Citizen of the Year

By Raffique Shah
December 31, 2023

Raffique ShahFor many years now, I have considered naming some national of Trinidad and Tobago, who has performed with sheer excellence over the year, as citizen of the year. I have stopped short of actually doing it by one consideration or another. In my school of thinking, a singular act by some citizen could merit the title, which is little more than being honoured by one’s compatriots since it will hardly carry a monetary value.

Another aspect of this country’s culture that steered me away from taking the plunge is how easily we criticise those who plunge into work, invariably, pro bono or charity. This removes an incentive for professionals who are paid hundreds of dollars per hour for accessing those skills or professional value they may add; and of course, there are people who, for one reason or another, want everything that other people initiate to fail. I have long ignored the naysayers who will discourage even the most patriotic of citizens from lending their service to society.

In fact, in so many ways I have simply dumped these negative types from my thoughts since I want to be positive in trying, like other patriotic citizens, to lift my native land to new heights, not just restore its old values. I should add that the conventional method of selecting someone who is deserving of such title is by asking readers of this column to assess people they may know who have given yeoman service in their professions such as education, crime-fighting, rebuilding the economy, increasing export earnings or impacting the health system in a very fundamental way.

Should I maintain this tradition and look only for high performers in recognised fields, I may end up selecting people who are not the best in their fields, but who cannot and will not take us forward. It is one thing, for example, to use schools curricula, scan the high performers among the teachers and administrators and go with the best of what might be a poor crop, which will serve nobody’s best interest. We need professionals who will dare step out of the strictures of curricula, break down barriers and introduce forward looking, thinking and learning, so that teachers and pupils may well go beyond the boundaries set by government and enter a realm reserved for the very elite in education.

We have only to look at the most successful innovators, business operators and scholars in today’s world to see the successful are the iconoclasts: they break the rules. Think: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates. We have yet to produce scientists who will make ground-breaking discoveries, entrepreneurs who will increase our foreign earnings exponentially, agriculturists who will find ways to feed us, thereby cutting down on our food imports, etc.

Insofar as our health system goes, we definitely need new thinking that will correct the imbalance our politicians and conventional medical personnel have created. Every so often, some minister or administrator reminds us of the huge amount of money we spend on building and maintaining hospitals and other structures that make us look modern; when deep inside the system has so many failures, it stinks. We are gorging ourselves to death, quite literally. Instead of the medical professionals, nutritionists and dietitians who know the inside of this house of horrors, tell us the truth and force us to save our own lives, they who know invariably count their days’ earnings, order bagfuls of doubles, pies and assorted greasy foods and continue along their merry way. However, you’d think that Trinidadians, knowing the state of the hospitals and the healthcare system, would do all in their power not to end up there as “waiting for death” patients.

I am privy to discussions and research work under way among some very bright and daring medical doctors and other professionals who, while being careful not to break the rules, are leading by example as they move to give us all new lives, in a manner of speaking.

Now, I have touched on two fields of endeavour where I’d likely look for candidates for my citizen of the year: innovation in medicine, and breaking barriers in entrepreneurship. I know this very notion of change by force will hardly win me any new friends, but I was never one to shy away from contentious issues. So I might just name one such medical doctor as my citizen of the year. His colleagues in the medical fraternity I am sure will agree he has broken new ground in his practice, but will they be bold enough to join him as he pursues his multi-pronged approach to healthcare?

I am not arrogant so I shall give readers an opportunity to nominate their choices for the first such award. You have ­until the end of March.