Scene: Office of the Prime Minister. There is a knock on the door.
Dr Keith Rowley: Yes, come in.
(The Finance Minister strolls in with a broad smile).
Colm Imbert: Good day, Dr Prime Minister. How are you doing today? How is the back?
Keithos: Yes, I’m fine. The back is fine too.
Colm: Excellent Dr Prime Minister. We need to have you in tip-top shape for all those press engagements you know.
Keithos: Yes, thanks. Wait… What?
Colm: Sorry, I didn’t catch that Dr Prime Minister.
Keithos: What does my back have to do with the press?
Colm: Well, now that you bring it up Dr Prime Minister, I can’t say for sure. But it is better not to take any chances.
(The Prime Minister pauses and glares at the Finance Minister, who continues to smile sweetly).
Keithos: Colm, you don’t have to call me Dr Prime Minister all the time, you know.
Colm: Pardon me, Prime Minister. It is so good to have a doctor at the helm again. It is a good omen, don’t you think? It gives the country the mirage of being in safe hands. So much better than that last fellow who tried to run the show with some nonsensical degree. Geology, I believe.
Keithos (stiffens): Wait… But my degree is in geology too, Colm. I just have a doctorate in it.
Colm: Precisely, Sir. You have a doctorate in nonsense, which makes all the difference really.
Keithos: Do you even listen to yourself talk man? Sometimes you’re worse than Faris! I can’t tell if you’re insulting me or being clumsy. Colm, you do know that I am one of a handful of trained volcanologists in this country right?!
Colm: I could tell just by looking at you, Sir.
(The Prime Minister glares at the Finance Minister, who continues to smile with no trace of malice).
Keithos: What did you get your degree in, Colm?
Colm: Which one, Prime Minister? I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Civil Engineering and Maritime Civil Engineering. I have a Master’s in Construction Law and Arbitration and, just to pass the time in between saving the PNM, I’ve also begun a Master’s in Oil and Gas Law. As I tell the wife, we all need hobbies to help us relax. Like you and your golf for instance, right?
Keithos: All those degrees and you can’t build a retainer wall, eh? Haha.
Colm: Not as well as you can build a volcano apparently.
Keithos: Excuse me?
Colm: It is your office, Prime Minister, you can take such liberties if you please. Might I ask why you called me today?
Keithos: Colm, I wanted to have a word with you about the bank rates. Now, it all played off very well in the media. But don’t you think you might have gone too far in saying you and Central Bank can regulate rates.
Colm: That Independent Senator, David Small, was trying to steal our thunder and paint us as uncaring to the plebeians. I had to act quickly on behalf of the party.
Keithos: I don’t like the word ‘plebeians’. It sounds like a small J’ouvert band that nobody plays with.
Colm: Point taken, Sir. I bow to your superior knowledge on J’ouvert. The ‘voters’ then.
Keithos: How about ‘people’?
Colm: If you insist.
Keithos: I checked Section 44A myself and it does not say you can regulate anything. It says: “The Bank, after consultation with the Minister, may set the maximum spread…”
Colm: Isn’t it lovely how Google allows everyone to pass themselves off as experts at research?
Keithos: Are you being a smart arse?
Colm: I would not dare question your authority on the subject, Sir.
Colm: Yes, Prime Minister?
Keithos: Colm, why are you saying things you cannot deliver? You do realise the Central Bank is an independent body, right? I have no intention of seeing us being dragged into more fights. Jwala was enough.
Colm: I have no such intention, Prime Minister. I only said I would “look into it.”
Keithos: So you don’t plan to do anything?
Colm: Maybe I might appeal to their patriotism. But that’s about it.
Keithos: Like the taxi drivers?
(The Prime Minister thinks for a minute).
Keithos: But what will that do?
Colm: It will take the spotlight off of us.
Keithos: No, I meant how will it help the situation.
Colm: Do you want me to help the situation or help the Government?
Keithos: Well, both if we can.
Colm (chuckles): No, no, no Sir. That is not what we are here for. That is why you chose me to handle this difficult portfolio for you.
Keithos: I see…
(The Prime Minister looks momentarily lost).
Colm: Let us play a game, Sir. Pretend we have $100 to share. I am the prime minister and you can represent the people…
Keithos: Why don’t I get to be the prime minister?
Colm: That would be too obvious, Sir. Let’s use our imaginations… Anyway, the $100 represents the resources of the State. And we must both agree on the way it is divided between us, otherwise we both lose. But we can decide on any figure we see as fair.
Keithos: Okay. Go on.
Colm: Right. So here you go. I think this should suffice.
(Imbert hands Dr Rowley a $1 bill).
Keithos: One measly dollar?
Colm: Well, it is more than you had a minute ago.
Keithos: But what can I do with a dollar?
Colm: It is a recession, Sir. We all have to make concessions.
Keithos: So why do you get $99?
Colm: Because the State and the private sector need to keep the money to reinvest. That way we can earn more money.
Keithos: And then I would get more than $1.
Colm: Of course. Eventually.
Keithos: Eventually when?
Colm: Well, when we have reinvested and reinvested until we have made as much money as we can from those $99 grants that you so wisely left in our care, Sir.
Keithos: But how do the people benefit?
Colm: It isn’t about individual wealth, Sir. It is about what benefits us as a whole. The country is a better place with all that wealth we all contributed to.
(The Prime Minister ponders some more).
Keithos: But don’t a few individuals get really wealthy anyway?
Colm: That is one of the unavoidable spinoffs, yes. But look on the bright side, Sir, those individuals make great financiers.
Keithos: So when the State and private sector have made as much money as they can from re-investing the resources of the land, will the people then get a cut?
Colm: Good God, no. We must not give handouts, Sir. They must earn it.
Keithos: Well, how do they earn it?
Colm: By not just sitting on their backsides and waiting for us to give them a dollar and getting up and doing something entrepreneurial.
Keithos: So those with money deserve State help to get more; and those without any money should pull themselves up by their own bootlaces?
Colm: You are getting the hang of it, Sir. Good for you.
Keithos: But what if I just refuse to accept $1?
Colm: Well, then we would have to give you $2. Or even $3 if needs be.
Keithos: That’s it? As easy as that?
Colm: Well, we need the people to provide labour and consume goods, Sir. It cannot work without them. You pleb… I mean people are valuable to us.
Keithos: So why don’t they demand an extra dollar? Or even $10?
Colm: Because we told them that they are better off leaving that to us. And because the people are patriotic and know that we need to get through this together. Bless them. Even now, they are searching through some red herrings in New Zealand and Argentina to justify our position. It is like that lovely song: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
Keithos: Who sang that?
Colm: I believe it was Denise Belfon and the Jammettes. Or was it Belfon and the Monsters? Hard to keep up with contemporary music sometimes.
Keithos: Wait, you were referring to the foreign exchange business, right? The online tax?
Colm: Yes, it is going down quite well.
Keithos: Somebody told me Ish’s family has a Cambio at the airport and they are selling TT$7.87 for US$1. Are they next on your hit list? They can’t be benefitting from the chaos while the people are tightening belts!
Colm: Should I appeal to Ish’s ‘patriotism’, Sir?
Keithos: Surely there is something we can do there. And what about PriceSmart? Jwala said they used US$507 million in three years. Someone told me that they have been using up our foreign exchange to buy products for their stores throughout the Caribbean. We don’t even benefit from these purchases!
Colm: I will look into it.
Keithos: Excellent… Wait. Are you putting me off like what you did with Small? I ent no Small man with you, yuh know?!
Colm: I wouldn’t dream of ignoring you as long as you are prime minister, Sir. And might I say you are doing an excellent job. Nothing like our last political leader. Not at all. And you have made a wonderful decision in leaving the country in my hands.
Keithos: Thank you. Carry on, Colm.
Colm: Yes, Prime Minister.
Editor’s Note: This column is pure satire and all conversations are faked. No offence is meant at parties named; although they probably deserve it.