Daly Bread: Dividing the bread; PEA asks right questions on rising prices

The earthy language of Phillip Alexander may make his commentaries unattractive to some people. It is useful however that he repeatedly sticks it to the establishment, revealing a far better understanding of socio-economic reality than many of our rulers—even though he might not get many votes at the ballot box.

Frustration in establishment business circles is more delicately expressed.  There was reason over the last two weeks to recall an observation, which I heard in those circles, that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley “is not engaged”.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

My recall of this statement was stimulated by the Minister of Rural Development and Local Government and our new weatherman, Faris Al Rawi, saying in a recent media conference that PM Rowley had given instructions from California, USA, concerning preparation for the bad weather that had been threatening us for some time.

When there were so many matters, additional to the weather, with which PM Rowley should have been directly engaged in currently turbulent Trinidad and Tobago, at whose cost was his extended stay in California? And why would “medical tests” take more than two weeks to complete?  

Whatever dates are carefully or angrily fed to us to fill the information and accountability vacuum, there may have been many free days during the extended stay in California to engage further.

Image: A satirical take on grocery prices.

By contrast, the President of the United States, albeit unsuccessfully so far, is frontally engaged in the fight against sharply rising prices and inflation in the United States. Gas prices is one major issue very likely to cause the President’s Democratic party to suffer serious electoral losses in the mid-term elections later this year.

A government that is properly engaged in the issues affecting the mass of the population should have some clue what to do about rising food prices other than the bleating of our Minister of Trade to the business class.

Unfortunately, the interests of consumers, who are being crushed by job losses and rising prices, will not readily become a dominating election issue. The spam of tribal loyalty blurs a leader’s need to be present and take responsibility for the wrong direction in which the country is heading.  

It also blurs the Opposition’s need to present a credible alternative to those now manifestly unable to help us.

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) has a word with fellow MPs (from left) Michelle Benjamin, Anita Haynes, Vandana Mohit and Khadijah Ameen.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

Arguably, regardless of rising food and fuel prices, last Sunday’s vote in the UNC internal elections may be a vote assisting the PNM to win the next General Election, as a consequence of what I recently described as the dead weight of no credible choice.

Phillip Alexander’s recent commentary on bread prices and the corporate profits of bread manufacturing reflected an understanding of the use of flour across communities and the reality that baking bread at home is no longer a common practice.

“Flour unites Trinidad and Tobago,” Alexander declared. “Dey does eat bread, dey does eat bake, dey does eat sada roti, dey does eat doubles.  All ah we eating flour.”  

Photo: Controversial aspiring politician Phillip Edward Alexander.

In calling on the Government to subsidise flour instead of prestige projects, he asked whether the corporate bread manufacturers are getting subsidies from National Flour Mills. 

“Are they paying less for flour  than the average citizen of Trinidad and Tobago?” he inquired.

This is a useful challenge to government policy regarding subsidies in one area of enterprise.  The fact is the whole morass of government subsidy and welfare grant policy needs to be debated, cleaned up and rid of the distribution of benefits on a partisan basis.

Bread baking and home food preparation is a casualty of the cruel absorption of time in “travelling” by means of haphazard public transportation options and the capture of eating habits by fast-food. The foreign exchange demands for the importation of certain fast food items ought to be accurately quantified and be the subject of a debate.  

Photo: Understanding the foreign exchange market…

Should the provision of foreign exchange for the fast food and luxury items importer-barons be restricted? Perhaps, rising food prices and the related issues are politically “gang related”?

There are businesses doing small scale catering and that has also become a means of living for many thrown out of jobs by Covid and retrenchments.  

What is the plan to level the prepared food playing field and divide the bread more equally?

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