Look into the mirror, people

By Raffique Shah
June 06, 2019

Raffique ShahTwo crews, one from the URP and the other from the CEPEP, descended upon the two-by-two street on which I live during the past two weeks in a kind of pincer attack that I am convinced was devised by mid-level officials of the programmes to show citizen Shah how taxpayers’ dollars are wasted, and how we can do nothing about the wastage.

An in-my-face kind of gesture, probably with the finger…

But first, I must explain the geography and demographics of my street, a one-time sugar cane trace in Claxton Bay that can now be described as a lower to lower-middle-income community. The cul de sac is all of 200 metres long, with two side-streets that are approximately 50 metres each. There are exactly 25 family houses, seven of which are owned by retirees. With three generations residing in this relatively peaceful environment, everyone takes care of his surroundings.

In other words, we keep a clean scene, depending on local government only for garbage disposal, which is efficient. The central Government paved the road once (in 2007, I think), and built a bridge over a sometimes troubling mini-river in the 1990s, under Dhanraj Singh’s watch as Minister of Works.

So when a URP crew of six women showed up two weeks ago, I wondered what work they would conjure to justify what I thought would have been their one day’s presence on the street. Since every resident brush-cuts his yard, cleans his drains, etc, and even better (or worse, depending on one’s perspective), with grass and shrubs struggling to survive the long, hot dry season, what was there for them to do?

Well papa, as late comedian John Agitation used to say, after breaking gossip (I assumed as much, what with their muted exchanges punctuated by raucous laughter), four of the women extracted some old hoes (remember that ancient agricultural implement?) and proceeded to weed what I’d say were the tufts and roots of some patches of grass that had defied the scorching sun and the residents’ regular “whacking”. Two appeared to be supervisors: the only things they lifted were bottles of water to their mouths.

As someone who has always stood up for the under-classes and the oppressed, I thought what the hell? They are only making a URP day’s work, which is no more than four hours, so let them be. Imagine my shock when they turned up the following day and the next two, still hoeing, surely asphalt mix by then. So that crew will have been paid a week’s wages for working on my street, doing what did not need to be done.

Multiply that by a thousand, maybe 2,000, similar work-sites across the country, then multiply that by forty to fifty weeks per annum, then factor in, I don’t know for sure, but say $500 per week, and you get a colossal waste of money at a time when Government should be cutting back on expenditure, or, at the very least, demanding productivity and value for every dollar spent.

But wait, that’s only half of the story. Last week, a CEPEP gang turned up. It seemed to be about eight-strong, complete with weed-whacker operator, two screen bearers, a few with rakes and two sweepers. I swear they were whacking asphalt because when they reached in front of my house, the pebbles that sprayed the porch came like the staccato sound of sub-machine gun fire, thankfully minus the explosions that would have signalled broken window panes.

Mercifully, they did only one day’s work. But do the arithmetic as per the URP formula above and you get an idea of how taxpayers’ dollars are wasted on these unproductive make-work progrannes. Every year, almost religiously, government after government allocates close to one billion dollars on CEPEP and URP, which is twice times what they pump into agriculture—clearly a case of warped priorities.

Lofty ideals have been proclaimed time and again: CEPEP will serve as an incubator for small entrepreneurs who will cease being dependent on government handouts and instead themselves hire workers. On odd occasions over the years, URP workers have constructed a bridge here, some pavements there. Both programmes have long lost their moorings as temporary relief to the unemployed, to a permanence that is probably pensionable. Indeed, in URP, generations in certain families boast of their pedigree, much the way artisans or technicians do.

Moreover, these and other, similarly-focussed schemes, such as the on-the-job training (OJT), mask real unemployment numbers, hence the boast of fewer than five percent over the past four years—which is absolutely misleading. And by their very construct, they breed corruption. The recently-exposed case of the “million dollar man” (some manager who got a huge gratuity after one year’s employment in CEPEP) was no aberration. Over the years, we have known about countless cases in which materials for public works have been used to build private residences, businesses, etc.

What is an even greater indictment against every politician who has been in government in this country over the past 50 years is none has had the moral rectitude or testicular fortitude to stop this colossal waste primarily because it is a voter-bank amounting to between 50,000 and 100,000 votes.

It comprises poor people who have lost their human dignity to the extent that for 10-day stints in CEPEP or URP, they will wear a party’s T-shirt, accept free rides to attend meetings, and maybe they will vote for the party that offers them bare survival.

How much lower can our politicians go?

So I see the “larhays” and I fulminate against them for weeding asphalt when the scoundrels responsible for destroying the work ethic and the moral fabric of society occupy the highest offices in the country.

Where are the patriots who will lead us out of the temptation to remain mired in mediocrity if not sheer misery, and deliver us from the evils forged by their predecessors that are eating the soul of the nation?

I think the answer to this and supplementary related questions lies in a mirror that we, the people, must look into to see source of the problem.

4 thoughts on “Look into the mirror, people”

  1. Lt Shah. You have touched on a top that has made my old Trini blood boil when I see these people on the “work site”. I can attest to observing a gang of URP workers doing what they call work! There were eight workers three with hoes, one supervisor, one checker, two big ladies with branches to sweep what I do not know. I observed this crew for about 1 1/2 hours weeding a eight feet long verge on the road. Stopping, talking, joking going to the neighbour’s yard for sit down etc. Little or no work was done and 1 1/2 hours later they began to pack-up. I started to walk on the road and had a chat with one of the workers who seemed to be retired (over sixty). I ask him why they were so lax on the job worked only 1 1/2 hours. He said that he money was not enough and they had to work only 1 1/2 hours ($70.00). He then went to his car which was a Taxi. So this guy is collecting URP, working taxi and may be on government pension. The worst programmed Patrick Manning implemented was the CEPEP program. Almost a billion dollars spent in this program without and returns. Every one is singing the tune of diversification of the economy but they are not saying that one of the key to diversification is the availability of capital for entrepruners to start businesses. If the government had take a fraction of the money spent on the CEPEP program an loaned it to people who have business ideas there would have been some return with actual gainful employment of citizens. Money wasted in the CEPEP program is a rape on the citizens of TT. No to mention the level of corruption in this program. I know of persons who are in CEPEP gangs and also in URP gangs. What a robbery on the people of TT. What about the so called contractors who owe the NIS millions of dollars for contributions taken from the pay of the workers. Why do you have to have this failed “contractor” training which benefits politicians and their friend, and relatives.

  2. “Multiply that by a thousand, maybe 2,000, similar work-sites across the country, then multiply that by forty to fifty weeks per annum, then factor in, I don’t know for sure, but say $500 per week, and you get a colossal waste of money at a time when Government should be cutting back on expenditure, or, at the very least, demanding productivity and value for every dollar spent.“

    It is easy to target the poor and say giving them money is a “waste of money”. But every economist will tell you it is the poor and middle class that keeps an economy growing. The rich does not go to the local parlour or small grocery to buy food. They go to the hi lo, Pricemart etc and spend their money buying mainly foreign produce.

    The poor go to the market and buy from local vendors. The money that goes from their hand is circulated within the community. It is kept in communities where parents can buy clothing and other goods from local vendors. CEPEP is a direct infusion of money at the local level. If one were to go to the malls across the nation, they are virtually empty with lots of space to rent. The government is main economic driver and is starving the middle class of badly needed funds. These funds come from building and road projects.

    Instead the 1% is getting the biggest set of the pie whilst the local contractor has people laid off, no work. Massy is now heavily invested in the oil industry, almagamated now controls security at the oil industry as an example. A friend of mine said since the beginning of the year he only got a few days work in the construction industry. The government not releasing funds he has not seen it so bad.

    Economics defy the current administration who seems hellbent on pressuring the citizenry. The honorable Prime Minister announced with great zeal, he is “weaning people off the government”. We have seen him in action “pink slipping” over 40,000 citizens whilst increasing money to Tobago. As Sat so rightly said it is now Tobago and Trinidad. Not to be denied the engineer turn economist starved cooperations off money but made sure Port of Spain and other PNM cooperations savoured the fat of the land. The chosen sons and daughters like fat pigs at the feeding trough enjoyed above and beyond.

  3. It is obvious you did not read the two posts. We are not saying that the poor should not be helped. CEPEP and URP keep the poor in that state and some poor people like it so. The huge sums of money spent in these nonproductive programs do not help the wider community from getting meaningful jobs. If this money is invested in factories, productive agriculture and innovation it would return more than the small purchases at the various stores who sell cheap goods imported from China. Of course there must be social programs but scarce money should not be used to support and keep the citizens in a poor state. Good jobs and meaning full employment makes a country more prosperous. Also these types of programs encourages low productivity and lazyness. Some Trinis like the 2 hour days so that they can lime or go to another job.

    1. “Good jobs”…poor people you will always have in any country of this world. Even the richest nations have poor people. Good jobs is what we all need but unfortunately not everyone can get a good or great job. Due to varying circumstances. I will be the first to admit too much money is spent on the program. But it is up to the Ministry of Works and Labour to bring those “good jobs”. The PNM rule this nation 40 years out of its 56 year history, they went through 3 massive oil booms and today the talk is about “good jobs”. Excuse me but they simply do not care. Or they lack the vision for these good jobs.

      In four years over 40,000 people were “pink slipped” and given another 5 years another 40,000 will hit the breadline. Where are the jobs the good jobs. People want good jobs to take care of themselves and family. Nobody wants to work in the hot Sun for a paltry $70 a day! It is just a matter of time before CEPEP closes. Then those in the program can begin a thiefin career.

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