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Boors will be boors: Raffique Shah wades in CHOGM controversy and fireworks furore

I address two issues of public importance today. First is the emerging controversy over this country’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting to be held in Malta next week.

And second, I join the chorus of frustrated voices crying out for something to be done to curb the dangerous, deafening din of explosives and fireworks that have become intrinsic to festivals like Divali.

Photo: A youngster prepares to light fireworks. (Courtesy Flickr)
Photo: A youngster prepares to light fireworks.
(Courtesy Flickr)

Regarding CHOGM, the Commonwealth is a relic of a long-dead colonialism, and its meeting, which this country hosted in 2009 at a cost of more than $200 million, is merely a gathering of “old boys” and girls where lofty speeches are delivered, unattainable goals are set, and the highlights are the social events—elaborate dinners, cocktails, retreats, etc.

It’s not as if any benefits accrue to countries that host the shindig or those that attend.

These facts stated, Prime Minister Keith Rowley has the right to attend the Malta meeting, even though many of us must be scratching our heads trying to remember where Malta is, or what it’s notable for.

As PM, he probably sees it necessary to attend to meet his fellow-heads and hold bilateral talks on trade, tourism and related issues.

He also thinks it wise to be accompanied by his wife Sharon, who is entitled to make the cut, as pointed out by several ex-ministers of the PP Government.

Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

But given the state of the economy, and Rowley’s pronouncements on cutting back on foreign travel for ministers and other public officials, we’ll rack up a bill of TT$1.1 million for a one-week affair. While this figure may seem insignificant when compared with the extravagance of the previous regime, the delegation can be further reduced to save some dollars.

The PM knows well that barring some dramatic event that would send oil prices soaring, his government will struggle to meet its budgeted revenue for 2016, and every dollar counts. Moreover, he cannot call on the population for restraint in spending when the Government is not cutting costs.

Nuff said on that.

Trinidad is almost by nature a noisy island. But nothing in our past, not carbide or bamboo, not the super-amplification of sound systems, could have prepared us for the battle-zone effects of “scratch bombs” and thunderous fireworks that have become a staple for the two months between Divali and Old Year’s night.

There was a time when fireworks were a beauty to behold, colourful, meteor-like illuminations that lit up the skies with hardly more than a “pop” propelling the projectiles. Then, too, professionals working with fire officers conducted the shows that were controlled time-wise, and from a safety standpoint. Usually, such exhibitions were held in open spaces like savannahs and parks.

Photo: Fireworks are on sale throughout the country around Divali and New Year's Day.
Photo: Fireworks are on sale throughout the country around Divali and New Year’s Day.

Within recent years, these parameters have changed. Fireworks are big business and are measured not by their beauty, but by the “bang for your bucks.” In other words, louder, not prettier, is better—and the natives love it so much that some fools use them during daytime!

As if that were not a barometer for stupidity, many fireworks fanatics give their under-age children free rein to fire the devices and arm them with highly illegal, not to add infinitely more dangerous, “scratch bombs”.

There are laws that prohibit the possession and use of fireworks. In fact, one requires a permit from the police for both. And although the legislation is archaic, it stipulates that fireworks must not be used “within city limits”, which, today, would mean built up areas or residential communities.

“Scratch bombs” are illegal—period. These devices contain minuscule but potentially harmful amounts of explosive, with short fuses. If a fuse is defective and the bomb explodes in one’s hand, serious injury can result. If exploded in confined spaces—vehicle, house, school—damage could be severe.

The deleterious effects powerful fireworks and explosions from “scratch bombs” have on animals, children and aged and infirm adults, have been well documented and ventilated. Yet those who are crying out for relief are made to look like pests or criminals.

I suggest that in addition to amending the laws to impose harsh penalties on offenders—stiff fines, solid jail—and even harsher jail terms for the importers and distributors of “scratch bombs”, with almost immediate effect, impose maybe a 200 percent tax on legal fireworks, and impose restrictions on their explosive contents.

Photo: A warning on illegal fireworks in the US. (Courtesy pwcgov.org)
Photo: A warning on illegal fireworks in the US.
(Courtesy pwcgov.org)

Further, dealers must sell only to persons who have police permits—another fee paid into the coffers. If people spend thousands of dollars to make our lives hell, at least let them pay dearly to so do.

Also, jail a few “scratch bombs” importers/distributors, and let’s see what effect that has.

Bottom line is you cannot legislate against irresponsible behaviour. Boors will be boors.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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6 comments

  1. The other topic…. not worth any comment.

  2. Imagine I can set up a tent, selling illegal items, make ten of thousands of tax free dollars, while destroying the environment and seriously disturbing animals, make neighbours very uncomfortable, and get away without any consequences.
    But young boys are going to jail for ONE joint….
    #stopthecorruption
    #steups

  3. As for the fireworks issue, there’s an excellent letter in today’s Sunday Express (Time to get serious,” Mike Redhead, pg 15) that seems to say almost as eloquently as Maestro that Trinidadians really don’t know what they want.

  4. Echoes our opposition to fireworks since 2000A.D when the thing exploded.

  5. Raf, whether, given our current straitened circumstances, the country should be present at CHOGM is a genuine issue. In my view, whether, once the PM is going to be present, the PM’s wife should travel with him to CHOGM is the biggest non-issue since Kamla’s claim that she knew the results of the elections at 6pm on September 7.

  6. Agree with the sentiments shared by RS. I suggest he take a case of Malta to exchange with the hosts, to amuse them a bit.