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Raffique Shah


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Rally, rally 'round T&T

By Raffique Shah
January 18, 2009

There was a time when the moment things turned sour in this country, those who could afford it would simply flee to the USA, Canada or Europe. That happened mainly among professionals who were educated here at taxpayers' expense, entrepreneurs who rose from running one-door shops to the multi-million-dollar enterprises. The one aberration to this pattern occurred in the late 1980s, when thousands of ordinary people, mainly Indians, fled to Canada as refugees, claiming they were oppressed by an African-dominated state machinery.

While everyone has the right to choose where he or she wants to live, to determine that high crime or incidents of discrimination or sheer backwardness in this society is just cause to take flight, I have reason to question their real motives for deserting their native land. The "refugees" of the 1980s, for example, had no just cause for the betrayal of their fellow-Trinis, for sullying their country's image. They simply exploited the easy rules of entry into Canada, thought the grass was greener on that side of the fence, and angered Ottawa to the point where, thereafter, any citizen of this country wanting to visit Canada must first secure a visa.

Most of the "refugees" ended up doing menial jobs they won't be caught dead doing here. Large numbers easily adjusted to cleaning toilets and performing janitorial services. Others worked for minimum wage taking care of older people at geriatric homes. Most settled for jobs as store clerks or fast foods' attendants, the most exploitative sector anywhere in the world. They lived in cramped, roach-ridden apartments, in conditions they would never have accepted in Trinidad.

They eventually had their immigrant status regularised, thanks to the generosity of the Canadian government.

And to be fair to some who formed the second wave of Indian immigration akin to the indentureship that brought their ancestors to the West, they used the opportunity to educate themselves, to "band their bellies" and eventually attain reasonable standards of living. Still, as a patriot, I cannot come around to forgiving them for their sins against all of us who remained here, bore the brunt of what was meted out to us, and continue to contribute to building this country we so love.

Not that successive governments and those in authority appreciate the tremendous sacrifices we have made. Prime Minister Patrick Manning, for example, who has governed the country for 11 of the last 22 years, treated us with a measure of scorn-until he saw the light-of-darkness in a Havana hospital. Mattered not how much we prevailed upon him to focus his attention on making citizens' lives better, to lift us from underdeveloped status to a nation we could be proud of, he simply ignored us.

All we patriots ask for are good governance, basic amenities that make everyday life better for us, and a safer environment so that we can enjoy living, not merely existing. As I wrote last week, it took a recession to bring the PM back to basics, as Rio sang. He finally admitted he had to make adjustments to the unwarranted expenditure his government had undertaken in the name of Jah-knows-what. Clearly, he cannot abandon reshaping the nation's skyline half-way: in Dubai, where wanton wastage was worse than ours, the firm building the mile-high "tallest building in the world" has stopped construction at a quarter-mile! Manning does not have that option, lest he wants to leave his pet projects looking more like the Gaza than Manhattan.

Having agreed on that, though, the PM must now re-direct our smaller funds to doing things that will make us proud we did not abandon our country. I outlined some last week, which I hope he noted. But there is so much more to be done. I get angry when I see law-abiding people having to resort to protest action because of the state of their roads. Sure, roads aren't built in a day. But after 35 years of reasonable energy revenues, there should not be a road in this country that is no more than a strip of potholes and craters.

If government had spent half of its mega-projects allocations on upgrading housing, there would be no justification for the seas-of-slums that are not just eyesores, but criminal breeding grounds. People, especially the young, are influenced by the environments in which they live. The PM has seen life in poverty-stricken Cuba, and he knows that for all their suffering, their hospitals and polyclinics cater for their every need. We can do better here: health centres should operate around the clock, especially in rural districts. Police stations ought never to have closing hours: criminals seize the time, any time, to commit their heinous acts.

I trust Mr Manning gets my drift. Those who wish to flee the country today do not have choices. There are 2.6 million unemployed people in the USA. In Canada and the EU, the jobless rate has hit over seven per cent. There's nowhere to run to, to seek refuge.

Our challenge is to make this country a better place-no, the best place-so that we would want to live here. Let us rally around T&T.

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