Of gated communities and locked mindscapes: T&T is on road to political upheaval

Being shocked senseless is the proverbial effect of the many tremors currently running through T&T’s political, social and economic landscape.

We seem not only unable to come to terms with our present economic and social realities, but completely unwilling to put collective intellectual mettle to the wheel to address some of our most pressing problems.

Photo: A protester makes his point to lawmen during demonstrations in Baltimore after the killing of Freddie Gray. (Copyright Sowetanlive.co.za)
Photo: A protester makes his point to lawmen during demonstrations in Baltimore after the killing of Freddie Gray.
(Copyright Sowetanlive.co.za)

Runaway crime and street violence, unequal distribution of wealth and income, social inequity, domestic and child abuse, poverty, high food prices, economic malaise, corruption, rampant flooding ineluctably caused by devastating climate change, a divisive and undemocratic political system—among others—mark our pathway. Made worse by leadership that lacks curiosity and imagination to diagnose and abate these issues.

Yet we are attempting to use the same tools we inherited at independence to address challenges that have myriad causes, underlying contradictions and, no doubt, a modern character.

Time and again, our leaders declare that communities are ‘under siege’ and our security services are ‘working assiduously’. But we have heard no new ideas and approaches being promoted to entrust public confidence. It’s the same old narrative we’ve heard for the past 20 years.

Our economic woes are put squarely down to the past administration yet we’ve known for a 100 years that we do not control international oil prices which tend to affect us on a cyclical basis.

The official policy of government over the last thirty years whether PNM or UNC, has been to allow business free reign with little regulation. Little has been done to rein in unfair practices and layoffs, while we run to roadshows to woo foreign investment which add to our debt.

Unofficially, certain gated communities more or less appear to remain more or less untouched by street violence.

Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

More than that, political party financiers and business lobbyists have unfettered access to high-ranking government officials who can work out the best deals for them at a potentially high cost to the rest of society. The rest of us are left wondering what is the plan; where are the ideas to make our society better.

We often think based on the occasional announcements; our government is working for us and not the business elites. It is but an illusion. To engage the population means organising a three-hour ‘consultation’ on education or whatever topic that seems reasonable. But there is no real consultation, as the thing is not organised to consult.

Instead, inner circles of experts who are lobbyists themselves and the random technocrat are left to their own devices with no accountability to the wider public.

Such consultations are rather a war of wills, where the will of those at the head table matters most, while some are satisfied as they get to voice an opinion. It is not even organised to systematically stir national debate or an ongoing exchange of new ideas and approaches; or where the collective creativity of our population is harnessed.

For those of us so concerned and moved, we resort to social media to generate debate or suggest approaches. However it becomes an echo chamber of intellectual masturbation as really no one is actually listening or cares.

In this day and age of new methods, crowd sourcing and the like, the democratic debate is happening on social media but our political elite is little moved by such things unless it damages the ego/image of a high-ranking operative from a viral circulation.

Photo: Presentation College (San Fernando) captain Kareem "Enzo" Riley (left) receives his South Zone Intercol winners medal from Pres' old boy and Trinidad and Tobago president Anthony Carmona at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 18 November 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Presentation College (San Fernando) captain Kareem “Enzo” Riley (left) receives his South Zone Intercol winners medal from Pres’ old boy and Trinidad and Tobago president Anthony Carmona at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 18 November 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

And then there are the inner factions within the gated communities, and ‘the untouchables’ or ‘parasitic oligarchy’ as a former Prime Minister coined. Once their wealth is not majorly affected who the heck cares. We can all go back to the cane fields as far as they are concerned, because their business fix.

If a conglomerate can post a quarterly loss or a sporadic decline in sales, which inevitably will recover in short order, things must be real bad for them, and for us. So we best keep our tails between our legs and take insult and injury by neglect.

Or would we start calling out the inequity and the unfairness? Would we start to demand respect for rights of employees? Or would we give the Finance Minister what he has been asking for and let them know that this arrangement is not working?

For a government to ignore the disenchantment of the population shown in the recent polls—the lowest turnout of electors in 30 years—is not only political suicide but it is like an abusive partner saying that you have to take the licks you get. I mean you got married to them knowing full well who they were.

I have a great suspicion that this time around, the way out of the morass is not government epiphany or deference; but widespread popular dissent, which will soon manifest.

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert. (Courtesy Ministry of Finance)
Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
(Courtesy Ministry of Finance)
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About Keston K Perry

Keston K Perry
Keston K Perry is a political economist and scholar specialised in development policy, with extensive experience in academia and the public sector. He was recently a postdoctoral scholar at the Fletcher School, Tufts University and holds a PhD in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

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  1. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    People in trini need to start focusing on platform instead of race politics… once people can see beyond the divisive tool used we called racism, then they will focus on what the govt is not doing and has been doing to manipulate the masses ..

    The unc and pnm are instruments used to control, once people home say to hell with the two party system, they will then be able to unite and change the nation… ignoring the divisive dialogue needs to be the first step towards restoration

  2. nope, Carnival around the corner, as long as Trinis cud jump up and wine they dont give a shit. Nobody going to march on the streets unless is jouvert.

  3. And the CALL continues for ” bigger bandages ” for the widening sores………..against ALL ADVICE that what is NEEDED is a PURGE !!!………..Office Holders………….instead of being OFFICE UPHOLDERS are so PREOCCUPIED with concerns about their ” pension package / next job “………that they SEEM READY TO COMPROMISE their current position / in order to enhance future possibilities………………BOTTOM LINE [a] for apple…[b] for bat and…….[c] for yuhself……………and while they are SEEING FOR THEMSELVES they are prepared to BETRAY GOD if that is what it takes……….ask JW………ask Anand………..ask Ramesh……..ask Keith and SO MANY MORE in the public domain whose RISE is all because of their READINESS to BETRAY THEIR COUNTRY !!!……we can’t leave out David Fraser last seen with FT Farfan…….he is a Gold Medal UNPATRIOT !!!

  4. There is a deliberate suffocation of our intellectual resources. Widespread dissent and upheaval seems to be the plan.

  5. We kind of have a history of hitting the resest button as well.

  6. by the way… Nothing should happen before carnival…

  7. Great development if its true..its time the population get together and share some real cutarse for ALL politicians /contractors and political financiers..They have this country in a mess and they are the cause for so much crime and hopelessness in this tiny nation !

  8. True.We are on the brink.The people are fed up of being fed up.

  9. It is bubbling Keston. Many here seem not to recognise or acknowledge the issues facing our society, especially youmg people. At this point, I expect anything, anytime

    • Ppl like Renee Cummings can speak about such issues, but it seems these voices are largely ignored. As was pointed out, teachers can play a vital role in helping steer youth in the right direction. But balance the few hours at school vs social interaction-also family life,,peers, social media, news etc and see the mixed messages we are sending. How are our young ppl to have a moral compass when society’s moral compass conveniently sways in the breeze, pointing in the direction that seems convenient at that point.

    • Nerisha Mohammed sadly acknowledging the struggle of the youth .. yet for balance there are those in position of guidance who are holding steady … thankfully

  10. I think that the article has hilighted the societal problems we face better than most. As I said above, some things I don’t agree with. But the overall gist of it I think is well thought out. However I think that the problems named have causes which are political in nature. Who benefits from the existing policies and how do they influence the government’s various iterations?

  11. attending and willing audience … we have made a start …. and we continue to hope …

  12. Diagnosis of the problems is so easy, When Singing Sandra sang “Crying Voices From The Ghetto”, I waited patiently after common place descriptions of poverty, to hear some prescription of a remedy, Shadow was no different with his “Poverty is Hell”. Both were widely applauded, I was a standout. Mr, or is it Dr Perry is in he same vein an eloquent disquition on what ails us. Something that is well known to even a casual reader of the local scene. Again I am afraid no real policy prescriptions, Crowd sourcing perhaps. We have a legacy industry of fossil fuels that in a world of increasing renewable energy growth, we may well end up, before it runs out with a products that production costs may outstrip market price. Manning and his Agribusiness, creative industries, shipbuilding tourism and so on. We are not unique in this existential crisis: How to earn a living when the old fossil fuels can’t sell or run out. I have no answers, but the Sovereign Fund (Heritage and Stabilsation) is a good Start. Tourism off course . Leverging our knowlege of production , technology markets in the short term at lleast to Guyana and Ghana on their emerging markets….

    • Exactly. Ppl seem to forget fossil fuel is a finite resource-a fact I am sure must have been known somewhere between the time we started production (I think in 1912) to now. So, what were we doing with this information?

    • This was not meant to be a policy piece, but a rallying cry. We may think we know the causes of our problems, but when the Education Minister says that violence in schools equals we need more discipline and tough talking, we realise we miss the boat long time. And need to think a lot more intelligently and deeply. Ent, Renee Cummings? I have written policy pieces…. but these are only useful, if there is an attending and willing audience. We’ve passed the point of having attentive politicians who are interested, and citizens now need to take action.

    • By the way, my name is Keston, and that’s just fine.

    • Government can only do so much. In terms of education, we need the parents to ensure that their children attend sschool and try to get an education because our free education is being wasted. I also want back our techical institutes because we need tradesmen and craftsmen who know what they are doing. Everyone cannot chase degrees that may not allow them to be ‘properly’ employed or waste their potential because they are not qualified to get a degree.

    • Judy-ann Stewart what about families that have no parents? We assume the nuclear family as the norm and probably many families don’t have both parents. From age 13 I lived with neither father nor mother, and had the best well trained caring and magnificent teachers.

    • You are indeed fortunate! Most children have either a father or mother or some family member taking care of them who stand as parents. I don’t think we need to split hairs on this.

    • I’m simply suggesting it’s more complex than we assume. Perhaps I am an exception, but schools without guidance counsellors, or support services or appropriate extra curricular activities tend to produce less wholesome students. Apart from parents, many of whom have psychological difficulties, may themselves be victims of various forms of abuse, or working odd jobs, then there is much more the State can do.

      • A large part of the society’s problem, of course, resides in the fact that there is so much confusion about what constitutes education. One thing we know for sure – it is NOT synonymous with schooling. But don’t try to convince the middle classes of that unless you have a half-century to spare.

        In schools that EDUCATE (as distinct from teaching). teachers act IN LOCO PARENTIS, i.e. in lieu of parents. How many students nowadays can truthfully claim to have, like you, ‘the best well trained caring and magnificent teachers’? When we fix that, we shall begin to give ourselves a real chance at saving ourselves, taking up our own beds, as the Scriptures say, and walking.

  13. Beside the oil industry, right now, what can possibly bring in the level of foreign exchange that Trinidad needs? Or not even right now, project 10 years…20 years… what can bring that amount of foreign exchange in?

    • Well, we never bothered to develop anything else. And whenever this discussion start and people say: Well, let us develop other industries…
      Then the counter is: That will take too long and won’t help right now.
      And, amazingly, we then go on NOT developing other potential revenue streams.

    • The agricultural sector has been neglected for so long. And the time is ripe (no pun intended) for ‘ethnic’ foods (or, to us, food lol) as markets are opening up to international foods. Why can’t our local gourmet chocolates, ice cream (think avocado, breadfruit) etc find a market. Soursop is being touted as a wonder food for cancer. Do we freeze and sell? And btw, why does the question have to be -to earn revenue? We could just as easily earn revenue by conserving on imports-like food! But this forum, I am sure like many others, have generated lots of ideas, which can easily be seen and used by powers that be. But this forum is not for the pseudo intellectuals-the ideas are generated from a common sense aporoach, so one might understand why they are ignored.

    • Nerisha Mohammed those are good ideas, but is that going to bring in a billion USD annually? Can any of these other revenue streams even combined make up for oil? Sure starting them will mitigate the loss, but what can we realistically do to get back that lost foreign exchange?

    • The idea of diversification is just that-to not have and depend solely on one revenue stream leaving you vulnerable. So it is one avenue to earn and save revenue. A realistic sport and eco tourism drive can be another. We also need to identify who our markets should be. Why not increase trade with partners in south america?

    • Angel Stewart, there is never one solution for a problem. it is a bunch of things you do to improve things incrementally.
      Anyone who suggests otherwise should be viewed with great skepticism.

    • One way of conserving FX is to stop buying things that we really do not need and using local products instead. We may have to get to the point like in the 70’s and 80′ where we did not import fruit like apples and pears, etc.

      I would like to see the URP and CEPEP workers used to grow our agricultural output as this will certainly help with Nerisha Mohammed’s suggestion above. This would be a’win-win’ for us.

    • Yup, although Clarence Rambharat I think has started on this project of getting assistance for (some?) farmers. But how sustainable is it for the farmers who need reliable and dependable help. Smaller farms might be more manageable. Get young ppl interested by ensuring all schools have 4H clubs. By them growing foods, they may make better eating choices, saving on health care. Homes should have a small garden. Even in apts you can have a couple seasoning plants, so families can save. What happened to our thriving fashion industry? We even have tertiary level fashion design. We also have local artistes involved in animation. For a creative society, what is our national identity? Our carnival which we boast about has now mostly been reduced to bikini and beads-which may appeal to some masqueraders but what cultural significance does it have? Shouldn’t traditional mas also have a place? Should we try to preserve our heritage? Even traditional kaiso, soca etc.

  14. “We seem not only unable to ..but completely unwilling to put collective intellectual mettle to the wheel to address some of our most pressing problems.” … Do we really need to take to the streets or to some deep searching mirrors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. “For a government to ignore the disenchantment of the population shown in the recent polls—the lowest turnout of electors in 30 years” The final statistics showed this wasn’t true, though. It was actually pretty much on par with other years wasn’t it?

    I don’t see any dissent happening unless it is orchestrated by the trade unions. Everyone is too busy trying to keep their heads above water to even show up to a protest. And, in order to protest one should have an alternate plan, we’ve yet to see that posted in Wired868 or anywhere else for that matter.

    • I always say people listen, hear or read what they want to. 34.4% was the lowest for the last 33 years!

    • No Angel. It was less. So that makes it true. You might debate as far as how close it was to past times. But the fact is it was less.

    • Wait for it. It will come. Trade unions or no trade unions… It’s boiling beneath the surface.

    • Ok…I stand corrected there 🙂 So maybe “it wasn’t that far off” might be a better defence lol lol ^_^

    • That might be a bit better Angel. But remember even five percent represents tens of thousands of people on a small island. That is not an insignificant number.

    • One must also understand the voting population has increased but the turnout has continued declining.

    • Yeah Angel, it was lower than normal. But not by much.

    • Personally, I don’t think that a 6 point drop in turnout from the average NECESSARILY shows disenchantment. That sounds like people reading into it what they want to see. If that’s your only piece of evidence, it isn’t much.

      I don’t necessarily reject the opinions given here but it seems a little short on facts, examples or evidence and long on conjecture.

      Also, I tend to agree that we are headed for increased social unrest, particularly as the economic situation worsens, so I honestly don’t reject the opinions. I do however think that there are deeper questions here which are being missed.

    • Dan Ethan Martineau well you’re always welcome to add your contribution. I’ve been writing articles for the past 3 years since I’ve been doing a phd with evidence and the examples you speak of. I believe I have two on wired868. So let’s get that straight. This is a different piece. It is not meant to analyse things we know all too well but to call people to action. Keep well x

    • Also, the average of people not caring or enthusiastic about something is what?

    • Not sure I understand your last question. The wording seems a little confusing.

      As to your previous comment, fair enough. I have seen you comment before although I haven’t seen your articles. Also we’ve had discussions (and disagreements) on the page. I’ve often criticized opinion pieces here as we seem to have plenty opinions and no solutions so I figured this was yet another one. I suppose I tried softening it this time, which isn’t my strength. No disrespect intended. (y)

    • If the majority of people for 40 years appear disaffected by local government is it the people or the system at fault?

    • Dan Ethan Martineau I can’t recall any criticism because I tend not to keep those things in mind. Solutions come when people come together through a process that cultivates the best ideas. We do not currently have such a system. I don’t want to sound airy fairy but I’m losing confidence in technocracy and prescribing interventions that have no people input. So I saying do this or do that when I have no power to make anyone do this or do that or even to consider it, makes little sense to me. So while I can be prescriptive at times I prefer to offer ways of thinking things through that saying my proposed solution is the best.

    • Disaffected or just disinterested? I’m not sure that there’s a “fault” here. Is local government ineffective? Mostly. Is it necessary in a country that you can drive across in 2 hours? Debatable. Like I said, going from low voter turnout to disaffection or disenchantment seems to be lacking a step. Disinterest seems an equally valid cause. Again, not rejecting your argument. I just don’t think low turnout is sufficient proof of one over the other.

    • Disaffected and disinterested actually mean the same thing. If you mean uninterested, I’d rather think people want their streets cleaned or their garbage collected or their neighbourhood fields cut for recreational activities. I think these are things that people actually want. But the local government we have is not meant to empower people but to perpetuate their servitude/dependence.

    • I tend to think that solutions should be political rather than technocratic. You need buy in from stakeholders.

      Also you need to understand why the obvious technocratic solution has not been tried. These people cant all be stupid. You can always find out what the textbooks say about public policy. But textbooks don’t keep political decision makers in office.

    • You’re correct. I mean uninterested. I don’t see why the MP can’t provide those things in theory. Why do they have to be done by a regional corporation? I suppose that’s a bigger question but it’s one worth asking. Not that the services it provides aren’t useful. I don’t think you understood my point there.

      As for your statement about empowerment or dependence, that seems more an assertion than an argument. I look at it more as a vehicle for patronage. But that’s another assertion without argument.

  16. This is very well written but if you were around during the lead up to the coup it’s the same ground swell of discontent . Mr Panday said that people will soon take the street .

  17. Insightive and interesting. Noteworthy.

  18. Yup, definition of madness: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
    Which is why I keep saying to let the EBC put a box for the population to select-none of the above. In this way, parties cannot intellectualise the absence from the polls but would get the very real message from the nation.
    Re: public consultation-‘the right to be heard does not necessarily include the right to be taken seriously’. Why is the information-how was it advertised, how many participants, minutes of meeting, not published for public consumption?
    And yes, there is a growing discontent. But rest assured, the intellectual middle class are too stush to protest or otherwise stand up, and the grassroots have been trained to vote for party not country-that is, vote for who looks like us. So, as to what choice or say fence sitters have, well…it seems none.

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