When we sleep with the Devil

By Raffique Shah
April 16, 2024

Raffique ShahMore often than not, people get the government they deserve. We hear this refrain time and again in countries where elections are supposed to be free and fair, and free from fear, much like ours in Trinidad and Tobago.

This latter statement does not necessarily find favour with the majority among the voting population, commonly called the electorate. I shan’t get into it with any­one who thinks otherwise in this land of a million people, a million opinions. We’ll get nowhere if I engage in side arguments that do not help anyone.

Suffice it to say, those who allege that our elections, in one way or other, are tampered with, cannot present sufficient information to spark probes, far less count as evidence. I do, however, believe there are always people in the country, and in this case the electorate, who will try anything to influence or corruptly intervene in any election just to see if they can buy and sell votes like a commodity.

I’m sure the officials at the Elections and Boundaries Commission can tell us a story or two about such happenings that attempt to pervert the polls. It is unlikely that anyone has been successful in tampering with the ballots such that it makes our elections farcical.

I know there have been instances in which many electors change their addresses and, more out of laziness than mischief, fail to register their new voting addresses. But such petty occurrences will have hardly impacted the polls one way or other, over the near hundred years that we have been electing councillors and parliamentarians to govern us.

Still, most people who were grumpy with the state of politics and the behaviours of our politicians before elections remain even more dissatisfied even with their candidates elected to office and forming the government. We have seen this so often that we have become immune to it.

In pre-election debates, exchanges and quarrels, party fanatics… either they complain loudly about their representatives having little or no money before elections but seemingly loaded with cash after the polls, shrug-off complaints of corruption by critics saying, “Da’is small ting, man.” And, “small thing” it might very well be; yet if we are genuine in our criticism of corruption across the board from whatever party it emanates, we might as well hold their hands and help plant the seed of big corruption of going down the slippery slope to hell where we count dollars syphoned from the public purse amounting to billions of dollars per year.

So, what may have started as “small ting” rose into huge enterprise within months. Politicians high and low, from ministers to hustlers, pocket their shares of the loot and put us back into a cycle that spells poverty. Because out of such petty larcenies groweth big fraud; and therefrom multi-billion-dollar fraud that spans years of stealing from the public purse by a range of bandits so tuned to the system that they will just thief, steal, rob and maybe even kill for a fistful of dollars.

Those at the bottom of this mountain of corruption invariably never see concrete evidence of it. But when someone squeals and “d mark buss” with sewage spilling every which way, we then know, to our shock (why shock?), that the men and women we thought were gods of all that is good have feet of mud.

Some can’t travel outside Trinidad, others can’t even try for Tobago, and yet others disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. To crown off the farce, we ask loudly: how did they get there? Who gave these brigands licence to steal? Look into the mirror, my friends, there you will see who cleared the way… not to add, toiled into the night, campaigning to put this scum of the earth in office.

The leaders in some cases genuinely believed their subordinates were free from corruption. Indeed, many may have been clean before they got into office, but then they were drawn in what in reality are gangs of thieves that have all the firepower to rob and to defend their wealth by any means necessary.

Okay, I know I may have over-dramatised the issue. But I paint a horror picture to get it into the skulls of our electors how good intentions could turn into fatal errors. You vote for an angel but you get the Devil. Not your fault, you say: not anybody’s fault but somehow we end up sleeping with the Devil.

One week after election, you look to change parties. Too late, my friend. The Devil in power is there for years. See how innocently you end up sleeping with the Devil even when you thought you were courting an angel. That is how corruption progresses from epidemic to endemic.

More on this later.

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