PNM problem, PNM solution

By Raffique Shah
December 09, 2012

Raffique ShahTHE tragedy of the crime-infested, poverty-stricken, pitiful and problematic ghettos located on the eastern fringes of Port of Spain is that they ought never to have degenerated to the mess they are today. There was a time when they could have been salvaged. Maybe that possibility still exists. But for as long as the politicians see Laventille, Beetham, Sea Lots and surrounding districts as permanent problems deserving only of temporary quick-fix solutions, the festering sores will spread, infecting and affecting the entire society.

The political entity that has a moral and historical obligation to intervene, to attempt to save the ghettos (I use this to encompass all the depressed districts) is the PNM. I make this bold assertion on several bases, as I shall develop, the first of which is that the PNM was an architect of the problem. Second, while governments like the incumbent People’s Partnership may pretend that they want to effect solutions, they do not understand the root causes of the problems nor do the people trust them. Third, if the PNM is to salvage the ghettos, it must first revolutionise itself.

Contrary to popular perception, the PNM did not create the ghettos. From colonial times they existed as natural extensions to the city, providing shelter for the poor who worked in it, often in the most menial jobs, but at times middle class people who could not afford better housing. CLR James’s first novel Minty Alley gives a good account of that era.

These districts expanded rapidly during the wartime boom when rural people and islanders stormed the capital to meet the high demand for labour on the American bases, the port and industries and services that thrived in those years.

I need add that many a scholar, successful entrepreneur and gifted artisan emerged from the maze that the slums had become.

When Dr Eric Williams and the PNM stormed the national political stage, they found very fertile ground among middle class blacks.

But Williams also enjoyed spirited support from the slum dwellers largely because of ethnicity. By then, however, the country’s economic fortunes had declined, so there was not much largesse to dole out. Unemployment increased. Those who bore the brunt of low-income or no-income were the ghetto people.

One thing led to another, and soon, powerless to help them except through educating their children, Williams adopted the appeasement mode—make-work programmes and handouts—that he would institutionalise in order to retain the “votes bank”.

One might forgive Williams for this expediency during the lean years, when he could do little to change the ghetto-life. But the country enjoyed an unimaginable oil boom from late 1973 through 1981 (oil price rocketed from US$3 a barrel to as high as US$30).

What did Williams and the PNM do for these people? They built some badly planned housing estates that would themselves degenerate into ghettos. They also built a few schools, community centres and play-courts. Worst of all, they replaced the hardboard-and-cardboard Shanty Town (yes, that was the gateway to the city) with the bricks-and-mortar Beetham Estate, right next to the mangrove and the biggest garbage dump in the country. I was an opposition MP then, and I pleaded with the government to relocate Beetham dwellers to a better environment, away from the swamp and the dump.

Hansard will have a record of my stirring plea for those people, some of whom lived off the dump (now euphemistically called a “landfill”). You know what was the PNM’s response? Williams had Cuthbert Joseph inflict a severe tongue-lashing on me, justifying the creation of a concrete “mang” and daring me, “You go tell those people you want to move them away from the dump!”

My vision of moving communities away from “cobo-like” conditions did not impress Williams and his minions. It was a Third World phenomenon, so why fight it? I argued: why not? I didn’t see poor people in England or countries in Europe that I had visited wrestling with vultures to eke out a living.

I know Keith Rowley and those at the helm of the party today weren’t around then—some had not yet been born. They, however, bear the burden of atoning for its sins of the past, especially for not extricating those wretched people from the netherworld in which they are doomed to live and die.

Listen up: sometime in the latter 1970s, two young, gifted architects, (Clive) Alexander & Bacchus, sensing my interest in urban renaissance, invited me to their office to view a model they had designed. That was before the computer era, so they had a handcrafted model. I was blown away by the concept. Affordable, well-designed apartment units dominated a complex that included a small police station, a kindergarten, some small shops and a mini-playpark.

That was how Zanda and Bacchus saw east Port of Spain and surrounding districts being re-developed, engendering a community spirit. As far as I know, the Government showed no interest in their designs. The oil boom came and went; other than whisky replacing rum in fetes, and fridges and colour television sets jostling for cramped space in “decanting centres”, the ghettos remained grimy and degenerated into dens of crime.

These are my reasons for telling Keith Rowley that by holding the mantle of leadership of the PNM today, he owes these people a huge debt that his forebears incurred. He needs to fashion an implementable vision for their renaissance, something that goes beyond the boundaries of the East PoS Plan that was proffered when he last held ministerial office. We know that basketball hoop-la, costly family days and magical make-work programmes won’t work.

Beetham will continue to erupt in fiery protests. Laventille will seethe. Crime will simmer, then explode. Over to you, Keith … PNM problem, PNM solution.

12 Responses to “PNM problem, PNM solution”


  • Ironically,the ghetto dwellers have suddenly found the determination to demand solutions from the PP. When the PNM is in power they undergo a dormant transition.
    Every Tom, Dick and Harrilal have suddenly found the courage to make unreasonable demands from this government, with the Unions first in line.
    I suggest a mass hunger strike of the ghetto dwellers.Rowley and his opportunistic followers would certainly embrace them, followed by prominent religious leaders and Panday himself, offering roti and bhaggi. And Shaw could write an article on their sprituality as they fast and hydrate at night.Bring out the ambulances and set up multiple IVs.

    • “Ironically,the ghetto dwellers have suddenly found the determination to demand solutions from the PP. When the PNM is in power they undergo a dormant transition.
      Every Tom, Dick and Harrilal have suddenly found the courage to make unreasonable demands from this government, with the Unions first in line.” from T-Man aka de T&T/ Canadian , country hating , self loathing,neo tribal, head guru .

      For all your so called learning, and 1st world, global , sophistication, sometimes TMan , you come across as a borderline illiterate, Central bozo , with limited understanding ,as to how politics really works- ANY WHERE , MUCH LESS T&T.
      All I can add to the above quoted idiocy is ,REMEMBER Fiji, while warning you dat T&T , ain’t no Sri Lanka , or South Afrika,but most importantly , be careful, when going down dat typical ,simplistic ,tribalist partway mi amigo. Never shake a sleeping Anaconda .
      The reasons are simple – the only time your ULF/ UNC, ever won election in this country, was via an alliance/ coalition , with folks they abhor ,but were practical/ astute enough to appreciate their importance.
      If history is any indication, and they choose to follow advice of clueless , European adoring expats like yourself,or fake religious civic leaders , pretending to be caring ,patriotic citizens , then we know how dis script would end , yes?
      Sing Birdie! One can tell dat T- Man ,and similar folks , ain’t understand history. Triumphalism rules, but can have dire consequences. Hopefully even you are smart can decipher what I am alluding to here mi amigo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ46gIxo4CM
      Ain’t it your leader ,in her Majestick ,Queen K , who said vote for me , as I am a woman ,much different to the male clowns ,that preceded me ? Did she not claim to have strong belief in de Obama change mantra , that likewise helped propel him to power ? If so , then it’s time for her to deliver to desperate voters – especially those who were taken for granted by Trini politicians across the so called ,racial divide, for decades , and quit running for de next election, Si?
      Just lay back my friend and watch democracy unfold , but just remember ,it did not simply evolve two years ago. If you doubt me , then ask Uncle Raffique Shah, as even he would attest to de fact ,that he would be a dead man 42 year ago ,if …….. was ruling de political roost, hmmmmmmmm?
      I luv dis land folks, and get’s such sadistic pleasure , when I am in a position to enlighten delusional citizens!

  • if what you say is true and i have no reason to doubt you ,is there any way to get rowley to comment on your article?
    Is there any way to get those who have time to discuss substance abuse of the PM to turn their efforts to commenting on the existence of crime ghettos and how they can fix it?
    that includes COP and TOP and UNC and especially mr.Panday who always has something to say about everything
    b .w

    • “Is there any way to get those who have time to discuss substance abuse of the PM?” I for one is getting a bid fed up with dis stupid obsession over the PM ‘s drinking,as it comes across to me as almost sexist. My question is so what, when Basdeo Panday ,her mentor was a lifetime drunk, and no one lost any sleep over that, did they ? Is she an idiot like her junior minister Patrap ,to drive while intoxicated? I doubt it. Either make alcohol drinking a crime , or accept the fact that it is legal so to do in T&T. Quit falling into distraction politics guys, when we have bigger , more important issues to deal with in our beloved country, yes?

  • The PNM cannot fix anything Mr.Shah. They tried for 40 years out of 50 years of governance and the end result is the continued spillage of youth blood in these depress areas. The worst was when Manning’s PNM ruled with your short memory Mr. Shah I am sure you conveniently forget the over 500 murder rate per year.
    This was not the situation when the UNC ruled. In 1999 the murder rate was less than 100. Enter the PNM and murder rate skyrocketed kidnappings and homicide increased at an alarming rate. The URP was used by criminals to buy weapons.

    The solution to the murder problem is a tough no nonsense approach the PP is using already the murder rate is dropping it will take some time but things will improve.

  • “These are my reasons for telling Keith Rowley that by holding the mantle of leadership of the PNM today, he owes these people a huge debt that his forebears incurred. He needs to fashion an implementable vision for their renaissance, something that goes beyond the boundaries of the East PoS Plan that was proffered when he last held ministerial office. We know that basketball hoop-la, costly family days and magical make-work programmes won’t work.”
    Ghettoes unfortunately are part of the African experience globally. Ghettoes can be found in almost every major American city. In Guyana there is Buxton, a place where the then President Jagdeo entered much like our P.M. Visit to Laventille. There Jagdeo started programs that would educate those who wanted to leave poverty behind. He open the Guyanese treasury to single mothers who needed a “hand-up”.
    In the Eastern part of Toronto a place that was like a ghettoe with government housing there is a process of revitalization that is occurring. Old houses are bulldoze and upper class style multi story buildings are being built. The man who got the ball rolling is a Trini name Gordon Chung.
    Cities are notorious for attracting ghettoes, in Mumbai India right next to the most expensive building built by the richest indian is a sprawling ghettoe that influence the movie Slumdog Millionare. There raw sewage and a stink to high heavens.

  • Ghettos are not predominantly an african experience, it is global and multicultural in it’s very nature just as crime and poverty, as a matter of fact human sufferage is the main ingredient to the global phenomenon of ghettos, ghetto living and ghetto culture and we find that there is no country whether first world or third world that has been able to escape it’s grasp. I have read this article from Raff and even though I promised myself that I would no longer contribute on this blog for more reasons than one, I felt the need to contribute because of that age old saying that evil persists when good people fail to act. I say this using history as a backdrop, had good people not acted we would still have slavery today, had good people not acted the world would still have the South African apatheid system. Poverty and it’s resultant condition called human sufferage is a blight upon the human condition and the cure is not make work programmes or handouts but good people recognizing the adverse effects of this condition not only on the person but on the society as a whole and making a concerted effort to adress the problem by providing the only cure which is education and opportunity not the assembly line education, one size fits all that is offered in most societies but education that is geared toward people and their different learning abilities. Until this societal blight is confronted head-on we will continue to have ghettos filled with the despairing, desperate, degenerate and denigrated of our society and may God help us.

    • Sometimes the politicians need to keep people dependent to control them. As the current PM says the oil dollars from the south land went to develop North. The PNM neglected rural development; all the people wanted was electricity, good roads, drainage and a water supply. The PP is finally attending to this historical need. Lo and behold the PM is met by psuedo Gandhi devotee Dr. Kublalsingh whose agenda of “satyagraha” appears to have stalled any development in the south land. The highway is necessary because the current roads were footpaths converted into roads, narrow and winding. It takes forever to get from point A to point B.

      Shah appeal to Keith a man who is now trying to do photo opts beyond the Caroni, like a good salesman is instructive. Shah is caught in a time warp believing that his past ideas can help the current PNM win re election. As a PNM apologist Shah fails to understand that the political dynamics have change in TnT. That unlike that PNM mental ethos as repeated by Rastafarian MP Hinds, Indians are no longer “recalcitrant”. Dr. Cudjoe understood the shift when he wrote the book “indian time ah come”. I say to Shah become relevant in you writing our risk being ignored(nothing worst than being ignored)…better yet ask Keith to run in the next election, he needs a few Good Indians..

  • I clearly remember my days in St.Margrets elementary school in Belmont and in South East Port of Spain gov. secondary school, and what I remember most is a subject on the curriculum called English Comprehension. I say this because from my comprehension of Mr Shahs’ article there is no way that he is coming off as an apologist for the PNM, rather he has laid a terrible indictment squarely at the feet of that party and it’s stewardship in respect to it’s handling of the impovrished in our society. Another thing, there is no expiration date on good ideas, as a matter of fact instead of denigrating and race baiting what we need is more people with good ideas, more people who expend their energy not in deflection and playing the blame game but in serious thought on how we can make our country a better place for all it’s citizens.

    • “Contrary to popular perception, the PNM did not create the ghettos”. After 40 years of PNM governance a strong defence of PNM policies. Those are the words of an apologist even stating that Dr. Rowley was not around during Shah Opposition rants. The truth is Dr.Rowley was the Minister of Housing, a Ministry under his stewardship that was rife with corruption where millions were given to friends under contract to the Housing Ministry. How could Shah a PNM apologist blame Rowley for anything? Rather he defends this thief (read Monilal presentation on the motion against the PM earlier this year, where he exposes Rowley). bShah make it seem that Rowley is wearing pure white Taliban clothing. (1) He states the PNM never created the ghetto (2) He treats Rowley like a little boy who knew nuttin about Beetham. (3)He appeals to Rowley to solve this problem that the PNM never created, but allowed.

      Please Lovelace spare us. And this is not a racist excercise I love all people but I can’t call black white. I call it as I see it.

  • If Mr. Shah had done his homework he would have realise that the PNM had indeed started to restucture the East POS area. Many an old building from the Laventille flyover down to the end of broadway were already dismantled. Residents of Duncan and Nelson st were all told that would have to move. The PNM had set in train a PNM solution. So where it is now? We all know the PP is a down South government and despite Jack efforts all the project from highways(another PNM creation) to hospitals and universities have gone south. So Mr Shah we can blame Mr Manning for his second declaration but we must acknowledge that the PNM solution was already in place. Over now to the PP.

  • “We all know the PP is a down South government”

    Do you not think that it is about time that some attention be paid to the South, an area which POS people have a habit of prejudically denigrating?

    For too long POS has been the beneficiary of the resources of the state, most of which have flowed from the South. Time, determination and excellent work habits have positioned people from the South in advantageous lifestyles with regard to wealth acquisition.
    All we keep hearing from the recesses of POS is how much they want to government to give them and it is especially worse now that the government is perceived as being “Indian”.

Comments are currently closed.