By Raffique Shah
February 22, 2015
Now that the Carnival is over, we can expect electioneering to intensify, with a maximum of seven months to go before the general election is held. In fact, the ruling People’s Partnership coalition has grabbed a Carnival spillover, photographs of PNM leader Keith Rowley “wining” with a young Indian woman, as ammunition for use in campaigning.
Since the video and photos surfaced late Carnival Tuesday, the pro-UNC blogs have been hammering away at Rowley, dubbing him a “dirty old man” and worse in the hope that some mud will stick. I don’t think it will. The girl has publicly said she had a great Carnival, wine included, and to those who lambaste her and Rowley, she proclaimed boldly, “I hate racial people.”
If anything, the Partnership, more so its UNC component, might well find that the bid to paint Rowley as a predator, backfires. I don’t know if they have noticed that over the past decade or more, the majority of women who play mas seem to be Indians and mixed, outnumbering Afros. This is true too for pre-Carnival fetes and concerts. And while this social intermingling may be seasonal, it has quietly broken down race barriers, evidence of which can be seen at after-work limes.
So the UNC may well find that resorting to race, while it will guarantee them their core constituencies in Central and rural Trinidad, could work against them in the urban, marginal constituencies where every vote counts.
That said, while the PNM may benefit from the fallout from the UNC, people will hardly flock to the party if their perception is that it is the other side of a conventional political coin that has failed to unite the country and mobilise its human resources to anything close to its real potential. A PNM win by default is possible, but not desirable.
People will scrutinise the party—all parties—more closely than they did in years gone by. They will look at policies and programmes more than they read manifestos, having learnt the hard way that political promises are hardly fulfilled when a party wins power.
Intelligent people, and these are on the increase, know that while the economy is not in tatters, it faces many serious challenges. It’s not just a case of coping with lower oil, gas and commodities prices generally. In the current downturn, they expect to have to make some sacrifices, once these are administered equitably, with the wealthy contributing their share as we strive for recovery.
Any party that promises milk and honey at a time when some bitter medicine is required will fool some of the people, not the majority. For example, people expect to have to pay more for motor vehicle fuels. If a party tells them otherwise, they will know that it is fooling them or it is irresponsible, not fit to govern. A party that vows there will be no property taxes, to use another example, is misleading electors since such taxes are universal and we are not unique.
Similarly, most countries like ours impose income and corporate taxes on its citizens and businesses. But the formula to apply these taxes evenly, based on income and profits, is what matters. And collecting such taxes, ensuring that everyone who is liable pays, is of critical importance.
As it stands today, those who bear the full force of taxation are people on fixed incomes whose taxes are deducted by their employers. These are mainly low-to-middle income earners in the public and private sectors. Most professionals, contractors and businesses pay far less than they ought to, which, in jurisdictions like Canada and the USA, land them in jail.
Not here. They get away with murder while those who work hard to put bread on the family table face the force of the Board of Inland Revenue. And let’s not even talk VAT: many merchants collect this tax from consumers-and pocket it!
Which party has the fortitude to right these wrongs that ordinary citizens have endured for generations? Which party will ensure that the wealthy, that one per cent of the population that corners—what?—say 20 per cent of the wealth, pay their just dues?
Which party will demand that people actually work for the wages and salaries they receive ritually on a weekly or monthly basis? Which party will make productivity a cornerstone of its platform? For far too long our productivity has been at abysmal levels, and this applies not just to URP and CEPEP workers, but to a majority of public sector workers and some in the private sector.
I’ll cite one example. Workers from a regional corporation, five in number, come to my street twice a year, supposedly to clean the fringes of a box drain where there is hardly any grass. They park their cars and engage in old talk for an hour or so. One of them then uses a brush-cutter for about 15 minutes while the others look on. They then spend another 15 minutes winding down, after which they leave, full day’s wages intact, maybe to “pull bull”.
You think this is right? Which party will demand, across the board, a full day’s work for a day’s pay?
Talk to me.