Only the poor will survive

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, October 19th 2008

Trini PeopleOUR economists, bankers, stockbrokers, manufacturers, multi-millionaires and politicians will argue and wrestle over the next few months over where Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is heading. As a member of the lower-middle-income group (call us LMIGs), a sizeable portion of our population, I can only look on at what’s happening globally. I see financial fallouts in which individuals and corporations are losing billions of dollars a day. That boggles the minds of those of us who have never seen a million TT dollars in paper, far less billions.

Still, those of us who manage to get by on relatively small earnings may yet enjoy the last laugh. We have lived all our lives very simply-eating bhagi and roti, bake minus buljol, blue food some days, pelau on better days-so much so our worries are minimal. True, as we face the grocery or market, we tremble as we face rising prices of basic foods. But we don’t faint. We merely buy less of this, leave out that, cut out some things we like but cannot afford. We in the middle zone have learned to endure tough times because we have never really engaged in the rich-rat-race.

Pity the rich buggers, those who have amassed so much wealth by whatever means necessary or possible, who now face a future full of uncertainties. Really, when you cannot sleep at nights worrying about not being able to buy that new Mercedes, it could be punishing. Especially when you live in upscale communities and you know your neighbour across the street eased out of his driveway in a spanking new limousine last week. Or he bought one of those $8 million ultra-luxurious penthouses last month-cash, no loan!

You must have sleepless nights over what those who move in your 55-carat-circle would think of you driving around in that beat-up, three-year-old BMW.

You have invested millions in the New York Stock Exchange, made a pile, yes, but now you have lost it all, thanks to those greedy investment bankers who lured you with promises of heaven-on-earth. You think it’s easy being super-rich?

If I may, take Jack Warner as an example-not because he’s the wealthiest person in Trinidad, but because he is not shy in declaring his assets. I admire the man for that. He is so unlike others who fail to declare a piddling quarter-million-US-here, a condomiium in Miami, or some petty million-dollar gift from another of their wealthy friends. Jack, who was schooled under a carat shed (my classroom was metres away from his at college, so I write with authority), boldly stated he had ploughed $24 million of his personal money into our football team, and that only for 2008. How much more this rags-to-riches man spent in his 20-plus years of carrying local football on his shoulders is anybody’s guess. He will tell you if you ask him, of course. Jack is not the kind of fella to hide behind curtains, but a good guess would be hundreds of millions. That should make the government ashamed, especially Sports Minister Gary Hunt and his predecessors in that portfolio. They sit on billions of dollars of state funds, but fail to spur the Soca Warriors in their quest to get to World Cup 2010.

I should add that while other multi-millionaires are wringing their hands in agony over financial woes that have hit them like a hurricane, Jack sleeps easy. He says that. It’s not because he has some bottomless pit of money. Sure, he may hire a private jet to fly to Johannesburg and give his boss Basdeo Panday a ride. But Jack knows how to survive on mauby-and-rock, on bread-and-sap (pity that poor-man’s delicacy died with Sanka), and most certainly on bhaji and roti. If ever he falls from grace, if he must live on little, he will survive.

Indeed, most LMIGs like me will survive the tough times ahead of us, however bleak a picture academics and politicians paint. The poor will rally through, too. When you do not know where the next meal will come from you don’t need to worry if oil prices rise to US$200 a barrel or drop to $10. It makes no difference to your dire circumstances. You have always lived from day to day, matters not which party is in government.

As we watch the world crumble around us, as we look at Wall Street’s billionaires lose weight overnight, we can take comfort in never having been rich. Or if, like Jack, we clambered out of poverty, then fall on our backsides, we know how to get up, dust off our kakhi pants, and head for the nearest mango or zaboca tree. Not to hang ourselves, but to get a wholesome meal.

There is a silver lining around this dark, global economic cloud. It is big and it comes from below, from among the poor and those just above the poverty line. We come from a breed that survived the Great Depression, world wars, famines and worse. We shall survive this crisis, too. It’s the wealthy who would fall victims to their locusts-like greed.

11 Responses to “Only the poor will survive”


  • Raff haven’t realise that the poor have the same taste as the rich now. By the way how much money is to much or too little. Jack, your friend, spends $24 mil of his own while the coaches are paid $100 US a month, is this the price we should really pay? Do we continue to give away mnillion to sports men and women when the real heroes toil away p3enniless and pension less? Tell me Raff, Telle me.

  • Well said Mr. Shah. I could not have said it better. Indeed the ordinary people possess a resilience that sees them through all the scenarios as dsecribed by Dickens: “It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times…’

  • It is a pity that some of the other numerous greedy local businessmen that contrary to the author -is much more richer than Jack-cannot develope such love and passion for their own country so as to see the need to invest in something locally that in the final analysis can benefit themselves and the people they invest in .
    If done , it would be a major tep towards development of our country.
    Many of our local citizens could care less about the NYSC going bellyup, what they are disgust about is HCU and its many greedy and currupt leaders that fleeced them of their money and want to blame the government for failing to halt the thieves at the door. It would be nice if we could a hear a bit more about this , as opposed to the foibles of large develoved Northern metropolitan countries.
    The people would also wish to hear about some tangible solutions – enough already with the doom and gloom.

  • Neal makes a valid points, so the NYSC drops 2000 pts. How will that feed my children? What the locals are worried about is thier meager earning that was deposited into the HCU and just dissappeared. Yet no one is being held responsible. Ernst & Young audited HCU and gave the report to the government, yet the government will not release it. One has to wonder how many high ranking politicians are also involved in this HCU mess.

  • The above statements with regards to the EU’s EPA coupled with the the US empire’s Free Trade Of The Americas (FTAA) meeting next April 17-19, 2009 will surely be enough to put the nail in the coffin of T&T’s economy.
    All “contradictions” with regards to rich and poor will soon be heightened.
    And the criticism and ridicule that was dished out to Guyana’s PM Jagdeo(whom i don’t endorse but on this issue was correct)by the so called “leaders” of CARICOM like the puppet in T&T and his alter ego in Barbados because he rightly accused the EU of a one sided EPA, will surely turn into “their” nationals tears and hunger pangs after “their” economies are totally destabilized by the hands of the US and EU because of a failure by the “progressive” leadership to highlight and focus on these issues, thereby inadvertingly aiding the empires mission to re-enslave the region.

    But like Mr Shah mentioned there is always a mango tree to turn to in time of need! That is if you have the land to own one or your neighbor won’t chop or shoot you when caught picking from his or her tree in these desperate times!

    “It’s the wealthy who would fall victims to their locusts-like greed”.

    I totally agree with you on that one though!

    PROTEST THE FTAA MEETING APRIL 17-19, 2009 T&T HYATT P.O.S
    JOIN THE 3 DAYS OF “PEOPLES PROTEST AGAINST CORRUPTION”!!

    One T&T
    One Caribbean.

  • David Martin, a British MEP since 1984, expressed unease over clauses relating to intellectual property in the agreement with the Caribbean.

    The agreement would require the 13 governments to accede to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Reached in Washington in 1970, this treaty streamlines the procedures for applying for patents in more than one country.

    According to Martin, the likely increase in the filing of pharmaceutical patents in the Caribbean Forum may result in the poor having less access to affordable medicines. “Individual Cariforum (an umbrella organisation of Caribbean countries) countries’ markets are currently too small for multinationals to spend the time and money necessary applying for patents and so naturally generic medicines can be imported or manufactured freely,” he said. “PCT membership could mean that more and more medicines are patented in the Cariforum and in turn medicines will become a lot more expensive.”

    Dalindyebo Shabalala from the Centre for International Environmental Law in Geneva branded the intellectual property provisions in the EPA as “extremely troubling.”

    In a recent paper, he stated that these clauses are not designed to help the Caribbean develop in a way that benefits its societies and avoids ecological harm but to advance the EU’s own “mercantilist interests”.

    It is “astonishing”, he said, that the EU is using this agreement to try to enforce rules originally intended for wealthy countries in poorer ones. (END/2008)

    The above statements with regards to the EU’s EPA coupled with the the US empire’s Free Trade Of The Americas (FTAA) meeting next April 17-19, 2009 will surely be enough to put the nail in the coffin of T&T’s economy.
    All “contradictions” with regards to rich and poor will soon be heightened.
    And the criticism and ridicule that was dished out to Guyana’s PM Jagdeo(whom i don’t endorse but on this issue was correct)by the so called “leaders” of CARICOM like the puppet in T&T and his alter ego in Barbados because he rightly accused the EU of a one sided EPA, will surely turn into “their” nationals tears and hunger pangs after “their” economies are totally destabilized by the hands of the US and EU because of a failure by the “progressive” leadership to highlight and focus on these issues, thereby inadvertingly aiding and abating in the empires mission to re-enslave the region.

    But like Mr Shah mentioned there is always a mango tree to turn to in time of need! That is if you have the land to own one or your neighbor won’t chop or shoot you when caught picking from his or her tree in these desperate times!

    “It’s the wealthy who would fall victims to their locusts-like greed”.

    I totally agree with you on that one though!

    PROTEST THE FTAA MEETING APRIL 17-19, 2009 T&T HYATT P.O.S
    JOIN THE 3 DAYS OF “PEOPLES PROTEST AGAINST CORRUPTION”!!

    One T&T,
    One Caribbean.

  • Something sinister is taking place under the PNM. Has anybody noticed? It appears that the ‘wealthier’ Trinidad & Tobago becomes, the worse the quality of life becomes for the average citizen. Some people might attribute this to true voodoo economics. Patrick Manning has and continues to create economic policies that are bringing out the absolute worst in some people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. The number of citizens who have been murdered is now at about 430. This number is extremely high for a small country such as ours. How many more must die needlessly before Trinidadians come to their senses? Most economists would agree that Manning’s economic policies are very similar to Bush’s economic policies up in the US, in that they tend to favour the wealthy. Also, many social scientists would agree that a correlation exists between crime and some economic policies that are not always apparent. Interestingly, a very strong correlation also appears to exist between a nation’s ranking on the Transparency International’s Corruption Index and the level of violent crime within the given nation, which lead to the following the question: Does a high crime rate give rise to corruption in government or does a corrupt government creates the conditions for a high crime rate? I think that corruption in government, more often than not, appears to contribute to an increasing crime rate. No politician has ever been jailed for corruption in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. From the airport corruption scandal to the HCU failure, not one would ever be held responsible. As for the wealthy, they would survive since they could hire security guards 24/7, or migrate to the US or Europe. With crime, high food prices, dengue, and a failed healthcare system, poor people like me don’t stand a chance. Crapeaud smoke we pipe as my grandfather would say.

  • I do not agree a whole lot with Rafique Shah on a host of issues, but I certainly do on the points raised in this article. I live work and study in the United States of America. Many people’s concept of poverty is so far removed from reality. I must add however, that most Americans live simple lives and face the same financial difficulties as we do in Trinidad. But, yes. I too believe that the poor will survive largely due to the reasons set forth by the author.

  • Raf, My late mother’s name is spelt Sanker. Thanks for the commercial on sapbut it has been replaced by doubles. And yes, I agree with you that TnT and the world needs more people like Jack. He always asks me for the sap recipe when ever we meet. But like angostura that’s a family secret that went with my Mom.

  • Martin is correct on a few score one of which is that corruption in government can contribute to the escalating crime waves as it sends a subtle message that laws do not matter .It is why we’ll take care of the Panday’s airport corruption debacle ,and ensure that the precedent is set to send him to jail for his personal role after he has exausted every possible appeal ploy available- in keeping with our democratic nature.
    Where he lost me was when he linked the HCU’s failures to the stewardship of the present regeime and views it as an indication ofgovernmental failure and corruption.Perhaps he can explain to me why this is so when over two hundred of our other local Credit Unions have followed the finacial rules that are in place for our beloved/ small country and are fine ,as opposed to the HCU ,that prefered to allow slick , money grabbing bandits ,from the business and religious sector to steal the savings of hard working and gullible folks , as well as participate in risky practices that eventually resulted in the down fall of the noble institution.
    Folks like Martin and others love to make these vile references to the USA , Canada and the UK to impress us perhaps of travels and good fortunes it seems. I hope they recognize that these various countries -especially the USA presently-are fortunate to have viable alternatives to fill the void made by failed present regimes. I wonder if Martin and others believe that this is the case in Trinidad and Tobago. Something tells me that the majority of our citizens if given a choice for voting for the

  • Depositors should be first to be paid off since they were patronizing other businesmen who also took risks.

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