I paid more detailed attention to the Budget debates this year because our country is so down.
The Opposition had little fresh content to offer. Most contributions represented attempts to fight over the General Election, which it lost nine weeks ago. The Opposition is so bazodee that, despite its recent defeat, my old colleague Wade Mark, shouted in the Senate: ‘UNC is the future’.
His shelf life, like that of his political leader, has expired.
In less politically correct times, we joked about the bazodee effect of a bull-pistle lash. My favourite was the account of a man, struck downtown, who raced up Frederick Street and continued at Olympic speed around the Savannah. He screeched to a halt at a sno-cone vendor and asked for a large sno-cone, no syrup, just ice.
The vendor replied: “I close down. I run out of ice.” The distressed victim stuttered: “Is okay, I will take it without ice.”
The Opposition are disconnected from independent-minded citizens. Contrary to the protestations of its zealots, it is the business of persons outside the narrow yellow corral to examine its leadership and parliamentary teams.
Who wants to go down the road of no credible opposition in Parliament for five years, particularly on account of some authoritarian tendencies of the PNM?
Nevertheless, fairness requires that an acknowledgement that, as ‘miserable’ in the Trinidad sense as many persons regard him, Senator Anil Roberts in his Budget contribution—although making reference to past events—was witty in applying them to the present.
He turned old content into new political astringent, culminating in a sharp response to the Senate president. When asked to be more refined in his language, he retorted instantly with words to the effect that he could not go to the refinery because the PNM had closed it down.
I have urged fundamental reform of the education system. Consequently, I particularly liked the contribution of those Independent Senators, who spoke bravely on the subject.
Independent Senator Paul Richards spoke of ‘his dream that the education sector realises its mandate of holistic citizen development’. He described education as ‘the great equaliser in any society, if the education sector understands its critical role and function’.
However, he made a trenchant assessment of the current state of the education sector and its inequities. He saw the sector as something that: “had become a desolate landscape of ignorance, anachronism, ineptitude and ignorance. I cannot tell you the pain and concern that I have felt for particularly young people in this country whom this country has, and continues to fail.”
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye referred to ‘the largest slice of the Budget’ being ‘deservedly’ given to the Ministry of Education and described the task of the Minister of Education Nyan Gadsby Dolly MP as ‘monumental’.
She declared: “The SEA exam needs to go. We cannot keep traumatising our young children with that stressful exam. That is wrong, on so many levels. We cannot sing every creed and race finds or find an equal place when schools are not equal, when the difference between success and failure depends on the primary school you attended, and your future depends on the school you passed for or in which you were placed.”
May I repeat that there must be curriculum reform that removes the obsession with CSEC passes and provides non grammar school subjects.
Later on, Senator Thompson-Ahye spoke of witnessing ‘surging tides of youth’ and wondered ‘if we are sitting on a powder keg’ given ‘their restless energy’, capable of being harnessed for fire or hope.
Unrest, not too long before the election, exposed the government’s lack of awareness of that powder keg. Its first response was authoritarian.
When it could not blame it all on agitation fomented for political gain—acknowledging the underlying socio-economic conditions, from which it was apparently disconnected—the government was forced to appoint the Watkins Committee on Community Recovery.
The disconnections and loose ends reflected in these Senate speeches will capsize our country if we remain as careless as we have been about systemic inequity. How on earth can anyone sleep well believing that such inequity is a deserved condition for ‘cockroaches’?
The education system today, even of 30 years ago, is not fit for purpose. Skills that are essential for today and the future are not taught, and meaningless facts (usually drivel never used in life) are the order of the day.