Last week’s column raised the issue whether each of the two main political parties are captive to the power wielded by wealthy businessmen.
I did so in the light of Mario Sabga-Aboud’s boast about the power that his community had. I also made sure to include in my inquiry the power that others have derived from the dangerous intersection of business and politics within the grubby state enterprise system.
I had in mind the many persons now defined as ‘tenderpreneurs’—that is persons who win tenders for Government contracts through political connections.
Tenderpreneurship makes a select few wealthy while the population at large sucks salt. Some personnel in the state enterprise sector assist the tenderpreneurs and compromise themselves by questionable acts of facilitation in order to get a pick for the VVIP section.
For ease of reference I will nickname these groups of the rich and powerful “the Penthouse Powerful”. This seems appropriate because the Grey Goose and coconut water at the Bourdain feast was obviously being served at an elevated site.
From that height Sabga-Aboud delivered his boast (for which he has since expressed his regret) and Peter George grossly patronised the decimated middle class (but has expressed no regret).
The nickname Penthouse Powerful also makes a vivid contrast with another group whose hand was clearly shown last week—namely those powerful on the ground where the general population lives or just survives.
“I on the ground” means that a person is in touch with realities of underclass life unfiltered by remoteness from the cries of a population chained up in the pressures of everyday life.
There is also tenderpreneurship on the ground in the form of URP and CEPEP contracts and other pursuits. That hustle is accompanied in many cases, not by the tinkling of cocktail glasses, but by the sound of gunfire.
For well over a decade many commentators have worried both about the largesse—unfairly and with considerable exclusivity—distributed to pardners through the State Enterprise sector and about the relationship between Government programmes and violent crime.
This column, in 2002, described the State enterprise sector this way: “Behind this façade, contracts, money, employment and other goodies are funnelled to those in political favour, or the same goodies are withheld or threatened to be withheld as a means of bringing recalcitrants into line.”
In a column in 2006 entitled Scheduled to die, when Patrick Manning was Prime Minister, I quoted from an editorial in the Trinidad Express published on 9 May 2006: “Other cases already on the public record tell tales of persons with deep connections to the criminal rings in the country simultaneously involved in Government work programmes, to the extent of being courted by leading members of the Government. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the present administration, however, and this perhaps makes it even worse.”
The euphemism for those powerful on the ground is ‘community leader’. Power at that level is not displayed in genteel documentaries anchored by celebrities. It is explatiated live and direct.
Manning was deferential to community leaders, many of whom met violent deaths. He took a narrow view of the rise in violent crime, which has had negative consequences now in full view.
These consequences have defied the nonchalant belief peddled by his administration that violent crime would be confined to certain areas and gang and criminal activity would decrease. In these columns I repeatedly took issue with that nonchalance.
It is highly relevant therefore that the community leaders issue last week—eleven years after the editorial cited—exploded in the face of the PNM around the same time as the first anniversary of the death of former Prime Minister Manning was being observed and there was mention of his legacy.
The explosion was Marlene McDonald’s facilitation of a stormer (uninvited guest) into President’s House for her swearing in and the stormer’s reputation as a community leader was apparently a negative one. She was promptly dismissed from the Cabinet.
This is Prime Minister Rowley’s explanation on why McDonald’s affiliation with the stormer was an issue:
“Let me spell it out: it’s very easy for one to say and to remember that in the issue of responding to crime and criminality in T&T, there’s a view in many quarters that the Government’s inability—other governments also—to properly respond to the threat of criminality is because of a closeness and an association between government personnel and people engaged in criminal conduct. Nothing that supports that is to be encouraged in any form or fashion.”
Despite its use of a bogus state of emergency, during its tenure preceding the current Rowley administration, the UNC led Government made no appreciable dent in violent crime and tenderpreneurship appeared to increase lavishly.
The bad news for the present Government is that it is wholly insufficient merely to purge Ms McDonald from the Cabinet and to rely on the Police Service as currently managed.