$40,000 can’t celebrate anything! Archbishop Burke and the gimme culture

EPL Infrafred Sauna

When I was in the Senate, in 1996, I spoke and voted in favour of the grant of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation holiday, which was celebrated again last Wednesday.

At the, time I referred with affection to Earl Lovelace’s great literary work, The Wine of Astonishment, which tells of the struggle of the Baptists against colonial oppression.

Photo: Spiritual Baptists ring the bell. (Copyright Washington Post)
Photo: Spiritual Baptists ring the bell.
(Copyright Washington Post)

It should be clear therefore that there is nothing personal when I treat with the underlying assumption contained in a recent statement by Archbishop Barbara Burke.

Apparently Archbishop Burke was not satisfied with a Government grant for the Baptist celebration. I heard her say scathingly on the television: “(TT)$40,000 can’t celebrate nothing.” She went on to speak of the transportation cost alone to bring elders to our capital from places like Toco.

Archbishop Burke’s statement was not only made at a time of serious economic concern but during a first quarter when thousands of real jobs were lost.

I say “real” jobs because the lost jobs were in the energy and heavy manufacturing sectors rather than the State-funded make-work programmes and padded employment of the public sector.

The underlying assumption of many protests at any curtailment of Government expenditure for celebration is that the State must provide copious funds to special interest groups for celebrations, festivals, cultural activities and sundry entertainments.

Photo: Archbishop Barbara Burke (right) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Archbishop Barbara Burke (right) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

Our economic governance model has always provided for such expenditure. Archbishop Burke’s scorn at the sum allocated this year provides the stimulus for a critical examination of this item of State expenditure at this time of grave economic concern.

The term “special interest groups” or “special interests” is a term of repeated derision in politics in the United States of America. Not so in Trinidad and Tobago.

In fact, a notorious Cabinet minute on Carnival recognised such groups and, illegally in my view, cut the core out of the legislation establishing the National Carnival Commission.

Many other special interest groups have received large Government subventions, even when in some cases they already have a profitable business model. This subvention largesse is frequently distributed without credible accountability for how the recipients spend it has been habit forming.

Those who give it have formed the habit of using largesse as a tool to govern in the manner of bread and circuses described below.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) poses with soca star Machel Montano during the 2016 Carnival period. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) poses with soca star Machel Montano during the 2016 Carnival period.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

The now prevalent dependency syndrome infects those who receive it. Our economic governance is crumbling into pieces.

Like others, I have given thought to how runaway Government expenditure can be treated, now that the country has little or no money to waste on unearned “bread and circuses”, which was the ancient Roman phrase for Government by appeasement.

The phrase is “used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.”

Anticipating the Republican party having to pick up its own pieces in the post-Trump era, New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks regards it as critical that two steps are taken. I cite this because it fitted so well with my current thought process, even though I might have a less stringent view of the overall role of the State.

According to Brooks, the first step is “a mental purging casting aside presuppositions and a fixed mindset.”  The second step is “going out and seeing the society to be governed “with fresh eyes and listening to it with fresh ears.”

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the CFE Arena, University of Central Florida on March 5, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Copyright AFP 2016/Joe Raedle)
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the CFE Arena, University of Central Florida on March 5, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Joe Raedle)

Brooks describes this moment at which this re-examination is to take place as “a moment for sociology.”

Brooks asserts that today’s problems are different when compared to the social and family structure that prevailed in Reagan era, of which conservatives are so proud.

In America, he says they “relate to binding a fragmenting society, reweaving family and social connections, relating across the diversity of a globalised world.”

Trinidad and Tobago has needed a fundamental re-examination of its socio-economic situation since 1990 when we had the attempted coup.  Instead of such a thinking approach, successive Governments, wary of the Robinson/NAR type cuts in public expenditure when necessary, believed that extravagant spending would keep the peace.

They fed and accepted more and more special interests groups, disbursing very large sums of money to them.

That is why it seems almost unthinkable today that grants of celebration money should be curtailed. It is part of our culture; but should it be?

Photo: Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) celebrates with the Spiritual Baptists. (Courtesy UNCTT)
Photo: Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) celebrates with the Spiritual Baptists.
(Courtesy UNCTT)

This Government appointed an Economic Advisory Board headed by Terrence Farrell.  It has submitted its report, which perhaps contains the re-examination of our socio-economic situation that we so badly need.

The report should be released immediately as a prelude to the mid-year review to be delivered in Parliament this week. Particularly as we can expect the usual partisan rhetoric about who did what to whom in tiefin’ and nepotism but few credible solutions.

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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  1. I am confused. The article ended and its purpose is still not clear to me.

  2. I never heard him say this when other religions ask for more money ?(am just sayin)

  3. One very wise man called Ben Franklin once said that if a religion is good and worthwhile, it should be able to support itself on the contributions of its own followers. No Government should be propping up any religion.

  4. I hope you did not accept it..,,do you collect 10% tithes and offering from your from members..

  5. these parasites when will they wake up?

  6. how is it to serve god now?

  7. Traditions would be around Carnival, though not the made for money competitions that someone else makes the money on.

  8. Here is an idea, stop giving away tax payers money to all religious denominations, if they want to have celebrations let them raise their own money. We all know when certain holidays fall so they have a year to raise funds to do whatever they like when holiday time comes around. Freeness done!

  9. They got land in Maloney over 15 years now and did nothing with it. Just sad

  10. I’d agree with everything except scrapping what doesn’t make a profit Judy-ann Stewart. Some traditions are worth holding on to and I won’t leave it up the whims of the mass public.
    We would cry in the future if some things disappeared because one generation didn’t understand the point of them.

  11. They also have to treat Carnival as a business venture. Do away with what does not make a profit. Also stop giving the prize money for competitions where the people putting them on make the money.

  12. I think the government should let all religious entities pay for their own celebrations. That includes Emancipation. The only celebrations the government should pay for is Independence. We don’t really do anythiny for Republic Day.

  13. In the political literature it is call: Clientelism – at UWI u can find endless papers on it.

  14. I heard them complain and I wondered…for upteen years now, these and other organisations have grown accustomed to hands outstretched and receiving but not becoming self sustaining in any way. SMH…My mother’s church just acquired a bakery and will be using the profits to help with church finances. Time for them to catch the entrepreneurial spirit…these are trying times…get with it!

  15. That ungrateful, unpatriotic excuse. Let me hold a still tongue.

  16. My Question is what they do with d collection

  17. I could celebrate plenty with $40,000.

  18. And what if they got nothing? Ungratefulness is a sin!

  19. ..Why is the State funding religion?..

  20. Lasana I am so fed up with of some these religious leaders always want….. don’t get me wrong there are those who give of their very best which I will always support when last some of these gime gime leaders does anything for anyone. …. Lord have mercy..

  21. All government funding should cease for such events. All religious celebrations. Let the various groups fund their celebrations and if necessary seek private funding

  22. ..On the other hand, Sammy says WI is a praying team. LOL..

  23. ..We have had “religious leadership” for centuries. And this is what we have. Figure out the rest..

  24. If Pastor Samuel, Pundit Sharma and Archbishop Burke are any guide, religious leaders certainly don’t help provide moral leadership or serve as a deterrent to corruption.
    (Or is just THOSE religious leaders?)

  25. My question would be how all the financial contributions help the nation become more sensitised to the various religious and cultural events-in other words, what, if anything, do we learn from these gov’t sponsored events?

  26. Every habit can be changed with enough will power. But it would need responsible leaders with moral authority… (Ahhh. I see what you mean! Lol)

  27. How do religious events and structures bring return to the taxpayers who foot the bill? They don’t and there’s a big problem with that.

    • Supposedly, they help anchor the country with moral values and stand as one answer to crime.
      Funny how that didn’t seem to work out with Pastor Samuel and Pundit Sharma. And the many others in the past too.

    • And how could I forget Archbishop Burke herself…

    • Supposedly. But that certainly isn’t the case in the very secular “first world” countries, where there is next to no murders and no influence by any church in government affairs and vice versa. Ironically statistics show that some of the most religious countries (Mexico, Colombia, T&T) have the most internal problems. Giving religious institutions public funds ain’t gonna do sh*t but it may very well encourage greed.

  28. How long for us to have a cultural shift I wonder? One term in office? Two?

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