Noble: Harden children bound to feel—the story of Trinidad and Tobago

A ‘harden’ child is a stubborn child who has to feel the wrath– usually in the form of ‘licks’–to understand the lesson. Trinidad is a ‘harden’ child—repeating its experiences without learning from them. 

When the country is splintered and only the rich can survive, you are looking for trouble. You will never stop corruption when you have one law for rich people and another for everyone else. Even when the money is finished, you will have those who will seek to profit from your and the country’s misfortunes.

Photo: Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

We have chosen to forget the 1937 Butler era. He shrewdly understood the need for workers, be they African or East Indian, to unite to fight for their rights. Unlike the Grenada-born fighter, we do not wish to come together to improve our lot in life. We now bow to colonising marauding companies. 

We look past the results of his struggles (two Commissions, Forster and Moyne) to correct the wrongs perpetrated. 

We forget the pernicious Shop Hours Ordinance that sought to capsize the business success of the non-white group who controlled the Henry, George and Charlotte Streets trade (Rennie, 1974, Ryan and Barclay, 1992). 

Today we believe that the formerly enslaved Black people never had an interest in business. But in 1859, George Sewell, an American journalist, reported:

‘If we take Port of Spain as an illustration, we find four-fifths of the inhabitants, Creoles of African descent, are engaged in trade, and their condition… one of prosperity and independence. 

Photo: Queen Elizabeth II walks through The UWI Campus in Trinidad on 7 February 1966, during a tour of the Caribbean.
She was accompanied by then Minister of Education and Culture Donald Pierre (right).
(Copyright AP Photo)

‘I have personal knowledge of many instances where great wealth has been accumulated by men who were slaves themselves a quarter of a century ago. Trade seems to be the destiny of the Trinidadian Creoles.’ (Ryan and Barclay, 1992).

We fail to tell the story of how Gonzales and Morvant came into being. The latter was built in 1936 as a ‘model township’ with a school, church, health centre, recreation area and shopping and service facilities. 

What the Colonials did in their attempt at righting the wrongs is not being done today, yet we expect different results. We now denigrate black school children, give them no support and do not believe they can amount to anything. Yet when these children grow up without the prospect of a decent job and become angry fodder for desperate politicians, we are surprised. 

Photo: Soldiers and police officers try to quell protests after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(via CNC3)

Our history is not taught. This quote captures the interplay between rich companies and the rights of their workers. In 1837, Lord Cadman said: ‘[…] not surprised that there are riots. Leaseholds [an oil company] have built splendid accommodation for their white employees and done nothing for their coloured and black… it is essential to consider the needs and amenities of native employees. 

‘The problem is that Beaumont here and Johnston in Trinidad have got a South African gold-mining complex about ‘niggers’. Leaseholds is very wealthy and paying enormous dividends and is foolishly short-sighted over its treatment of labour.’ (Bullen, 2002)

Why are our business leaders still short-sighted in 2022? Back then, the Forster Commission remarked, ‘it would be unreasonable to expect anything but discontent’. 

The neglect of workers was and still is so evident. Why do we now expect something other than discontent?

Photo: A trade union protest.
(Copyright OWTU)

Unfulfilled expectations and perceived unfair treatment are the fuel for social unrest. We should have learnt that from 1970 and 1988. 

In 1956, the People’s National Movement (PNM) was an organisation for social improvement. But by 1970, the worsening economic situation and the disappointment with the social progress led to an uprising. 

Two years into the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, there was an implosion when the country could not pay its foreign bills. The internecine war within the party was not helpful. These events resulted in the IMF’s 1988 entry and a Structural Adjustment loan from the World Bank. 

The Public Services Association boasted 65,000 members of an estimated total labour force of 405,000. Among the measures undertaken were slashing public subsidies and raising university fees. VAT at 15% was introduced, while there was the non-implementation of a 6% award by the Industrial Court. The poor suffered.

Photo: Late Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson (right) is greeted by then Cabinet colleague and subsequent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
Robinson was head of the NAR government.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

By 1990, we had the opportunistic intervention by the Jamaat Al Muslimeen when they breached the Parliament. Sadly, there was the view that the then government ministers deserved the harsh treatment meted out. Was it their fault alone? 

For his efforts at righting the economy, Mr Selby Wilson was slapped up in Parliament by the insurgents. 

Since then, oil and gas revenues have intoxicated us. The Fortunates have retreated into their enclaves, protected by private security, and have sent their children to private schools—leaving the public schools, hospitals and police service to disintegrate. 

The country’s wealth passed through the hands of the government (who collect royalties from the energy companies) to those who lived gilded lives. The central conflict always is who has control over the flow of income from the energy sector.

Photo: Late former Petrotrin executive chairman Malcolm Jones (centre).

The implicit agreement is that the parasites of every colour and stripe can suck the country dry. Nobody, not least the administrations who serve in times of ‘boom’, will educate the people about the vagaries of energy revenues. 

The governments will dole out goodies at election times and their candidates can be corrupt without penalty. The private sector and the politicians will divvy up their portions in less than transparent ways. They leave the public ignorant and create no plan to transform the economy. 

The poor get the dregs when there is a ‘boom’ but bear the pain when the gas price collapses. 

Our money always has wings to fly to more salubrious locations. Do we remember a nondescript person holding wealth disclosed in the Panama Papers? Was that our wealth? 

Now, the schemes are more sophisticated and our leading lights can give private lessons on whisking away our tax money without being caught or being put in the newspapers. 

Photo: Former UNC Minister of Health and Barataria MP Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with businessman Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption in the United States and faces charges in the local High Court.

Who connects the dots between the worsening state of affairs and the burgeoning wealth of the few? Which trade unionist has taken up the Butler transformative mantle? If businesses refuse to be loyal, except to their profitability, why trust them?

Where is the University when our successive administrations pursue harebrained schemes that squander the resources that could be used to help the less fortunate?  

Yet, we blame the police for our crime wave. 

How different is the 1990 looting from the law and order breakdown we now see? Where is the outrage for the obscenely inflated price tags for public works? Is grand theft acceptable because ‘is we party’? 

Guys can attempt to help themselves to our money, get a court-ordered slap and shrug their shoulders. Nobody makes a jail. The news disappears from our headlines like a stone dropping into the sea—nary a ripple after two days. Why? 

Photo: Former trade unionist Watson Duke (left) and former soldier Gary Griffith now head the PDP and NTA political parties respectively.

This brazen dishonesty leads some to look for a Messiah who would visit the vengeance of Moko on the corrupt elites. But this is a vain hope rooted in our pain and instinctual sense of fairness. History shows us that such ‘law and order’ pretenders end up being even more corrupt. 

Men who have been unaccountable in dealing with funds of the organisations they led now seek to convince us that they are the answer! Steups!

Those who doh listen will feel! Stalin, light the chalice! Vampire passing!

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