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Donna Yawching

Under the microscope
Sunday, June 30, 2002
Don’t blame the lamp-posts
Sunday, June 23, 2002
Forgotten world of theatre
Sunday, June 16, 2002
Tolerating Mr Panday
Sunday, June 9, 2002
A career worth having
Sunday, June 2, 2002
A tale of two cities
Sunday, May 26, 2002
Send in the clowns
Sunday, May 19, 2002
The highest and the lowest
Sunday, May 12, 2002
Who’s to blame?
Sunday, May 5, 2002
A Recipe For Anarchy
Sunday, April 28, 2002
A dog-trainer’s nightmare
Sunday, April 21, 2002
When elephants fight
Sunday, April 14, 2002
Where is Raymond Choo Kong when you need him
Saturday, April 6, 2002
The real stakeholders
Saturday, March 23, 2002
Not even the douens would want it
Saturday, March 16, 2002
A snake in the grass
Saturday, March 9, 2002
No press is bad press
Saturday, March 2, 2002
Crime and hypocrisy
Saturday, February 23, 2002
A Carnival of blood
Saturday, February 16, 2002
A Spektakula fiasco
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Carnival musings
Sunday, February 3, 2002
You, go girl...
Sunday, January 27, 2002
Dead Zone
Saturday, January 19, 2002
My new party
Sunday, January 13, 2002
A gentlemen's agreement?
Saturday, December 29, 2001
Dead men walking
Saturday, December 22, 2001
Two Man Rats
Saturday, December 15, 2001
A Corruption Primer
Sunday, December 9, 2001
Wallowing in superstition
Sunday, December 2, 2001
A code of silence
Sunday, November 25, 2001
Political pipe-dream
Sunday, November 18, 2001
One morning in Manzanilla
Thursday, September 13, 2001

Under the microscope
Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

By Donna Yawching

WHATEVER political developments may occur in the very near future, I for one am very glad that we’ve had the experience of the current interim government.

Not because I am enamoured with either Mr. Manning or his administration (believe me, I’m not); and not even because I think the UNC were the biggest bunch of crooks to hit T&T yet, bar none. I’m happy for this particular political hiatus for one reason only: it’s like a window, letting in the fresh unfamiliar breeze of truth. Corners which otherwise would have remained closed and dark, the realm of murmurings and suspicions, are being aired out; and that's healthy.

Consider. Had the UNC regained power, would we be having any of the enquiries and investigations that are now underway? Not to mention the court cases, the revelations about bank accounts; and all these unusual signs of life from the CID and the Integrity Commission? I don’t think so.

And, had Mr. Manning won the election by a comfortable majority, would he have bothered to stir up the dust? Again, I doubt it: what would he have had to gain? As we all know, it is the very precariousness of his situation that is the driving force behind much of this frenetic activity: Manning knows he is in a race against time to disclose something utterly damning that could shut down the UNC once and for all.

And so, we must thank the strange fate that has led us to this unwieldy political impasse. Because, at the end of it (presumably, quite soon), we will at least have gained a very clear view of how our country—unfortunately— operates.

The Elections and Boundaries Commission is another corner into which some light has flooded. We have heard of its strengths (few) and its weaknesses (many); more importantly, we have gained an insight into the genre of people who populate our power structures, and the way in which these structures function (or don’t, as the case may be). We’ve been shown a statutory body which—amazingly in a democratic society—answers to no-one but itself, and is its own sole point of reference.

We have seen its gatekeepers’ competence brought into question, and we have seen them nevertheless refuse to step down, even as a point of honour. (As Shakespeare’s Falstaff once declared: “What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? Air.” It could be our national motto.) And we have seen ourselves, as a society, powerless to make them leave. That alone is a valuable insight, or ought to be.

What else have we learned about ourselves as a nation, and about the people we install to lead us? My colleague Kevin Baldeosingh wrote stingingly this week about “examplars”, and he makes an indisputable point. All the people who would (or should) inspire respect are turning out to be little more than worms, once put under the microscope that has been created by the current political impasse.

Hence the distasteful spectacle of the Independent Senators (otherwise usually well respected, if only for their “independence”) grubbing after unearned pay, and taking strong exception when anyone queries their venality. It is true that they are under no obligation to say what they will do with their money; the question is whether they should be accepting any money at all. And the same goes, by the way, for the “Unindependent” Senators, who are just as superfluous, but are wisely keeping a low profile.

But the most important disclosures, I think, are those coming out of the Biche High School Enquiry. The last two weeks have turned up a succession of experts, all of whom are chiefly concerned with covering their own or their company’s self. There are so many conflicting interests—the Ministries of Energy and Education, SEMP, MTS, Trintoplan, Town and Country, Cariri, Envirotec—- it’s hard to keep track of who said or did what; and why.

However, what is crystal clear is that: (a) strong concerns about the project were expressed at an early stage; (b) sound technical advice was routinely ignored; and (c) unequivocal warnings of danger were brushed aside. We’re hearing high officials say things like, “We probably forgot”. Who is ultimately to blame for the fiasco is anyone’s guess; presumably, this is what Justice Sealey will determine. But what, to me, is most striking is that these many and varied experts who consulted on the project, and who noted the problems, apparently did not feel any obligation to continue sounding the alarm, or to do so publicly.

Once their job was done, their reports written (and ignored), their memoranda sent, they all, to a man (or woman), washed their hands off the issue and moved on, allowing the construction to continue as if all were well. The fact that so many grave dangers would eventually hang over the heads of innocent children did not, apparently, perturb them in the least. Not one of them protested openly, or even called the press to whisper: “Hey, there’s something here you should know.”
And that is one of the most damning indictments of our society that I can think of./

Off on vacation; see you in August.

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Don’t blame the lamp-posts
Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

By Donna Yawching

“PILLAR OF DEATH” the front page headline screamed, above the photo of the maxi-taxi wrapped —and I mean that literally—around a T&TEC lamp-post. The head and tail of the maxi were virtually kissing, and the middle had split open horizontally like a tin can. Two passengers were dead and ten were injured; the only surprise was that it wasn’t worse.

The driver appears to have sustained light injuries. He told police that his vehicle had picked up a skid in heavy rainfall, and smashed into the post. For this, the unfortunate post is now branded a pillar of death.

When I read stories like this, I am enraged. Lamp-posts do not leap out in the middle of the street and accost drivers. Neither do guardrails, or walls, or highway medians. For the most part, these artifacts stay quietly in one place, doing their jobs. And cars do not get the bit between their teeth and dash off with their hapless drivers, the way a racehorse might. They simply respond to the actions of the person behind the wheel.

Yet we are constantly reading about cars that “go out of control”, or “pick up a skid” (as if it were a passenger); or about ruthless “pillars of death”. No-one ever seems to blame the driver. No-one ever says the obvious: “driving too fast”; “driving while drunk”; “driving negligently”. No-one ever tells the driver: “You killed innocent people.” No headline ever reads: DEATH DRIVER. I wonder why this is.

Accidents do happen, I am quite aware of that: genuine accidents, the kind that cannot be foreseen or forestalled. The child or animal running out into the road, the brake that suddenly fails (though even that is usually a result of negligence); the “bad drive” from a fellow motorist that causes a fatal swerve over a cliff. But most of our road accidents are not due to unavoidable destiny, but rather to carelessness, bravado, and criminal negligence.

Just the photo of that maxi hugging the light pole tells you all you need to know: the driver was probably going much too fast. A vehicle doesn’t fold like that at 40 kmph: it had to have hit the lamp-post at quite a speed. And you don’t “pick up a skid”, even in the rain, if you’re driving at a responsible pace; you do it by speeding down a wet road, and starting to hydroplane. Why was this driver going so fast through what he himself described to the police as “heavy rain”?

Yet we continue to blame the pillars, or the road, or the intersections: to brand them as “death-traps” and “death strips” and “pillars of death”; and I am left to wonder why. Is it because we are totally incapable of taking responsibility for our actions, and do not expect anyone else, even such murderous drivers, to take any responsibility for theirs?

Is it because we feel that, having survived the accident itself, the driver has suffered enough, and should not be forced to confront the misery he (it’s usually a he) has caused? Is it because we prefer to bury our heads in the sand, and distance ourselves from unpleasant realities by simply ignoring them? Are we content to say that it was just God’s will, and leave it at that? Why is it that we so seldom read of any charges being brought against these drivers, or of the subsequent outcomes of these cases? All we ever hear is that Sgt. X is investigating; and nothing more.

The questions go deeper. Why is it that so many drivers feel they can drive so dangerously, so stupidly, so criminally, and with total impunity? Why are our road rules broken with greater regularity than they are kept? Is it just because we are such a carefree, spontaneous bunch of happy natives that it doesn’t occur to us that the rules are there for a reason, and are actually meant to be followed?

Or is it because we know, almost for a fact, that no-one is going to make us follow them? Is it because we know, almost for a fact, that the police couldn’t give a damn how fast we drive, or what rules we break, particularly since they are often doing even worse?

The “Pillar of Death” headline greeted me on my return from a short trip to Barbados. On my arrival there two days earlier, a friend had come to meet me at the airport. He was a little late; I was waiting outside as he pulled up. I waved, and ran across to the pickup bay, where he had drawn to a stop. He was parked there for the few seconds it took to pop open the trunk for my bag, and for me to get into the car; he never even got out of his seat. As he pulled off, a policeman flagged him down. He had inadvertently stopped—get this—on the pedestrian crossing. He was given a ticket. What’s more, he submitted meekly.

Needless to say, I felt terrible; and I did think the cop had been a bit too hard: a stern warning would have been adequate. But the fact remains: my friend will never make that mistake again. Neither, I’m sure, will most Bajans—not that mistake, nor many others. Because, you see, they know that someone is watching, and will take action. That someone considers it his job to take action—an obligation, not an option depending on whim.

There is, in short, a measure of consistency; and as such, people find it in their own interest to drive carefully. Never once in Barbados did I see anyone speed up the shoulder, or cut across another driver to turn right from a left-turn lane, or force their way into a line of traffic. When I asked my cousin, who lives there, if these things happen, she looked at me wide-eyed. She couldn’t even imagine it. I wonder if she can imagine a pillar of death.

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