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Poverty is Not a Virtue

T&T is not a failed state; it is a state whose socio/economic policies, ineffective leadership and lack of vision is failing its citizens. It is a state which has consistently failed to effectively integrate large sections of the African and East Indian populations into the wealth creating mechanism that would give them a stake in the country. This failure manifests itself in misdirected values, social deviance, questionable morals and increasing violence. Consequently, with the exception of the elite, a struggling middle class and an increasing number of foreigners, the great majority of citizens in this small but oil rich nation remain poor; marginally more than hewers of wood and drawers of water.

It is a gross understatement to say that poverty has a debilitating effect on the poor but as the overwhelming evidence suggest, the effects of poverty is not limited to that demographic. The spate of murders, kidnappings, sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse and other social ills, reverberates throughout the wider society, instilling fear, restricting free movement and making virtual prisoners of citizens in their own homes. In fact, the social, political and economic fallout from poverty makes it impossible for citizens to enjoy the full benefits of life in civil society and hinders the society’s ability to realize its full potential.

It is the moral responsibility of every government to create conditions to ensure that all citizens live with some degree of human dignity. The increase in social problems presents clear evidence that this has not happened. The conditions that give rise to poverty on the one hand, and vulgar accumulation on the other, lies at the heart of the country’s social problems. In 1905, George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) stated, “We tolerate poverty as if it were a wholesome tonic for lazy people or else a virtue to be embraced as St. Francis embraced it.” Shaw would be terribly disturbed to learn that over 100 years later, that embrace has tightened and is suffocating the poor and the country as a whole, more than ever before.

No amount of Scotland Yard officers, Blimps, Ministers of National Security, extended prison sentences or the regressive threat of hanging, could bring an end to the scourge of poverty and its accompanying manifestations. Security, the chief pretence of civilization, cannot exist where the danger of poverty, hang over the heads of an increasing number of families witnessing the local elite and foreigners live high on the hog while squandering resources that are the birthright of the people. Those who have nothing to lose except the freedom to continue suffering, view crime as a calculated risk with the potential for great material dividends. They take their cues from a corrupt upper class and a leadership that has essentially lost its way.

It is not my intention to condone nor to excuse criminal behaviour. But to vigorously persecute the effects of poverty without adequately addressing the root cause is tantamount to spinning top in mud. By the same token, infrastructural development; that misleading indicator of progress, can never be constructed high enough to blot out the cesspool of poverty that is constantly expanding at its base. When a woman sells her body to feed her children or a man indulges in criminal behaviour perhaps for similar reasons, society judges them harshly without regard for circumstance. We should judge a government who fail to create conditions that renders these behaviours unnecessary with the same degree of harshness, and be prepared to liberally apply the appropriate punishment, when the people get their chance to be judge, jury and executioner.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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