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Why for the upper class, silence is golden; Perry rebuts Aboud on cure for public ills

After digesting Gregory Aboud’s insightful commentary in the Trinidad Express, it behooves me to offer a retort. His “Silence of The Elites” piece is chicanery masked as concern for country and changing the status quo.

Aboud may genuinely believe that he is offering a compelling and emphatic critique of his groups’ obsequiousness and complacency but his remarks actually show how detached he is. How stupid must our elites actually think we are?

Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud.
(Courtesy YouTube)

Based on his argument, because of the silence of elite/upper class members of our society, murders and other social ills are overwhelming our nation. This seems like a somewhat arrogant and distorted view of reality.

For him, the only transgression that ‘elites’ have perpetrated is their silence. That somehow our elites hold the key to solving our problems and the rest of society can benefit from their brilliant, albeit muffled ideas. This view is not only smug it is erroneous. We often hear the biased reproaches of the Chamber of Commerce about national issues, including the most recent Sandals debacle that spurred Arthur Lok Jack’s rant.

He fails to convince me that he grasps the significant level of complicity of this group in many wide-ranging problems. They are waging longstanding silent class war.

Aboud’s attempt at showing empathy for Sea Lots seems either disingenuous or outright tone deaf. Study after study show a strong correlation between high wealth and income inequality and increases in criminality. Anyone who is honest would first acknowledge the high levels of inequality in our society is made worse by austerity meted out by the government since 2015.

Added to this is a heightened level of insecurity many people are experiencing—many public servants today are on month-to-month contracts which weakens their bargaining power, and reduces their quality of life as they face the increasing costs of living.

More people are also unemployed than they were a year ago, especially university graduates. Some are in bullshit jobs according to the title of a recent book.

Photo: Protest in La Brea.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian/Rishi Ragoonath)

However, Mr Aboud does not see this as part of the problem or the complicity of his class. He ineluctably sees them as part of the solution.

Many in our society—driven by our government and the media—have come to believe that the private sector is more efficient and innovative, while the public sector is poorly managed and corrupt. However, this fact is not borne by solid evidence.

We hardly hear of the mainly failures in the private sector or why they were run down into the ground, because that information is largely held in private circles. Recently, a Facebook post suggested that Lok Jack’s Carlton Savannah was a failure.

In addition, the incestuous connections between private companies and the government have been critical to the poor quality of our public services and many failing institutions. Mr Aboud does not mention that our most well-known corruption scandals like the Piarco Airport or massive construction projects under UDECOTT, the private sector has been active participants. They have also been willing participants in the private outsourcing of public goods in health, education and housing and have contributed to their poor quality and high costs.

Instead, he suggests that ‘state failure and corruption’ are the cause, and throws in the bogeyman Venezuela for good measure.

Photo: Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young (centre) with Sandals deputy chairman Adam Stewart and CEO Gebhard Rainer.

In my respectful view, mere show of concern by elites will not resolve the problems of ‘community lawlessness, long waits at the hospital, difficulty for public transport, absent teachers in the classroom’, that he highlights.

He recommends ‘deregulation of the air and sea bridge to Tobago to allow private operators to offer transport services’. This in his view will ‘allow private operators to offer transport services will bring immeasurable relief to the Tobago economy and to its hotel and tourism industry’.

Since 1986, we have seen more and more participation of private sector interests in the public life of the country—be it in healthcare, education, national security, construction, banking, entertainment, you name it. About 95 per cent of all tertiary education institutions in this country that first benefited from dollar-for-dollar to GATE programme are privately owned institutions.

When the government justified cutting and restructuring the GATE programme, much of the discussion centred on the abuse by students; there was no mention of the low quality, poor outcomes and hyper-inflated courses by private entities, which receive GATE subsidies.

Aboud suggests that further privatisation of healthcare through the public subsidising the private sector by ‘tripling of the tax credit for health insurance for employees in the private sector’ as it ‘will reduce the burden on public health institutions, spawn an industry of private hospitals and enhance the quality of life of those with less privilege’.

Similar to that of the United States, such a private insurance system has literally bankrupted numerous people and left millions who cannot afford healthcare, and are dying because of it.

Photo: The dead body of Christopher Phillips outside the Port of Spain General Hospital admin building.

He fails to acknowledge that the rapid increase in private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies or ambulance services have led to a simultaneous dramatic fall in overall health standards and service quality. Our two-tier health system in which senior and junior doctors straddle both as public providers and profit-making owners has also done little for equalising the provision of healthcare services.

T&T is ranked among the countries with the lowest public funding spent on healthcare in Latin America. The public sector is therefore starved of funds to make improvements and has to prop up the failing system.

There is hardly talk about the fact that a large number of ambulances provided to public hospitals are privately operated, or that the biggest financial beneficiary of the CDAP programme are not the patients, but private pharmacies. One such private owner is a former Minister of Health who actually initiated the program. When the public hospital pharmacies lack medicines, no problem, private pharmacies will do the needful.

Real estate and housing construction is another area that is arguably receiving relatively the most public finance since the government started cutting back in 2015.  There are more private contractors and construction companies than there has ever been in the history of the country. They profit the most from large inflated contracts for housing and construction projects at high costs in the low income housing market.

Meanwhile the population is continually told the public sector cannot supply all the demand for housing. Many working adults and millennials have resigned to living at home with parents for as long as possible as they cannot even begin to acquire a mortgage.

Photo: Then Housing Minister Randall Mitchell (right) and UDECOTT officials.
(Copyright Ministry of Housing)

I bet you if the mark-ups, kickbacks and private contracting costs and corruption were eliminated, the public sector would get significantly closer to providing all the housing needs of the country.

Mr Aboud believes that elites are busy running their ‘legitimate businesses’; but they have been party to extracting the country’s wealth and leading the public sector to bankruptcy—as Mr Lok Jack recently pointed out was its current state of affairs. Some of these funds could be used for providing much needed community and social support services in addition to the built house.

It is why the suggestion that more private provision of public goods is the answer is puzzling.

Not only is he self-serving, he is condescending. He conveniently joins the decriminalisation of marijuana bandwagon very concerned about ‘showing the world the respect which we have for the Rastafarian movement who have been constructive Afro-Caribbean citizens’.

Perhaps those in Sea Lots come from a different breed; and certainly, he does not see dollar signs for his family and friends.

Mr Aboud’s intervention is an unfortunate, naked and hollow attempt at demanding a further transfer of wealth to the very elites he chastises—a process that began in the late 1980s or known through much of our history.

We have seen that such an unholy alliance between business and political regimes does not serve the public good. It enriches a few and punishes the majority of the population through austerity when times get harder.

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)

The population does not need these hollow and myopic expressions of concern. What we need to begin addressing our social ills is reprioritising of the public interest through a complete transformation of our political system from below.

It is only then we can really address poor public services, and the ridiculous unequal distribution of resources that is causing more harm than good.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Gregory Aboud’s ‘Silence of the Elites’ column.

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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55 comments

  1. Kyon Esdelle…keep hearing about the equal distribution of wealth….how do you plan to do this….equally and fairly?

  2. A lot of truth here but I wonder if the elite will even read it. Don’t mind Carnival nearly here all will be forgotten and forgiven

  3. Look at the link between the justice system and the contracts given to a private security firm to transport prisoners.Crime does pay apparently.

  4. Then there is the connection between the ‘elites’ and the drug trade,crime,money laundering and trafficking

  5. what ppl are forever failing to acknowledge is that the concentration of wealth to those that have capital is causing more problems for society and the only way to fix that is distribution of wealth

    and to come and tell us you want more more more is really an insult

  6. Keston Perry you hit the bullseye.

    Only one thing you didnt articulate (maybe deliberately?). Seems to me its also a signal of who will not be getting support on the political front from now on

  7. You wonder why you all will continue to fester

  8. He meant the Silence of the Lambs (as in Sheeple) for true.

    Lmao and no we don’t need private enterprise to run no boat. I’d rather the French government take it as a contract. They run Express des Iles between the French islands and St Lucia superbly.

    Try anything just don’t make it ‚private‘

  9. basically aboud is saying give the elites more hold on the economy and the problems will magically go away

  10. THE SILENCE OF TRINIDAD ELITES &
    THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

    Gregory Aboud the elites are not only silent because of their privilege and connections, it’s also has to do with all the murderous crimes that they commit! And richly benefit from

    The elites are silent because they’re the ones commiting the white colour crimes and getting away. They’re busy bringing in the guns, “like the high powered guns used in drive-by shootings, sniper attacks and dead bodies in the streets” As well as drugs, ammunition, human trafficking, child sex ring, etc.

    “Amidst the glamour of personal circumstances, we the elite of the society have been blinded by our privilege and connections. We believe that because we are running legitimate businesses and living orderly lives that situations that cause 50 murders per month are not our responsibility.”- Gregory Aboud
    Really! Gregory Aboud, running legitimate businesses, only! What about the illegitimate businesses that they run side by side? Living orderly lives you say, oh really! A closer look at some of them would reveal how much more reckless they’re than most of us in Beetham and Sea Lots
    As long as the elites continue to engage and enjoy all these unholy priveleges they would remain silent.
    Or not until the script is flipped and karma visit them! Their silence would remain deafening!

    On the contrary like Dr. Hannibal Lecter played by (Anthony Hopkins), in the film ‘Silence of the Lambs’ a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.
    So maybe an attractive young Venezuelan/Colombian may just be the bait to get at least one elite to break the silence of the murder and cannibalism aided and abetted by the ELITES in this country.
    So that we could finally get some of them behind bars, serving life, together with some of the young men from Beetham and Sea Lots. Lest “we have to be continue guided to believe that the lives in Beetham and Sea Lots have less value than the elites”
    Come on Gregory that shouldn’t be too much of a difficult task for you. After all you come from the smallest and most powerful group in this country!

  11. Anyone has Aboud’s article or a link to it please?

  12. i fraid to read what keston write lol

  13. Listen….Listen…..@Keston K. Perry writes a mouthful, pick up a handful and make meh bawl out….KUDOS

  14. ‘…..There is hardly talk about the fact that a large number of ambulances provided to public hospitals are privately operated, or that the biggest financial beneficiary of the CDAP programme are not the patients, but private pharmacies. One such private owner is a former Minister of Health who actually initiated the program. When the public hospital pharmacies lack medicines, no problem, private pharmacies will do the needful…..’

  15. Fair assessment but yet to offer a solution

  16. ‘……He fails to acknowledge that the rapid increase in private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies or ambulance services have led to a simultaneous dramatic fall in overall health standards and service quality. Our two-tier health system in which senior and junior doctors straddle both as public providers and profit-making owners has also done little for equalising the provision of healthcare services….’

    • Chicken and egg.

      People with health insurance pay for it to achieve higher standards of care and lower wait times than public hospitals.

      Why are wait times high? Inefficient use of a primary care system by the general public who goes to the emergency room for headaches and non life threatening ailments better suited for primary care clinics.

      Not to mention a poorly managed human resource system.

      We were moving towards a national NHS anyway to give locals a national health insurance like scheme for healthcare but that went nowhere.

    • Steven Mawer the NHS is not run on an insurance scheme. It is free at the point of delivery. One should inform oneself before interjecting.

    • We were fashioning an insurance system called ‘nhs’.

      I in no way described the NHS of the UK, the operations of which I am fully aware of and informed.

    • For your edification, our NHS would have allowed persons to register with a local private gp who if a participant in the scheme would perform health services and obtain payment from the state.

      If that isn’t insurance, what is it?

    • When feeling very ill, no one would know whether the symptoms are life-threatening or not unless they consulted with an MD and that person may do better to deliver themselves to an emergency room rather than a clinic in a normal world.

      I’ve seen that the local clinics actually handle emergencies extremely well and enjoy ‘after’ thought and calls depending on the location and doctor in charge at the time of checking in. The wait time is also shorter.

      It’s mainly the system that’s badly managed to handle various complaints and receive patients accordingly. Primary care and ER care.

      It seems that the problem really is a poorly managed health care system, further compounded by the human resource factor.

      As soon as our best nurses graduate, they choose to go overseas. Nursing is one of the top professions to have worldwide where you will never be out of a job and where you can get easy permanent residency in the US, EU etc. This is more so now, even with the problem of ‘immigration’ since the mass entry of refugees in the last years, today they’ll still take you immediately.

      The ‘rapidly increasing’ or sheer numbers of private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies or ambulance services exacerbate the situation.

      The best nurses and administrators leave for better pay, better managed and kept facilities locally and abroad and supposedly a better life. The Caribbean islands all suffer this similarly to a certain degree and need to have a plan to halt the exodus of well educated persons especially when they’re educated at tax payers’ expense.

      I’m not sure that part of the problem, like scholarship students, is that there are no spaces to fill? Can’t be or else there are incompetent people in meaningful positions for way too long.

    • Steven Mawer the only NHS I know and am referring to is the National Health Service in the United Kingdom which is free at the point of service anf has no insurance scheme.

  17. ‘…Many in our society—driven by our government and the media—have come to believe that the private sector is more efficient and innovative, while the public sector is poorly managed and corrupt. However, this fact is not borne by solid evidence….’