January 19, 2003
By Raffique Shah
THERE'S hardly a dull moment in this not-so-blessed country of ours. If the nation's young doctors locking horns with a bull-headed Minister of Health, there are Caroni employees who seem to have a death-wish, and who intend to take everything and everyone with them down the road to destruction. And as if to add to the absurd, we now have Carnival bandleaders seeking to have a new law that will make it a criminal offence for anyone who trespasses on their sacred piece-of-pitch on Carnival days.
Maybe the doctors believe that they are the first to be so treated by any government. They want the MPATT to officially represent them in negotiations for new contracts at a time when the new organisation still has its application for recognition before the appropriate authority. If they believe they are being badly treated by the government and Health Minister Colm Imbert, they'd'better think again.
Back in 1974/75, my union (then known as ICFTU) had a clear majority support among cane farmers, as against TICFA (which I now lead). But the latter was protected by an Act of Parliament that not only gave TICFA sole recognition rights, but also compelled farmers to pay a "cess" to that organisation. We battled these injustices on the ground for months, nay, years, against legal injunctions, police batons (Winston Leonard and I were arrested and charged twice in that struggle) and other forms of oppression before, as late as in 1977, ICFTU was accorded a measure of recognition.
So if the doctors believe that Imbert and government are making their lives miserable, they'd do well to learn from history. They are lucky that dues to the recognised body, the PSA, are not being deducted from them as MPATT awaits recognition. Non-recognition does not mean that the government or the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) cannot have dialogue with them. But when the issues are politicised, battle lines are drawn and positions are hardened. The Minister seems to think that most of the doctors are UNC supporters, hence their no-compromise stance. The doctors aren't making their case any easier by holding the infirm to ransom. After all, there is a vast difference between a cane field and an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital.
There is no reason why the minister should not speak with the doctors, even though the MPATT is yet to be formally recognised. He should lend them an ear, and maybe he would find that they are not all delinquents (like the ones who shoot pool or frequent bars during the day, as patients suffer for attention...and that's on normal working days). In fact, he may well discover they have some good ideas (hey, these are supposed to be bright professionals), and better still, he would be in a position to let them see and learn that he and the ruling party are not bent on decimating Indians. This latter view is being promoted by frustrated UNC activists-apartheid, they are calling it-and the government needs to take positive action to let people know that that's not true.
Hopefully (yawn, yawn), something will give soon and the public health system will...I almost wrote "return to normal". No, as citizens we should demand that as doctors and other personnel in the system get better salaries and working conditions, they deliver the services they are paid to do. In a related matter, members of MPATT have suggested that Cuban doctors are not well trained, that their presence here would lower our standards. Really, how dare they? It is well established that Cuba has the best health system in the Western Hemisphere. Too, they have developed expertise in dealing with burns, among other conditions, as well as produced the indigenous "PPG" tablet for fighting cholesterol. These are but a few of their achievements. I'd like MPATT to say what local medical personnel have done by way of research and development in health care.
In the sugar industry where there are proposals to rescue it from disaster, strife and political confusion reign supreme. The monthly paid staff have taken industrial action because they have NOT been offered VSEP. At least that's what SISA president Jai Ramkissoon told me. On the other hand, the All Trinidad union is fighting AGAINST the VSEP proposals. And in the middle, cane farmers have been caught with their first-cut canes piled up across the sugar belt. They, too, are being fed tonnes of lies, leading many of them to believe that the industry could amble along merrily, losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year, that change is not inevitable.
That people find it hard to accept change, more so fundamental change, is understandable. But when tripe takes the place of reason, when people have death wishes, what can one do to help them? If only those who are fomenting strife would look critically at government's proposals, make counter-proposals where necessary, and let's move swiftly to restructure Caroni, then the pain of the process would be mitigated. Industrial action during this critical crop will offer government (and this almost happened under the Basdeo Panday regime) an excuse to shut down Caroni, with virtually no obligations to its 9,000 employees and 6,000 cane farmers. But, fools rush in....
In the midst of this bout of nationwide madness comes a suggestion that un-costumed persons be deemed criminals for entering costumed bands. Worse, National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee is said to be giving the proposal active consideration. What madness is this? Really, if a spectator-and spectators vastly outnumber masqueraders-were to merely "trip" into a band's "province", he or she could be charged with a criminal offence! Oh, it's true that there are people who deliberately jump into bands and harass masqueraders. But what recourse do I have, as a spectator, should a female masquerader leave the band to come and "wine" on me? Seek to have her deemed a criminal?
It's a ridiculous proposal and it should be scuttled before it's even debated. The police and bandleaders will have to find other means of dealing with this rather trivial matter. Look, I know J'Ouvert has deteriorated into one massive danger zone, as opposed to the pleasurable welcome to the Merry Monarch it once was. For that reason many people I know, me included, have chosen to leave Port of Spain before madness takes over the streets.
But we cannot entertain this ridiculous idea. "De road make to walk on Carnival day", and masqueraders do not have exclusive rights to any road anywhere in the country. Please, let's not kill the spirit of the season with rank stupidity.