA EDWARDS)

    A brilliant and insightful description which characterizes all of the governments which ruled T&T since Independence.
    Hope has faded away rapidly because a careful examination of the Opposition and key members of its PNM organization does not provide a credible alternative, only more under-qualified egomaniacs.
    In any case, articles like this one written by the infamous Shah would not pass the test of what is considered journalism in most developed countries. An article like this and many others published in the major daily newspapers in T&T would be relegated to the dustbin, after being chopped by qualified editors. What we have in T&T is a complete breakdown of institutions and an unfortunate lowering of standards in every arena. Pity!

  3. TMan, I read the Guardian of London, daily (www.guardian.co.uk).
    I read the Washington Post.
    Mr. shah’s work in my estimation, is as good as most of their columnists.

    What specific criteria have you used to do an impartial assessment of Mr. Shah’s work?His piece WAR Without End written bout seven to eight yers ago, is a classic. I made it mandatory reading for my Advanced Placement English students. Personal bias is not impartial.

  4. No.1 1970, No.2 July 1990 No.3 Current crime phenomenon. We are to damn brainwashed to consider these underlying results akin to cause and effects. Mexico, Venezuela, USA, Colombia how these Nations transformed into the volatile State security democracies of which Venezuela stands out as the only nation willing and somewhat able to rectify a history of disfranchisement and the culture of impunity.
    Trinidad doesn’t have the political will because the current Bunch, yes Bunch of office bearers & seekers are imbued with colonial servitude cocoon on small ambitions. In short We need our ‘own’ Hugo Chavez at least.

  5. Just like to share a Letter to the Editor.

    Journalist must guard, not abuse, press freedom
    Story Created: Oct 13, 2012 at 9:52 PM ECT

    (Story Updated: Oct 13, 2012 at 9:52 PM ECT )

    I am a professor of mass communications at the University of Georgia in the United States of America.

    I am a regular reader of your online newspaper and have followed with interest the discussions and commentaries on recent political developments in Trinidad and Tobago, and more particularly the allegations that members of the government are “attacking the media” in Trinidad and Tobago. This, of course, is not confined to Trinidad and Tobago neither is it confined to the Caribbean region.

    Let me say from the onset that I am a strong advocate for the freedom of press and freedom of expression. But I also believe and teach that freedom is not absolute and with freedom comes a strong sense of responsibility.

    Journalists and media professionals must guard this freedom. But they must also ensure that the freedoms afforded to them in a democracy are not abused.

    Here in the United States the concept of press freedom is not taken lightly, but it is also a well-known and well understood fact that entire media houses use this concept of freedom to engage in political gerrymandering of information to suit their particular objectives, thereby creating news through sensationalism and deceit.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, we face the challenges of having to comment on unscrupulous politicians regardless of the political party to which they belong. I am also confident that some journalist also engage in activities that are in breach of the codes of ethics that we as media professionals adhere to and as such we must be aware that journalists come in all shapes and sizes.

    I urge the journalistic community to guard against the temptation to become unbalanced in the reporting of events and facts and be wary of becoming influenced by the agendas of certain interest groups. The remodelling of facts and information to create sensationalism for that particular news cycle is not the best practice in good journalism. We must not create news; we must report it and do so responsibly.

    Prof Benjamin Nancoo, PhD,

    University of Georgia

  6. TMan, either you are Prof. Nancoo, or he is your good pardner. In either case his letter, published under your name is not the proof I asked for that Shah is not a qualified journalist or par with many in other countries. I confess to once giving him a copy of a very sensitive piece of information pertaining to corruption and collusion. A less cautious person would have blazed it across the page with an Aha! He waited almost two weeks, carefully researching and double checking until he had all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Then, and only then, he spoke of it. He has been trying to right wrongs in this society since 1970. He has changed tactics, but I regard him as a solid citizen, and would compare his work to that of some of my favorite US journalists who write Op-Ed columns.
    By the way, some forty-eight years or so ago, a young reporter/announcer with Radio Trinidad left here to go to England. He was not particularly highly thought of in TnT.
    Today, he is Sir Trevor McDonaald of the BBC. Arbiter in matters of structured language, researcher, and recently, narrator and produce of the Queen’s Jubilee Series of broadcasts. Some achievement, eh? A trini, prophet without honour in his own country, just like Raf. He ent paying me for this, I simply love veritas.

  7. Let the good times roll. This is a kill joy article based on the false premise that people don’t like easy money. The people in Nelson street recently burn rubbish on the street demanding some free money. First you destroy your neighbourhood, then demand jobs and the government gives you money to clean your own poop.

    Dependendency is to be had by all, the article falsely mention URP and CEPEP but government lawyers for pushing some papers rake in millions. The trade union movement are like “hyenas” in a time of economic austerity demanding 9 percent increases along with Cola and other increases. What value does the paper pushers in the public service brings to an economy? They all want “money fuh nuttin”. Trinidad spending is like a runaway locomotion, on the tracks at incredible speed. From $13 billion in 1999 to a $58 billion budget and growing. There are no serious discussion on the economy and all this spending, so the government continues to spend and now big government has created a dependency syndrome that will produce a generation of tire burning, union marching, we want we money kinda citizenry.

    But what does the headlines holler from the last budget? All kinds of articles on how premium gas is the death keel to the average Trini. No clear sense of direction on increasing deficits that will increase again and again before the next budget. No demand to control spending and to used the money in developing industrial estates ensuring a more prosperous future. Yes the government are doing somethings right but needs to set the nation on a stronger economic footing. Caroni lands cannot be only used for housing. There has to be a micro and macro economic planning that will see positive growth in real terms. Until then let the good times roll.

  8. What an idea, Raff! This is one occasion when I disagree with you. I do respect your opinion, however, and urge you to continue to write in order to right the wrongs in T&T.
    I am not sure what TMan was trying to prove by publishing the professor’s letter. Tman I live in the USA and I know that there are good journalist and bad ones, some are bias and some are unbiased. To me, in T&T it is no different. So what’s your point?
    TMan whether you like it or not Shah is one of the best journalist in T&T.

  9. You are really a lunatic – please stop writing this garbage of yours. T&T is very corrupt, filled with both white crime and blue collar crime that we cannot control. The four pillars i.e. Banking Industry; Insurance Industry; Legal systems; and Medical Institutions are wrecked to the fullest. Governments come and go and all they do is rip off the taxpaying public (they do extensive brainwashing to achieve this end). My prediction is that another 1990 situation will occur (we have not learnt anything from this historical event; we are doomed to another event like this). Our progressive citizens are forced to live in another country. This is so that those elected to serve can fill their own pockets (the race card is used very effectively).
    We need patriots to come back home and retake the government not by election but by force (perhaps a revolution). The corruption has been in the roots of the youth and when they finally learn from their wrongs they cannot be trusted to come good (this is our culture). It hurts to realize this because home will always be home but this is what we, citizens has allowed over the last 60 years. Yes to some extent we were used by the G8 countries of the world via Capitalism but nonetheless we allowed it (started with divide and rule policies. Miracles can happen but we must want it so bad for God to allow it (much like the West Indies T20 World Cup performance). We are meanwhile happy to pull sword for one another instead of believing we are all stained by the tar brush.

    1. I just want him to be equal opportunity and attack the PNM as he has been attacking the PP. I am still waiting for him to write something that exposes the PNM as corrupt but I think he is chicken lickin and will do no such thing.

  10. How can a serious thinker invite those abroad to come and wrest the coun try away by force? When one goes into voluntary exile, one’s space is taken by others who would smile in your face, but do you in. I CITE TWO EXAMPLES FROM THE THIRD WORLD- BENIGNO aCQUINO, WHO WAS MURDERED AS HE STEPPED OF THE PLANE TO RETURN TO HIS NATIVE PHILLIPINES, AND THE LATE BENAZIR BHUTTOOF pAKISTAN.
    De record of success in this area ent good, at all at all.

  11. I agree with you Linda. People from T&T who live abroad can contribute to T&T by writing to inspire, inform and stimulate discussion on national issues. We can help groups in T&T that are doing positive things to help the poor and downtrodden.
    For me, coming back to take over a government by force is a pipe dream.

  12. Linda Edwards of class 1967 – I was in school then. History was one of my subjects at school. Let me ask you if I may – have you read how many died under Nazi Germany or under Naplolean or in Cossovo, or the do you know about the numbers hacked to death in Ireland or have you read about the going ons in pre 1776 in the USA. There is a common thread here – dictatorship or exploitation or Capitalism. Do you understand what took place over 40-50 years in Libya, Eygpt, Syria etc, Are you aware what is happening in Iran or even Canada? Let me tell you about me. I was born in the Roman Catholic faith. I still believe in Jesus Christ and I do turn my cheek when slapped ( the legal system in T&T took all my retirement savings ); I was seriously injured in an ammonia complex and got nothing from NIS – Mr. Shah knows this. There is plenty more but despite my losses God says to me “vengeance is mine” I do not believe in Capital Punishment even though the murder rate in T&T is now 320 for 2012. I am outspoken (will be until I am dead). I am only guilty of airing the truth. I am one of the 20% or more in T&T (mixed persons) who never had a say in the country of my birth. I was there in 1970 when whites and fair indians got all the best jobs (the rest still knew slavery); they did not need to perform – just show up. And then the so called africans took over (1956)and after the indians (they said what PNM stole in 30 years – they will better that in 5 years. The IMF told the NAR government T&T made over 60 Billion USD in the early 70s; nothing of which was left in the treasury. I was discriminated since I was 5 years old and forced to leave T&T(in the 50s the douglas were scorned and then they called me dougla). My country has not changed; just tune in to power 102 and the same crap as 60 years ago comes back up. I have seen governments come and go and all they do is brainwash and steal the public’s purse. Do you know the history of Haiti? Do you feel that God will allow mankind free rein all the time. No my dear one day God’s hand will fall over T&T and you will see clearly as I see now. Jack will not live forever; like all of us he will face justice and have to pay his dues. There comes a time when your lies and deception will end. We all dig our own graves. That attorney who sold me out for a few pieces of silver and feels safe being a Judge now(under the PP) will learn he was his greatest enemy in time to come. You do not know what or who you are defending? I wonder what is on the table for Mr. Shah – perhaps a little more pieces of silver!

    1. ” I was seriously injured in an ammonia complex and got nothing from NIS – Mr. Shah” Welcome to the club, my father worked 33 years for the government paid NIS but we did not reap the benefit of those payments when it was needed during his declining years. My sympathy to you.

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