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Plight of Black people

By Eugene A Reynald, Newsday/TT

Discussion essential to what's happening in crime, politics and education

It has taken a non-African businessman to publicly comment on the conspicuous dearth of African businesses and businessmen in Trinidad and Tobago. His comments included a prediction of future social unrest and upheaval, stark divisions along lines of race between the haves and the have nots and the eventual institutionalisation of intellectual and educational differences along the same lines.

Mr Lok Jack has inferred that black people are less inclined to speak about this than any other race and he is quite right. But it is also quite obvious that to some, including the esteemed Principal of the UWI Campus in St Augustine, the issue of Caroni and the plight of the sugar workers is of greater significance than the dilemma of the blacks which threatens to relegate a significant proportion of the population to being either hewers of wood and drawers of water, or, participants in a parallel economy of crime. I am prepared to be generous and not conclude that Mr Lok Jack's observation came about only because the growing black underclass is now threatening the well being of the privileged and affecting investment and the cost of doing “business” and, that the UWI Principal will eventually get around to observing, if only on his very Campus, the plight of blacks. No other race can be blamed for the black man finding himself in this situation for the simple reason that it occurred during the years of rule by black post-Independence Governments. What we are talking about here is the decimation and/or emasculation of all major black institutions and the systematic addiction of blacks to programmes which were designed to ensure they commit their support to these post-Independence black Governments (today this support is only indirect since the politicians and their stooges are being increasingly replaced by “dons” and others who now use the politicians).

While all of this is going on the other racial groups were doing the necessary to ensure their own survival and assert their claim to the best possible place in the sun. The evidence is there to show which approach has so far worked best. One has to ask the question as to what has happened to the black Institutions such as the Port-of-Spain Corporation, QRC, Tranquillity School(s), Rosary, Nelson Street Boys, Belmont Boys Intermediate, NCB, Workers Bank, a range of social/sports clubs and lodges, etc. most of which are now a shadow of what they used to be or have completely disappeared. One can add to this a proliferation of black businesses, artisan shops, professional practices, the traditional masmen and steelbands, which once littered Port-of-Spain and the east west corridor but are no longer around. Most of these Institutions and businesses came into being and developed during the pre-Independence era but suffered or perished under the black post-Independence Governments. Why did this occur and why during a time when the other races were forging ahead? Most of the black institutions that did not fail were the ones that moved away from the group and there is one very prominent and seemingly prosperous example of this in the insurance industry.

The Institution that best illustrates the demise of black Institutions is the Port-of- Spain Corporation (PoSC) which encompasses most of the urban and suburban areas in which blacks traditionally resided and still do — areas which today still constitute the base of support for all the post-Independence black Governments. This emasculation of the PoSC by a succession of these Governments is all but complete and it is today but a shadow of what it was during the Colonial era. For all intents and purposes “The City Fathers” of the pre-Independence era are dead and the position of Mayor has been reduced to less than that of the Mayors of Boroughs in that he and his Council Members now have less say in how Port-of- Spain is developed than the Mayor of Chaguanas has in his Borough. For instance the planning and development of the City is today being implemented by a Citizen of Canada directed by Ministers of Government with no roots in the City, all with no input whatsoever from the PoSC's Mayor and his Team of Councillors and Aldermen. Some of these developments are taking place on lands owned by the PoSC but acquired by the Government without arrangements for due compensation. There is a similar history to extensive lands in Westmoorings once owned by the burgesses of the PoSC but which was given out under instructions from the then Central Government. Even the cleaning of drains and the collection of garbage in the way it used to be done is now seemingly a task beyond the capability of the PoSC of today. What is significant is that the PNM controlled Corporation fared better under the non-black post-Independence Governments than under the black ones pointing to a possible cause for its demise. While the PoSC and its City Fathers were being emasculated, Boroughs like Chaguanas were growing in prosperity and independence, rapidly overtaking other black dominated Boroughs like Arima, Point Fortin and even the Town of San Fernando and one expects that in the not too distant future the village of Couva will also move ahead of all the black run Boroughs. These facts tell the story of the degeneration of the Port-of-Spain Corporation, once the premier black Institution but which, for all intents and purposes, died under the rule of the black post-Independence Governments.

If we are to agree on this narrative then a cause has to be identified and a way found to repair the damage and reverse the trend towards the fulfillment of Mr Lok Jack's prophesy of “dread” for the entire society. I for one would frown upon any kind of Government led or managed plan for black businessmen along the lines of CEPEP or URP, these things do not work and only serve to create a dependency on the “pushermen” in Government (also “dons” and Political Parties of course) who put in place and manage such programmes. The playing field for black businessmen is not level and was made so largely by the black politicians — not the Syrians or the Whites or the Chinese or even the Colonials (my argument is that if you are in power and can do something about such inequity, and chose not to do anything, or to ignore it, or to support the inequity, then the responsibility for it continuing thereafter is transferred to you). The situation remains unchanged today for it is still impossible for black businessmen or Institutions to identify a politician they can approach for support or even understanding. Think about it — who really is there? All other racial groups have some such politicians —with some literally having black (and other) politicians as personal aides or as their group's representatives in Parliament.

My experience is that black Ministers have almost always been unreachable or, unable or unwilling to assist. Even today, many of my black colleagues and I have better relationships with non-African politicians than with those of African descent. Indeed, there are some black politicians who can be best accessed through non-Africans. There are many things outside of programmes like CEPEP and URP that Government can do but they first have to recognize that a serious debt is owed to blacks for what post-Independence Black Governments have failed to do as representatives who were elected to represent the interests of all citizens (many black politicians are still today oblivious to the problem seen by Mr Lok Jack — such is the degree of black under representation). The extensive damage done to black Institutions and communities by the action and inaction of these post-Independence black Governments has to be acknowledged and the many acts of reparation have to begin with quickly rebuilding and empowering these black Institutions and communities and finding ways to give fair opportunity to the many capable black businessmen, if only to demonstrate the possibility of upward mobility to members of the group by means other than crime (it is important to notice that although valid arguments can be made for economic affirmative action programmes there is nothing like that being called for here — not as yet anyway). Failure to do so would surely make Mr Lok Jack's fears a reality (It is sad to have to make a plea along the lines of security and safety for Government and big business but self interest seems to be what both are about. The irony in all of this is that if the corrective action is taken for these reasons the real hero and beneficiary will still emerge as the criminal for it will be he who will have made it happen).

In closing, lest it be otherwise said, I spent thousands of dollars of my personal money, and convinced many of my colleagues so to do, in campaigning against (and consequently for the PNM), the obscene excesses of the UNC in the last general election. I asked nothing of the PNM and have received even less for like many others who participated in our private campaign, I am faring worse under the present Government than I did under the Government I fought to remove. In other words we supported country at personal financial cost and will continue so to do. I say this because I know that politicians are about persecuting those who criticize them but the issue of the increasing black underclass is a serious one and besides the fact that jail, without effective rehabilitation programmes, is not a solution to crime, this growing underclass is diminishing the quality of all our lives and the moral and ethical standards by which we would choose to live. There is a lot more to be said on this issue and the President of DOMA and all others who belong here should not be afraid to openly and fearlessly speak out. Truth, on this issue, even though perceived, should not be withheld because of sensitivities. What may very well come out of it is the discovery that most of us have more in common with each other than we realize and this would be the first step towards taking charge of those politicians.

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