By Raffique Shah
January 25, 2021
In my column last week, I questioned why the Government thought was necessary to exclude from scrutiny of the relevant authority details of Government to Government contracts. The point I was trying to make is that citizens almost instinctively do not trust politicians, especially when they are in office. Because countries like Trinidad and Tobago have been mired in allegations of corruption on a huge scale that spans different parties in power, suspicions of corruption will cloud every expenditure a government incurs, which leaves little room for getting things done.
Last week, for example, when the first of two new passenger-cargo ferries for the Trinidad-Tobago sea-bridge, The APT James, arrived from Australia where it was built, many people heaped scorn on the Government for buying ‘a old boat’. Now, those people saw exactly what I had seen—video footage of what, to me, looked like an impressive new vessel. But politics has so polarised this country, people see what they want to see, not what is before them. I did not see the ‘dents’ they claimed to see, or any bad welding or otherwise shoddy work. I imagine when the second ferry arrives, we shall hear similar claims.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his colleagues must know and understand this, which is why I believe they should have included in the procurement legislation Government’s right to not make public certain aspects of financial arrangements in loans and similar transactions, while making available for scrutiny everything else.
In the example above, I have outlined two aspects of the politics of this cussed country that have grown to be burdensome millstones around our necks, which hamper our efficiency as a country that relies heavily on commercial trade for its revenues and goods and services. One of the two ethnic-bound parties is in power, so the party in opposition, from its leadership to its base supporters, must say and do everything to make governance for the incumbents near impossible. Examine what has transpired over the past 60 years or so and tell me that I’m lying. Face the facts, folks. Face reality. The majority of you belong to a tribe, you have your ‘Chief’ and you support him or her whatever she says or does.
That we saw the fatal consequences of similar ties-that-bind-the-blind recently in America is of no concern to those who abuse the misnamed ‘social media’ to promote poison, to perform political acrobatics that see them in party ‘A’ one morning, jumping to party ‘B’ by evening, and to hear them announce they are leading party ‘C’ by the following day. Such political prostitution has been the bane of local politics for as long as we have had party politics. And my friends expect me to suggest possible options for the improvement of our politics? Impossible. Whether such people engage in electoral democracy, be it first-past-the-post system or proportional representation, or they are pinned by autocracy disguised as benevolent dictatorship, which is, of course, an oxymoron, since no dictator worthy of his epaulettes can afford to be benevolent, these people are going nowhere, and getting there very quickly.
Look: we are in such a bind right now, we need every hand, leg, finger, toe or whatever other body-part is functional, on every citizen, to be not only on board, but to shake a leg, a foot, a bum, shake something, to get Trinidad & Tobago functioning even at half-throttle. If we do not trim our importation of foreign goods and services down from close to US $10 billion per year, to, say, $7 billion, we dogs dead! Dead, dead! When, a few months ago, I suggested one measure to cut US $500 million immediately by halting the importation of motor vehicles for one or two years, Babwah and his boys near kill me. We’ll die without more vehicles on the roads, they screamed. How dare he deny us the right to two-vehicles-per-person, or three-or-four per family? He mad?
In such scenario, where the natives do not understand priorities, where people’s ‘rides’ are more important than food or education, who am I to even attempt to shake up their priorities? Let them eat scrap iron instead, and maybe even old batteries, to update Marie Antoinette’s much misquoted suggestion.
I should add, just to illustrate the dire straits we are in, with the cry for the elixir of ‘foreign exchange’ growing frenzied, not even the Government is imposing a priority-listing. I suppose they will dive into the reserves or the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund, deal the economy US-billion-dollar blows, rather than read the riot act on the motor vehicles and other non-essential imports madness.
Shucks, I almost forgot: they have to wait until the newly-elected MPs and other high officer-holders get their duty-and-tax-free luxury ‘rides’ before they hit the buggers. Brakes, Babwah, brakes!