Answer me, oh my friend
By Raffique Shah
September 06, 2009
In this post-national-awards week and on pre-budget day, most of my columnist colleagues would focus on one topic or other. There is a whole lot to be said about the awards system, much of which has already been ventilated. The issue I found most amusing was the brouhaha over Kamal "Charch" Mohammed being nominated for the nation's highest award, but being denied it by those on high.
Indians were outraged that only three among the ethnic group received national awards. What I found hilarious about the "Charch" debate is this: The very people who rail against the PNM Government for not granting Kamal what he may deserve are the ones who cuss the PNM for having misgoverned and looted the country for 50-odd years. For 30 of those years Kamal was a senior member of the PNM. He only left after he was thrashed at the polls in 1986, and later rejected as candidate for chairmanship of the party.
So, is it that "Charch"-a most amiable man, I need add-is good and deserving of accolades today, but he was "ah PNM dog" for 30-odd years? People need to make up their minds on such glaring contradictions. I have long had my own perspective on this annual ritual of handing out national awards. But I shall not dwell on that this week.
Nor shall I waste time on speculating what magic Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira would pull out of her briefcase tomorrow. I expect her to deliver a routine budget. It has been that way since Eric Williams rounded off his presentations with, "Mr Speaker, total revenue equals total expenditure, no surplus or deficit anticipated." In Karen's case expenditure may well exceed revenue, but contempt for those who disagree with her arithmetic would be similar to Eric's.
Moving away from the topics of the day, I shall focus on two issues. These are from readers who believe I have such a strong voice, that should I highlight them, some positive action would follow. While many people read my weekly columns, I don't know that those in authority take my revelations, opinion or suggestions seriously.
The first issue concerns a young man-a boy, really-who has been the victim of our inadequate medical system. Stefon, it seems, suffered serious head or brain trauma some time ago. The doctors who first saw him (I don't know I can use the word 'examine') sent him away with the usual pain killers. His headaches and discomfort intensified, so grudgingly, the medical staff agreed to allow him the luxury of a CT scan. Of course, as victim of a public institution, he had to wait two years just to get the scan. After almost a lifetime (for the boy he could have died waiting), it was discovered he had a cyst on the temporal lobe.
Not being a medical person, that condition sounds serious enough to me to warrant same-day surgery. But this is Trinidad where we peer into the horizon, looking for 2020 the way Muslims look for the new moon. The boy now gets an appointment for surgery for surprise in 2010!
It's as if he's applying for a passport, not queuing for life-saving surgery. Now I know Health Minister Narace, if he does read this, would no doubt try to "look good" by fast-tracking what ought to be a routine procedure. But what of the other 10,000-plus victims who are in similar positions, who have to join years-long queues for dialysis, for heart surgery, for MRI procedures hell, for beds in hospitals! A close friend of mine could have been mere memory by now had he waited for his 2010 date with the Grim Reapers and an MRI at the public hospital.
Can Prime Minister Manning or Minister Narace or Minister Parsanlal explain why this damn nonsense passes for health care even as they sip bubbly at the Hyatt and look admiringly at empty billion-dollar high-rises around them? Can they seriously look me in the face and tell me that concrete-and-steel-and-glass are more important to citizens than basic medical equipment? Humour me.
Another friend explained to me he was on the brink of financial ruin because WASA refuses to pay him, a small contractor, for work completed some two years ago. He can't meet his bank commitments and had to borrow money to pay his workers. "Yuh lie!" I told him. "A man like Shafeek Sultan-Khan (chairman of WASA) who personally endured the collapse of his family printery, not to add giant retailer Kirpalani's, would never see another 'small man' fall!" I added for emphasis.
Well, he said, you check out how many of WASA's small contractors are being driven to ruin by the authority. And, he added, since Shafeek sits at the top, who would you blame if you were in my position? I must remember to call Shafeek and clear up this sullying of his good name. Having himself bitten the dust more than once, the business-guru would never wish a fate worse than death on WASA's workers or contractors.
So while the nation remains abuzz with discussions on Karen's Budget, I shall be dialling 800-SHAFEEK. And please, answer me, oh my friend!
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