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Raffique Shah


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Lies, damn lies and politics

By Raffique Shah
October 21, 2007

If only politicians on all sides of the divide would stick to the facts, given the "goods" they have on each other, or on individual targets, they could sway people's opinions infinitely more than when they spew lies like a person purged. In fact, because character assassination and mauvais langue are easier for not-too-bright speakers to use, these are rampant on almost every platform. And please, don't confuse the above with "picong", which is good Trini humour that teases and tickles crowds, hence invaluable to good speakers. The late Dr. Eric Williams was a master of picong. Pretenders to Eric's throne have no sense of humour. They are mere comics.

What we are getting nowadays are lies, damn lies, so much so that soon the people peddling them come around to believing them. A lie, told too many times, transforms itself into the truth even in the minds of the perpetrators. Let me take one example that bugs me: ever since he wined his way out of office, Basdeo Panday has been crowing about how much he did in government "when oil prices were $9 a barrel". His supporters actually believe that. Worse, those in his party who should know better have never sought to correct this gross inaccuracy.

I can tell them what the prices of oil were in any given year, from as far back as 1970 to today. In fact, anyone who knows anything about oil also knows there is not one oil price: the daily quote for, say, Brent Crude, is not the price at which West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is sold. There are many varieties of oil, priced in the main according to their sulphur content.

Our land crude, for example, is generally high-sulphur, hence not as "sweet" as our offshore oil. Using WTI prices, I have worked out that between 1991-95 (Patrick Manning's first stint as PM), prices averaged US$19.49 per barrel. The lowest price was in 1994-$14.20 per barrel.

Between 1995-2001 (Panday in government), prices averaged $20.66, with the lowest being $11.50 in 1999. I can go further. Between 2001-05, prices averaged $30.73, with a low of $20 in 2002. And just to round off the more recent, lucrative years, even with $60.87 in 2007 used as the WTI benchmark, the average price between 2001-07 is US$39.51.

You hear lies? One has only to listen to pro-UNC programmes to find out how many people actually believe "de Bas worked magic with oil at $9 a barrel", while Patos can't match his performance with oil selling at $84 a barrel. Ignoramuses actually believe that the high prices we see quoted on a daily basis are what we get. They don't know that, with a mix of crudes, our prices average lower than that.

I shift to Panday's claim that "drug barons are financing the COP and PNM", which he repeats nightly. Where is the evidence? The (m)asses applaud, blow horns and whistles, but never wonder if what he is saying is true. If there's one thing I've noticed at COP meetings, where crowds are usually smaller than at PNM and UNC meetings, is I do not see maxi-taxis and buses aplenty. In fact, I don't see any. Which signals to me that the COP is scrunting for money, while the other two are wallowing in it.

Another lie: Anand Ramlogan blames the UNC for closing down Caroni Ltd. What Anand probably means is that the UNC in government did nothing to save sugar. I don't know that it could be saved (or resuscitated now), but the fact is it's the PNM government that shut down sugar. Manning, too, is into the lying game.

When he questions where the other two parties are getting money to fund their "wild advertising spree", he's treading on very soft ground. He should, instead, turn to his colleagues and ask: where the hell is the PNM getting the money to splurge on a multi-million-dollar promotional campaign? And someone will tell him: from the government's coffers! Yes, all those ads from government ministries surging forth today are not intended to promote government. They are intended to promote the PNM as a party.

I guess if my one stint in electoral politics taught me anything, it's that I do not qualify as a politician. It's not that I never tell a lie. But the volume of "tatah" and lies I hear nightly is nauseating. I can easily rattle off many more, some of them so stink, I swear I'm in a sewer. But to what end? Lying politicians litter this country, and if the (m)asses can't smell them, then they deserve the stinkers they get as elected representatives.

This week's DSO award goes to my columnist-colleague, Selwyn Ryan. Sello, where the hell you got those numbers from? The UNC at five per cent? The COP at 30 per cent? That alone should have caused you to abandon the exercise. For buying and selling untreated sewage, take a bow, Sello. With humility, accept this week's DSO.