Noble: Living in a Netflix movie; so much for myth of ‘magic-making’ lawyers in govt

In my former life, I used to be a marketing guy. A product like Netflix, therefore, intrigues me. While most persons only see Netflix’s dominance, I see the brand’s aspirational benefit ‘escape from reality’. 

The brand connects people with stories, providing fast, easy entertainment. It taps into your feelings as you consume the shows.

Photo: Narcos: Mexico characters Miguel Felix Gallardo, the leader of the Guadalajara drug cartel (right), and his associate Ernesto ‘Don Neto’ Fonseca Carillo.

Two of their top 2021 movies were Red Notice and Narcos: Mexico. Red Notice is a movie about an FBI agent working with an art thief to catch another criminal. Who is the actual crook? What is the reality about the stolen eggs? 

The other movie is a spin-off of the original Narcos movie about the drug trade. Looking at these movies can cause deep reflection. We often tell each other that ‘Trinidad is not a real place’; it is more like a Netflix movie: an escape from reality yet reflecting true stories. 

Last Sunday’s newspapers reported a most bizarre taleHow much of it is true will be tested in court. But there was talk of cash transactions and fantasy exchanges between different principals. There is a slew of questions to be answered, presumably, in court. 

A high official in charge of one of the country’s most prestigious companies was fingered in the allegations. As my goodly mother would have told her sons, ‘A pregnant woman can only call your name if you had relations with her. If you were not there, your name would never get called.’ 

Photo: NGC chairman Conrad Enill.

But we should not fear in this instance. The official has denied the allegations to his boss, and everything is hunky-dory. There is no need to wait for the courts.  

This turn of events reminds me of satirical late-night television host Stephen Colbert and his word ‘truthiness’. Colbert has changed the word’s original meaning (In the first half of the 19th Century, it meant ‘truthfulness’). 

Like his screen character, he does not trust books, including dictionaries, and proclaims that ‘the truth comes from—the gut’. Opinions and feelings are equal to facts. 

Here we no longer have to let the courts decipher. We know. We live in a Netflix movie.

All the newspapers have been chronicling the unfolding chaos around the policy directive regarding the vaccination programme. At the time of the announcement, it was expected that the Civil Service would have to comply with the order by mid-January.

Photo: A police officer receives the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021.
(via TTPS)

However, in the Sunday 9th edition of the Newsday paper, the Attorney General advised that he was not ready to go to Parliament with legislation. Really? Who set the original deadline?

This debacle reminds me of guys playing ‘small goal’ and the goalkeeper shouting, ‘Mine!’ as the opposition crosses the ball in front of the goal. The other defenders back off. The keeper then proceeds to miss the ball, and the score is changed. 

How did this happen? Is our Attorney General responsible for negotiating with trade unions? Why is he inserted into the fray, except to give the unions ample opportunity to hog the headlines? 

The trade unions are now holding their press conferences to set the agenda. How does this make sense? The line minister is Allyson West, with the Chief Personnel Officer reporting to her. Colm Imbert, as Finance Minister, is involved in any negotiation that involves money. 

Photo: Acting Chief Personnel Officer Daryl Dindial.
(via CPO)

In our surreal world, we miss that government is a bundle of expertise. In the past, we had Hilton Cupid, Sandra Marchack and Stephanie Lewis as chief personnel officers, dealing capably with the Public Services Association and all other like bodies. There was a rich experience thread that linked all these officeholders.

Now, either the department does not have the depth of experience, or the Minister believes he is Superman. Drafting legislation and negotiating with unions require very different skills. Why conflate the two activities? 

Movie in progress. Buy your popcorn since the insatiable desire for attention will not disappear. 

This insertion of an inexperienced labour negotiator is an unforced error. At this moment, when we need a top-drawer performance in ensuring that the vaccination programme can be executed appropriately, are we facing the reality of a hollowed-out institution—the office of the Chief Personnel Officer—unable to step in? 

We are witnessing the destruction of the myth that lawyers can step into government and work magic. 

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(via Office of the Attorney General)

Why should the unions believe the tough messages when they read the papers and see a tendency to transactional approaches? Why would they not take a shy at disruption and demanding money when they realise that the only thing that matters is the vanity of a malleable narcissist, as seen on Twitter?

As Brother Valentino sang, ‘Life is a stage/And we are the actors/And everybody have a part to play/Like a never-ending movie/With all different characters/Each one have a role to portray’.

On cue, trade unionists presented cases, claiming these represent the vaccines’ adverse effects. The ball was, therefore, passed to the Ministry of Health. 

At their media conference, the Ministry attempted to suggest that there were no such reports. Why? This spin undercuts the claim that their medical officers provide guidance. The reality is that there is no lasting effect for most people, but in other jurisdictions there have been a few reported cases of severe distress. 

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (left) and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh (centre) make a point.
(via Office of the Attorney General)

Why undermine credibility by failing to address the allegations frontally? Did the strategists (if there are any) not expect this claim from the trade unionists? 

The obligation of the public servants in the Ministry of Health is not to act robotically—they must be honest about their views and concerns and provide their best judgement. 

We have opened the door for con artists. People are very vulnerable in complex issues like the virus and vaccines. Science and maths are not easily grasped by many in a population, so this complexity makes it easy for con artists to appear wise. 

The scammers’ job is to appear trustworthy and take the scared’s side. The problem? The ‘marks’ forget the history of vaccines from earlier generations. 

This self-induced amnesia and the frenetic energy of the con artists lead to a long, winding path with no discernible end in sight. A sane expert can hardly ever convince them of their folly. 

Photo: NATUC general secretary Michael Annisette.

We are forced to watch our version of Danny Ocean and his fellow fraudsters. George Clooney cannot hold a candle to them. 

But at the same time, the words of the Laventille shopkeeper in Earl Lovelace’s novel ‘Is Just a Movie’ still resonate:

‘[…] What was performance in Carnival is now the reality of life. The devil is no longer in the make-believe of Carnival; he is right here on our streets. The Midnight Robber is not a character in our fiction; he is in possession of real guns…’

The pain of life in Trinidad and Tobago is real. Are we living in a comedy or a horror show? Are we set to see Narcos: Trinidad? 

How do we feel about this escape from reality?

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