When Abraham Lincoln said that you could not fool all of the people all of the time, he could not have known that information technology would come to bear heavily on both the ability (fake news) and inability (investigative reporting) of the powerful to fool the people.
Lincoln would be astounded to see that a pocket-size device could deliver and receive news and can also be used to make news. Exposure can be instant. Going for lunch, playing mas or having a bikini car wash/watch out.
In this environment, the practice of the powerful and the insecure of acquiring additional trappings to adorn the proverbial Emperor’s clothes has grown. However, when the powerful are exposed, the adornment of awards, even at the highest level of the Nobel Prize, cannot protect high office-holders and those with form but flawed substance from the judgement of public opinion.
Currently, the fall from grace of the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, is playing out to media audiences worldwide. The movers and shakers and those who bestow awards placed full confidence in Suu Kyi as a lioness of independence, fair play and peaceful opposition. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, no less.
Sadly, having achieved de facto leadership of Myanmar, she apparently became complicit in the iron grip of the military, in opposition to whom she had previously appeared to stand. In local parlance, she is a “sell-out” because a minority Muslim population within Myanmar have been the subject of what the UN Human Rights Chief has called “a text book example of ethnic cleansing” at the hands of Myanmar’s military.
Many of her admirers in high places have now openly turned against her.
As I have already commented, when our Chief Justice returns from his trip to the Netherlands—his return reportedly scheduled for yesterday—he must answer the questions that have been put to him by the Trinidad Express newspaper. The adornment of “official business” will not dilute the public interest in having those questions answered.
Meanwhile, the horrendous cost of the State enterprises is being exposed as a result of the work of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
Since 2002, I have been urging a radical change to the use of these State companies. It seems, however, that their colossal presence in the economy suits the politicians—of whatever stripe—because those enterprises are vehicles for the dispensation of patronage and the satisfaction of what I have called “semi-legal greed.” The State Enterprise system is as much a veil over questionable conduct as are some awards.
A report in the Trinidad Guardian last week informed us that “a total of 39 State enterprises had racked up a debt of $44 billion by the end of 2016.” There is talk of “Boards gone rogue”. Now we know one of the true reasons why the country might be going broke.
It must be borne in mind that there are a lot more than 39 State enterprises and statutory authorities. The Guardian report also tells us this: “Two state companies—Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) and the Petroleum Company of T&T—together accounted for more than half of the $44 billion debt.
Udecott’s debt is reported to be $11.4 billion. This State Enterprise was the favourite of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning. It was the vehicle for grandiose erections of tower buildings and a stadium which were a wasteful use of the healthier cash-flows of that time.
Those ready to challenge the use of power are few. It is routine for those in high office to co-operate with each other in making unsuitable appointments and to attempt to shield each other from scrutiny.
More recently, we had charges and counter-charges being made in connection with the procurement of vessels to service the sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago. While all of this is being played out in the public domain, there is a faltering sea bridge seriously hurting the people who need it most
I hope we do not intend to continue to look away from what is plainly in front of us regarding the misguided use of power.