Who needs politicians?

By Raffique Shah
October 05, 2013

Raffique ShahThe street I live on is about 200 metres long, with two side streets, each 50 metres, making it a grand total of 300 metres. There are 24 residential properties located here, with two empty plots. A small river is the main drain that collects water from a few box drains (ah, box drains, a defining feature of modern Trinidad and Tobago!) and takes it to the Gulf of Paria.

This tiny enclave I’m describing, a microcosm of the wider society, is a mainly working class community of maybe 120 residents. Each household takes care of its surroundings, keeping the grass under control by use of the ubiquitous “whacker”, and drains in reasonable order…in other words, the place is invariably clean.

In effect, no one here depends on “de govament” except a few persons who are employed in the make-work programmes, and for the collection of garbage and delivery of mail. Some years ago, when former local government minister Dhanraj Singh was acting as minister of works, a new bridge was constructed over the river, and a portion of the street, which at the time had an oil-sand surface, was paved with asphalt mix. Then weeks before the 2007 elections, a major paving exercise was conducted, with all 300 metres surfaced with a shiny black top that has since remained in good condition.

First-time visitors are usually impressed with how neat the community is, especially when they will have come off the main road, dusty from heavy-trucks’ spillover, gaping manholes sticking out like sores, and slimy, litter-clogged drains that stink.

Yet, every two months or so, a CEPEP gang comprising about a dozen persons, creatively conjure two days’ “work” on my street. Seriously. Residents wake up to the sound of a “whacker” noisily trimming pitch: well, there is little or no grass on the verges of the street.

One guy “whacks” away, two others hold a safety net of sorts (no vehicles passing, eh!), another two or three sweep up behind them, and the remainder stand, sit, slouch—killing time, waiting for 9 a.m. when they leave, having completed a hard day’s work. Since the contractor or supervisor or whoever has worked out that my street requires two days’ work, they repeat the process.

Cost to taxpayers? I imagine at least $3,000 in labour, and overall, with profit margin to the contractor, say $5,000. Now, we are talking here of “work” that in my young-and-strong days I would have single-handedly completed in two hours using a brushing cutlass and crook-stick. Lest you think this a petty sum I am fussing over, multiply that by, say, 2,000 similar URP and CEPEP projects across the country, you arrive at $10 million over two days, roughly $25 million a week, or $1.2 billion a year. I don’t know if this estimate is near-accurate, but I do know that citizens do not get value for money from these make-work programmes.

Now, let me state that I am not against government providing social assistance to the neediest in society. But find meaningful work for them. In my district, for example, they can clean the stinking drains along the main roads (make sure the waste is promptly removed), replace manhole covers, maintain verges of roads where nobody lives, and so on.

I should add, too, that if we think CEPEP and URP workers are unproductive, those employed by the regional corporations and the Ministry of Works are worse. Smaller crews from one such body come to my street twice a year, spend an hour or two breaking wind and then disappear, drawing full days’ wages plus benefits the CEPEP people do not enjoy.

Meanwhile, the river on the street is crying out for attention. It has never been cleaned—and I mean never. Pleas by residents to have some agency clear the rubble and trim the banks have been futile. This year we have been lucky that no heavy rains have caused flooding. But when the rains come, so will the floods.

Representation? Forget it. I don’t know who the councillor for the district is, never saw him or her. Our current MP, Errol McLeod, walked through the district in the run-up to the 2010 elections: that was the last time I saw Mac or anyone representing him. Before him, there was Christine Kangaloo who made similar cameo appearances. Which is why I noted earlier that my community does not need politicians or government workers: we get along fine without them, thank you.

If only people realise that politicians need them, not the other way round, this nation would be far better off than we have ever been under any government. Once communities can live in harmony, shoulder their domestic and civic responsibilities, and watch out for each other, there will be no need for absentee overlords who, like mocking pretenders, talk the talk, but never walk the walk.

When they come to you tomorrow reciting lyrics and making promises, rumble loudly from your rear window and tell them goodbye in wind language. You will never see them again until the next elections anyway. Ah lie?

4 Responses to “Who needs politicians?”


  • Uncle Shah , lives in a working class community ? Well, I’ll be dar…., or as de wisest woman dat ever lived , in my late ,& great, ‘Tobago Granny,’ would say to me back in the day – ‘wonders never cease.’
    Wait a minute , but is Uncle Shah planning to run for Political office , like that media fraud ,Ian Allen, pretending to be a crime fighter?
    Speaking of which – Let’s get ready for the next PP Minister of National Security ,in media Star Ian, who like his one time predecessor , can break the law with impunity, and still expect to be rewarded … simply because ,…..well, he helped push a certain ,narrow / twisted agenda,si?
    On second , or is it third thought,perhaps I ‘ jumped the gun ,’ for he said ,”..Each household takes care of its surroundings, keeping the grass under control……no one here depends on the government.”
    That certainly not a working class community -especially in our T&T, or worst yet, middle, or Trini upper crust society.We in the know ,are quite cognizant of the elite bums, who have been feeding at the governmental breast , like starving piglets , since 1962, and it ain’t chiefly ,lower caste folks- trust me on that.

  • As far as I have noticed, CEPEP and URP workers only cut grass, they do not clean drains, or canals as we call them. However, the grass they cut ends up in the drains. I have some hope that one day there will be another lettered group cleaning drains.

  • Who needs them?? Politics is a Comedy that has gone hare wire now. In Western Cultures and Democratic Societies, most of Politicians are Elected by the People.
    If you are ELECTED by the People, that means: You have a certain Terms in which to Function. And Meet the People.
    As far as things goes now-a-days Elected Officials seems to be doing things on their own agenda, things most of the time do not adds up to the needs of their Constituency.
    When you have money, you looking for power!! And this : most of the time we are seeing all around us. Power to the People! Power to the People! are the battle cries around Election times. But as soon as these individuals are Elected:
    “Is Power to the Officials” Body guards and security 24/7 around the clock.
    In previous times Government had their limits, now Same Government has spread like an Octopus taking a strangle hold on everything. But let us never forget that the People are always the Majority. And they are seldom being heard as the Majority.
    When the People of this Island become awaken to the amount of Cash and natural Resources present here, then they would know that what is being withheld from them. Cost of living, Health Coverage, Less Taxation, better facilities and most important on the List. Better Roads.
    If T&T have the natural Resources to build roads, T&T should have been recognize in the entire World at large as having the best roads in the World. This should have made Headlines in the International Front Years Ago. On the Guinness Book of World Records.etc..
    The Cheapest rate of Gasoline the world over, and A Stable Economy that cannot be threatened by outside Schemes.Whenever we hear about the national Budgets, Finance are always given the most to National Security, and Arm Forces..Billions in every locations.
    But yet again the Island is Plagued with Crime and corruption in every quarter. Should the People on themselves deal with these issues? am Afraid not, you the Elected Members in Government, should answer to these calls. This is the reason you were Elected in the first place.
    Get up and smell the Brew…
    Poverty, Cost of Living, Crime, Corruption, Importing of Food that can be Locally GROWN right here. Proper Drainage that should not be damaging newly paved roads. Correct water ways that should not be clogged that enhances Flooding.
    More Seriousness on Drivers in dealing with Road Carnage on a daily basis. But who are addressing this as the issues??
    T&T should have been the Kuwait in the Caribbean…”Let the Oil Money Flow”…

  • I live in a cul-de-sac in a town in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire UK. Like Bro. Shah it is a working class area. I have a petrol mower, from living at a previous address, but most of my neighbours have electric mowers. So I keep the grass verges in my cul de sac tidy whenever I cut my lawn.
    The council has contracted out the job of tidying up the area. The contractor’s men, four of them, come twice a year, spring and autumn, to do this job. They off load the ride-on mower, the whacker and the leaf blower from their truck and proceed to “do” the bits that I have already done, what a farce. They studiously ignore those bits, further down the main road, that I have not done and is, as a result, overgrown.
    Once or twice I have phoned the council to complain, but I have been given such a run around that I no longer bother. It’s not just Trinidad, in this case!

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