Vaneisa: Building on a soft foundation; how to transform T&T from the bottom up

A friend of mine based in the USA mailed his first novel to me on 15 September 2020—more than four months ago. There has been no sign of it; no indication from TTPost that there is a package for me to collect. Nothing.

Many citizens receive statements and bills from the various utilities via TTPost. I have had three or four monthly statements from the same source arrive simultaneously. I’ve received bills that are months overdue. 

Photo: The TTPost courier service.

It’s not easy to keep track of everything, but we are expected to cope with these postal delays because we are also presumed to be cognisant of the challenges posed by the global pandemic.

On the other hand, the entities sending out the bills are still fairly rigid about doing their disconnections, and so there is no reciprocity and tolerance from that end.

I’ve never been one to put much store on the state as provider. I do not mean that I think the state does not have a responsibility to provide services to its citizenry. We need water, electricity, shelter, and food as our basic necessities, and we need health care, education and opportunities to improve the quality of our lives. 

When I say I do not put too much store on the state as provider, it is because I have lived to see how inefficient, callous and corrupt it has been as a provider of even our basic requirements. I refer not to any single political party, but to the entire clump that has held public office over my lifetime.

We live in unprecedented times; there is no gainsaying that the forecast ahead is grim at every level. It has become tiresome and irritating to see the heraldry around paltry gestures that are proclaimed as meaningful efforts to relieve some of the pain being felt on the ground.

Photo: Can… I… Help… You?
(Courtesy Disney)

We have never been much of a socialist society, but this is the opportunity for us to reconsider how best we can nurture and support all of us gathered here today.

On Wednesday, international attention was riveted by the tone of the inauguration of US president Joe Biden and his subsequent actions. Oohs and aahs as he communicated his commitment to redressing the wrongs of his predecessor, and touted a system of values based on honesty, integrity and inclusion, among other laudable ideals.

Perhaps I am being cynical when I say we have heard these words uttered on numerous platforms all across the globe before. On this occasion, they were declarations that many fractured populaces need to hear and they were clearly the appropriate sentiments for the occasion. People needed those feel-good moments.

But I want to come back home, where we have reached a sad cynicism because we no longer have the capacity for trust. We have no faith in our institutions and none in the integrity of our systems, and a kind of hopelessness prevails as a consequence.

We have come to expect corruption everywhere, so much so that we prepare ourselves grudgingly and often willingly to participate in it. If we honestly reflect, we will agree that turning a blind eye, or paying a bribe is as complicit as destroying and falsifying records.

Image: A satirical take on corruption.

The behaviours have seeped into our DNA so insidiously that we no longer recognise what it means to conduct ourselves ethically. We no longer recognise the roles we play in perpetuating our felonious culture. Our exemplars are the people who get away with the most egregious acts—the smartmen.

I genuinely believe that in this time of upheaval, not everything has to be dreadful. There has never been a more propitious opportunity for recanting. Now that we have seen how arbitrarily things that have seemed immutable can very well be pushed aside, old ideas can be challenged and frumpy ways abandoned.

It used to be that power was represented by hard, unrelenting, unforgiving, autocratic traits. To show any signs of kindness and compassion; any hint of decency and integrity, was to invite accusations of being weak.

Many years ago, when I was writing columns that kept urging that these qualities were the true hallmarks of ‘good’ leadership (I hesitate to use that judgemental word), I was told by one male editor that those were ‘soft’ traits. Although a couple decades have passed, I know his is still a commonly held view of what constitutes desirable characteristics.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago football fans get behind their team at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, during their World Cup qualifying clash with the United States on 17 November 2015.
The two nations played to a goalless draw.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

I do my best not to give up hope, because every day I really do carry some measure of optimism that by now enough people have had a chance to evaluate the way they live and the values they carry. I think of people imagining the kind of world they would like to live to see, and resolving to make it a better place. I know, it’s the Pollyanna in me.

Economists will give us prescriptions for how to weather the rough times and build a more sustainable and perhaps better structured economy. But, as the US experience demonstrated, all the money in the world will not enhance the quality of life if it is not based on a solid foundation.

The solidity I believe in comes from the ‘soft’ issues—respect for each other; respect for integrity, kindness and compassion; honesty; commitment to transparency and accountability in public affairs. 

If we do not see these as the pillars we need, then crapaud smoke we pipe.

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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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