August 21, 2005
By Raffique Shah
PRIME Minister Patrick Manning should reconsider making spontaneous statements, especially when he is before his party faithful. The man simply cannot be trusted to blurt out everything he has stirring in his mind. That statement last week in which he advised poor people to "watch television instead of having sex" was a gem. Not even Learie Joseph could have coined such a belly-busting hook line. Because the truth be told, poor people are the ones who have little else they can afford by way of "entertainment" than romping on whatever they use for beds.
It's not the Manning's statement was without merit. But so too is Learie's response to a loaded question about him evading "licks" by going to the NAR since they "doh beat anybody"! I should pause here to point out that even though I have not seen this comedian in action, I instinctively recognise him as one of the foremost in that genre in the country, a one-man successor to Tommy Joseph and Dennis "Sprangalang" Hall. Hall, Paul Keens-Douglas and Joseph duo are masters of the art of dishing out humour without having to resort to typical American four-letter words to evoke laughter. And when they do use sexual innuendoes, it is invariably palatable to audiences of any age.
But Manning is giving these fellas hell. As Prime Minister he must recognise the concept of division of labour, not to add the fact that "everyone must live", as Trinis say, meaning he ought never to encroach on the comedians' territory. What the PM intended, I believe, was to get across to the Cocoyea squatters the harsh reality that they simply cannot go on making children by the dozens and expect other people or the government to "mind" the kids. It was, in fact, advice on family planning, but he did not plan well how to put over his point. Really, can he imagine young, healthy couples who live in one-or-two-bedroom shacks, sans electricity but cum latrines, to find anything more pleasurable to engage in but sex?
Had he not been politicking, he would have sent Emile Elias and the FPA people to address the squatters on family planning measures, their long term benefits to couples and the country. Emile knows more than a thing-or-two about laying down strong foundations, be it on building sites or in the minds of those whose thinking appears to be warped.
Take for example the 50-years-plus woman who took grave offence to Manning's statement. Clutching two kids no older than 10, she was annoyed that Manning should in any way interfere in her style of unplanned child bearing. She has given no thought to the reality that she'll be over 60 when these children get into their late teens or early 20s, unable to influence or control them, or worse, even afford them. And there are many others like her.
In other words, they have sown the seeds (well, the husbands or "sweet men" have) of criminals-in-the-oven, who will come around to haunt not just their parents, but more devastatingly, other citizens in the society. A study of the young criminals who are running wild and reckless in the country today will no doubt show they are products of parents who were too young to guide them, or too old to manage them. When couples have children at the right time in their lives, chances are the parents are strong and influential and mature enough to steer them in the right direction, and from here we have the success stories of those who make it through education and training.
At the same meeting, the PM went bearing gifts of electricity (presumably so the squatters can get their TVs), street lamps, better roads, and toilets. Now I have no problem with this or any government seeking ways of assisting the poorest in the society, which really, is an obligation.
But when, as so many governments have done, squatters end up with more rights, not to add amenities, than those who labour and sacrifice to build their humble homes and communities, one wonders what message is being sent to the population. That it is better to squat on any piece of land that's available, create ramshackle communities in which roads are a maze and sanitation unheard of? That might is right, and poverty is an excuse for encroaching on state or private lands? Or it's a rationale for becoming a criminal?
Politicians say and do the "darnest" things in pursuit of the almighty vote. Ramesh Maharaj made a career of successfully defending the indefensible, and now there's any number of clones (and clowns) who see this as a path to political office, maybe even power. It's why I remain sceptical about the motives of most politicians, and the publicity-seeking stunts of many professionals. They shall all lead us into temptation to go forth and multiply, or to give up our stable lives for the more lucrative rewards of crime and irresponsibility.