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Raffique Shah


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Time to Rewrite the Social Contract

By Raffique Shah
Aug 29, 2010

We have a new Government, a new dispensation call it what you will in place. But change, if it's going to happen, seems, at this point like being in the middle pack of a snails' marathon covering all the 100 feet. You ask yourself, especially when you come from the Baby Boomers generation, will change come before I die? Will I live to see my country, my people change for the better?

I am not, like many of my generational siblings, asking for us to return to the "good old days". Many things in our past were bad. Remember hookworms? Chiggers? Chinaponium? Walking for miles, barefoot, to get to school? Kicking a heavy leather football sans "tugs"? Batting without gloves, stones guards, pads and helmets, against bowlers who were hunks?

If I disappoint my "siblings" by not calling for a return to those primitive but daring exploits, I won't apologize. On the positive side though, it was that generation, and the one before, that stood up and fought valiantly, though mostly in vain, for the betterment of our countries. We dared to challenge "Massa", colonialism and racism. We opposed war (especially after Hiroshima). We wanted to be left in peace to make love, listen to good, wild music, and maybe to smoke good ganja.

But amidst this seemingly hedonistic lifestyle, we also strived to educate ourselves, a small number achieving university education (for which they and their parents worked and paid), others acquiring skills that would enable them to earn a living, and yet others successfully tilling the soil. We, and our parents before us, worked damn hard for what little we acquired, which in most instances, was not much beyond what was required to live on, without having to steal from others.

If we sinned, it was in breeding a new generation that found life too easy. We provided them with luxuries like transport to their classrooms (so they forgot the naturalness of walking), money to buy fast foods for lunch (they never savoured good sada-rpto amd fru-aloo, or bake abd buljol, or even wind-pies-with tap-water). Some afforded their apples-of-the-eye private gyms or music lessons-no simple jogging or table tennis, or learning pan music under tamarind trees.

So while we enjoyed good times and endured bad, we rolled with both. However, we spawned a generation steeped in dependency. Let's be realistic. Even those who benefited from free schooling (note, I did not say education) expect to start at the top of the ladder. Others who threw away these opportunities have morphed into the gimme-gimme gangs, whether it's whiling away time on URP projects with guaranteed earnings, or acquiring their wants (not needs) by robbing, even killing us. We are now victims of the beasts-in-human-form we spawned.

What is officialdom's response to the overwhelming negatives that pervade the society? Pamper them some more. Maybe they will feel sorry for us and actually learn something. Hell, we are spending $83 million to give them laptop computers. We spend $2 billion on GATE. One minister (either Fazal Karim or Tim Gopeesingh), said under-achievers are clogging tertiary institutions.

At workplaces, many "graduates" just occupy space but do little or nothing to justify their salaries. They treat the public they are paid to serve like globs of gobar. The senior officers, those who can make things happen, seem preoccupied with their looming pensions not with leaving rich legacies, with advising ministers on matters that require urgent attention.

Case in point: within two weeks, two sections of the Hochoy Highway collapse, compounding daily traffic nightmares. Tell me, who are the people responsible for checking on the integrity of our nation's main arteries? Were they sleeping so they missed these mishaps in the making?

And why must they, along with deviant police officers, errant public sector workers, enjoy security of tenure" It is high time my trade union comrades stop defending the indefensible! A new social contract is long overdue. With a new Government in place, it may well be the right time to rewrite and archaic system, put in place a concordat in which productivity, dedication to duty, and proper work attitudes count for something.

I am sure the delinquent police officers I wrote about last week remain neatly ensconced in uniform, with not even an investigation held to find out if they were culpable. In a new world, the real world, they will be skating on their backsides, job-hunting without references. Junior and senior public officers who hinder progress ought to be similarly dealt with, with the full backing of their representative unions.

I should add that I am not shielding supervisors and managers who oversee this sea of sewage that passes for work ethic. You cannot have unproductive or delinquent workers without ineffective or deviant managers. Fire their backsides too! It happens in the private sector, so why not in the public sector? Are there sacred cows and fattened calves in the latter?

Bull, I say. This country will remain steeped in stagnation, quite unlike the BRIC exemplars, for as long as we pander to the worst facets of human misbehaviour. From top to bottom, we must be prepared to clean the Trinidad and Tobago stables, flushing the "bull-purge" with high-pressure hoses.

Forty-eight years after independence, we must refuse to accept mediocrity at all levels in our society.

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