Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Noble: The elites and the poor; Aboud rings bell for deeper issue on use of national resources

Noble: The elites and the poor; Aboud rings bell for deeper issue on use of national resources

An Economist article (2011) defined ‘elites’ as people who shape the world without anyone noticing. The rich and powerful leverage their privileged status to exercise decisive control over the way society is organised and developed.

I am thankful that Gregory Aboud has opened this discussion. While he did not define ‘elites’, our definition should include not only the business elites but also the political, academic, public servants, civil society leaders and journalists.

Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud.

The UWI’s Roger Hosein’s stated desire to be part of the ‘one percenter’ group is a fascinating example of re-circulation within the elites, as evidenced by his ‘bligh’ given to Mr Arthur Lok Jack recently in the infamous UWI Sandals debate.

In the last General Elections, a lawyer and a compliant journalist who faithfully spouted the agreed line steered us away from having the debate between the two political leaders. Elites are cliques operating in unison.

Elite are able to create or execute policy, define the objectives and frame how issues are treated. For example, crime, not economic inequality, is long been perceived as our number one problem. Why? Because nobody in power wants to talk about who has what share of the pie.

Mr Aboud speaks of ‘we’ as though the nation is at one in terms of our fate and that there is a shared perception of national issues. He interprets mental and emotional exhaustion as acceptance, ignoring the hope expressed in the public response to our latest action figure, Gary Griffith. But in this, we may again be fooled since the concern of Gary Griffith is the protection of property rights.

We have had the dashed hopes of Independence (we expected development, equitable distribution of resources and good governance) which gave us the 1970 ‘Black Power’ uprising, the NAR ‘Rainbow’ dream which ended in the 1990 attempted coup and our experiment with the Great Coalition of 2010 which squandered our wealth and left our urban poor in a worse place.

Photo: Soldiers surround TTT headquarters during the 1990 insurrection.

Consider the irony of having Clearwater Gardens on the doorstep of Sea Lots, unfinished but almost a billion dollars in the pockets of a refugee. Consider that almost $50 billion, or five times what was spent in the 1990-99, was spent in 2010-15 and we not better off. Yet, the media and others would have us now believe that hard times ‘is Rowley fault’.

Mr Aboud is right: most of the elites were complicit and silent. They stuffed their pockets, looking after their own interests. Economic growth is the engine of inequality.

In the years of plenty, certain groups benefitted. The rest of us were thrown scraps, for which we were to be grateful.

The very significant transfers of public wealth went unremarked or soon forgotten even though they were not equally shared. The IMF reprimanded and warned in March 2016: “… taking into account the size of energy revenue windfalls, the country has under-saved and under-invested in their future [which] could lead the country to uncomfortable levels of debt…”

In 2008-09 we put more money in the HSF than we did in 2010-15. Yet in 2011-16, dividends to the Treasury increased sharply to $19.5 Billion. NGC alone contributed 3% of GDP ($4.6 Billion) from its equity in 2015.

Both the IMF and the IADB hint that these monies were not well-spent.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (right) and then Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner at the Trinidad and Tobago 2010 Women’s Under-17 World Cup.
(Courtesy FIFA.com)

Nobody in government or out of government acted as a brake to ensure that we either got value for the money spent or that those who did not have got some. This is the task that responsible governments in East Asia’s newly industrialising countries focus on. But we had a party in the last decade which has not ended.

Minister Colm Imbert is now looking to find out who spent US$1.2 billion up from less than $800 million in 2017 using credit cards. In 2015, US$766 million was used—a fifth more than was used the year before—at a time when the economy had ground to a halt.

Remember this was the year when Governor Jwala Rambaran told Imbert that we were in a recession. The poor need to open their eyes.

A huge chasm of inequality opened on the basis of ethnicity, location, education and corruption. The ranks of the elites had a new infusion; persons became contractors overnight and raped the Treasury without conscience.

We have to be careful when we point fingers since it appears that we are quick to adopt the same behaviour, given the opportunity.

The elite could afford security systems, so they permitted a corrupted, slothful police service. They could fly out for medical care so they let our hospitals be ruined. GATE paid for their children’s education and those children now charge us a pound and a crown for everything.

Photo: Late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning (right) with then UDECOTT executive chairman Calder Hart.
(Copyright The Globe and Mail)

From Patrick Manning’s time to today, no administration stopped the contract system in the civil service, which weakens the ability to provide good governance and strong institutional oversight.

Sadly, the elites will not be moved unless crime, disease or social uprising affect their own welfare. The story of the Great Plague of London is instructive. The first impulse of those elites was to leave the city in its filth. Only when the plague reached them did they fix basic health problems.

In that story, there is also the use of data to solve problems. In our case, the Central Statistical Office has been emasculated and bereft of resources. We cannot even tell how big a problem is inequality and who is hurting the most.

Our data was not organised to help us with calculating the potential impact of the Sandals deal or Petrotrin’s closure.

Perception drives behaviour. Messrs Gregory Wight and Christopher Alcazar, two local businessmen, recounting the tales of their forebears last year implied that the poor are lazy and may even have character defects. A view shared by others which leads to the stratification of the poor and discussions about who is ‘worthy’ to be helped.

Photo: National Security Minister, Communications Minister, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and MP Stuart Young (right) has a word with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

Other elites actively kick down the ladder on which they ascended. All trust Griffith to stem the rising tide. But inequality sets in motion forces—often of a destructive nature—that ultimately destroys much: lives and huge amounts of wealth as happened in the 1990 aftermath.

This is the bell that Mr Aboud is ringing. But collective action is needed to create a collective solution. Poor us! Can we rally the forces?

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

Check Also

Noble: The Women of Laventille are made scapegoats for society’s ills

The ‘Marlene Affair’ raises important issues about the fate of our women. Progress, as measured …

24 comments

  1. The real problem is, as it is in the US, governments don’t know that democracy only works for a society with HIGH TAXES for the rich. Plus taxing all those who are not paying any taxes.

    There’s nothing wrong with making millions, but you just have to pay the appropriate taxes. Certain European countries know this, practice it faithfully and jail their tax evading citizens faithfully also.

    Only in the Western Hemisphere politicians cater to selfish citizenry and also fool the public into thinking that the party that is going to raise taxes on the rich is your enemy.

    This is why Americans can’t even pay university fees because they also don’t believe in free university education.

    There’s absolutely no moral empathy for the general good of all in society.

    All that comes back to bite everyone eventually. The day when modern society worldwide accepts that we all have a responsibility to think like a small tribe that cares for each individual, the world will be a much better place.

    Selfishness and ‚it’s my life‘ reign supreme in our societies as we know it. Parents raise children and children feel absolutely no obligation to be discomforted to go out of their way for their parents. They regard it as a huge burden and some don’t even bother to find a good home for them, probably have no money themselves because of the selfish societies they live in and it’s a vicious cycle.

    The acquisition of material things don’t make happiness; it’s sharing in goodwill that does and high taxes along with good and non-corrupt governance are a must.

  2. Seems on point to me.

    “Elite are able to create or execute policy, define the objectives and frame how issues are treated. For example, crime, not economic inequality, is long been perceived as our number one problem. Why? Because nobody in power wants to talk about who has what share of the pie.”

    “Consider the irony of having Clearwater Gardens on the doorstep of Sea Lots, unfinished but almost a billion dollars in the pockets of a refugee. Consider that almost $50 billion, or five times what was spent in the 1990-99, was spent in 2010-15 and we not better off. Yet, the media and others would have us now believe that hard times ‘is Rowley fault’.”

    “Nobody in government or out of government acted as a brake to ensure that we either got value for the money spent or that those who did not have got some. This is the task that responsible governments in East Asia’s newly industrialising countries focus on.”

    “Sadly, the elites will not be moved unless crime, disease or social uprising affect their own welfare. The story of the Great Plague of London is instructive. The first impulse of those elites was to leave the city in its filth. Only when the plague reached them did they fix basic health problems.”

    “Perception drives behaviour. Messrs Gregory Wight and Christopher Alcazar, two local businessmen, recounting the tales of their forebears last year implied that the poor are lazy and may even have character defects. A view shared by others which leads to the stratification of the poor and discussions about who is ‘worthy’ to be helped.”

    I would add that an island that does not fostor entrepreneurship with more than lip service cannot expect to see any real development. Our banks, financial systems and investors seem to only support retail and outsourced manufacturing of licensed products (i.e. proven track records). So a government will consider financing Sandals, but no local person can attempt to bring a plan of such a magnitude and expect support.

    We see a government spend years seeking a ferry from foreign builders but seem to be incapable of asking if a ship could be built locally with plans from a reputable designer. Again our island has no ship design or construction certification available. In my view an oversight which leads to a continuous wastage of foreign exchange when Coast Guard vessels or ferries need updating or repairs. Note also that we also have no school of architecture which plays its hand in haphazard application of building codes.

    • Chris Mark D I don’t think we can build engines sorry. Best left to those who have decades of experience and yes we can learn but we equally need to have decades of experience ourselves as well as training.

      I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel from scratch though I’d support it but it’s not practical of doable in our current society at the moment.

      I think choosing Incat was a great decision by the way. We should get the government to give scholarships to train however still, Incat must buy its jet propulsion engines not so?

    • Chris Mark D and yes the Caribbean has a school of Architecture! There’s no need to fund 2 in the Caribbean especially when architects can’t get work, the government itself doesn’t have enough work for us nor is the citizenry always willing or able to pay what the think are high fees.

      No need to reinvent the wheel there too.

    • All boat builders buy engines and drives from suppliers. I was referring to building the hull and deck. We need certified people in boat/ship building but if we keep buying foreign we will always have job shortages and higher costs to purchase (paying a crew to drive fro china or europe or australia) and maintain (flying in the necessary skilled personnel).
      We have people building substandard homes and renovating because a plan from any draftsman can pass. No soil testing required. Houses go up alongside a road and there is no parking so they park in the road, We have strings of shops and bars operating and their customers choke the roadways because no parking is required to open a shop.
      We pay for the myopia. in traffic. We pay for the myopia when people are lost at sea. We pay for the myopia when our foreign exchange is given away to purchase slow lake water boats from china. We Pay for it when our intelligent boat loving fabricators cannot get jobs because (A) the boats built locally are of inconsistent quality. (B) their designs cannot compete with foreign builders using higher tech, ergonomics, better finishes and better performance.
      The reasons they are hamstrung is the lack of foresight both by government and the boat company owners who have not invested in training the staff. They dont want them qualified because??? They think too small.
      As for engine building. Engines have been built since the 1920s in more or less the same manner and design. Modern engines are equipped with electronic control units which any one with electronics training can create. So to say we cannot and that it is too much is a gross insult to Trinidadian workers.
      If we stay this way we will always be hand to mouth and cap in hand.

    • ON a side note the incat designs are old and dated. Newr vessels utilize foil systems to reduce running costs and increase comfort with catamarans. In a word they were good state of the art 20 years ago. Archaic to buy now. We could have built better with a south african Hysucat design. Of course if you only know what was good because that is what you know of then you are likely to accept what I see as mediocrity.

    • BTW Modern designs without foils have swung to trimarans.

    • Foils however make a huge difference in the performance and running costs. Foils themselves can be passive like a hysucat which means they are non actuated (cheaper and far simpler to run) which means the ferry runs in the water but not as deeply as a non foiled ferry (translates into lower running costs).

      Then there are the types which run with only the wing in the water and use actuated foils (these use gyroscopic controllers like those found in drones) and cost a lot more though they can handle the seas easier. And run quicker.

      Foils btw are not high tech in that they have been in use since the 60’s. Hardly likely to be beyond the skills of a trained Trini to produce.

  3. Nonsense, in my opinion. I am of the view that wherever we are now is based on who the masses saw it fit to vote into power (Government) over the last few decades.

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez im glad you think utter ignorance of how the political system works makes you able to share an opinion.

    • Keston K. Perry both you and the writer of the article are entitled to YOUR OPINIONS….but what you are not entitled to is to create your own facts….forgive my so called utter ignorance and please share the FACTS that support this article?. A seat by seat analysis of each of the 41 seats showing how they were influenced locally and nationally by what the writer CLAIMS, would be appreciated??

      • Noble Philip

        The first point being made is that the elites of every society have a huge influence on what is done. Their silence is not a bug but a feature of their behavior. The seemingly independent votes are influenced by the ‘dark’ money which strings we never see. This is not my opinion but it is discerned in many instances and countries. This is the stuff that was laid bare by the unmasking of Cambridge Analytica.

        The second point is that their perceptions guide their behavior. This is not unique to them but we all act in this fashion. The issue is what are their perceptions?

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez im not the writer of this article…. this is not about opinions. Everyone on social media can have an opinion. But facts and evidence are another matter. Any serious analysis of our history, the economic data and the like would enable comprehension of the issues that are delineated here. I’m not about arguing opinions with people on facebook… sorry to sound like an ass but it’s often uneducated and uninformed. But historical analysis serves as an important starting point along with economic data. So i can direct you to relevant knowledge if you desire about these important pieces of information.

    • Direct away…I’m always in a mood to learn….but I’m not sure why you feel your opinion is necessarily more “educated or informed” than mine…but send your facts…suffice to say I saw the piece that was posted as an OPINION piece and gave MY OPINION in response….the formerly veiled but now brazen attempts at class warfare and discrimination are becoming more manifest. Please tell me who exactly are these ELITE? How do we identify them? By what metric?

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez im simply going based on what you’ve shared. I am also not sharing an opinion… i offer analysis of issues based on evidence and facts, not opinions.

    • Provide evidence and facts please….I asked some specific questions in my last post but they have not been answered…..I believe the answers to those questions are fundamental to ANY analysis…..

    • And I am genuinely trying to understand the thinking and facts behind the article/issue….

      • Noble Philip

        If you are more specific, then I may be able to assist. I write to add to the national dialogue. I am not here to prove a point but to get to ideas that will help us get better and to keep out bad ones from taking root. I do not have a monopoly on positions. I am a seeker and I trust that whatever I write will be supported by facts. The interpretation of course is mine.

    • You should refer to the writer about supporting his comments. Good night

    • If you’d like a copy of my phd thesis, you can search via google using my name.

    • Lol…but is you that suggested my opinion based on utter ignorance and when I conceded and asked you to show me with FACTS the basis of my ignorance, you were unable to…..

    • Now you come pulling out PHD and thesis….what’s your doctorate in?…..we had plenty “degree mill” doctors in the last regime and plenty doctors in this regime that clearly demonstrate that common sense is often times better than book sense….but state your claim…when I ready to flash my CV and qualifications I will….lol

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez dude lol good bye