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Raffique Shah


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A nation of unrealised potential

By Raffique Shah
Dec 19, 2010

"Gobar in de mansions, gobar on de ground "Gobar in de country, gobar in de town..." (David Rudder, "The Savagery", 1998)

Some people who have the power to effect change and the courage to pursue noble goals with great enthusiasm, often find themselves stumped by the savagery they encounter when they tackle seemingly intractable problems. Trinidadians (more so than Tobagonians) are a strange people. We are mostly warm, friendly, helpful, and sometimes generous to a fault.

But we also have set ways—like drinking alcohol wherever and whenever we want to. From young students who sneak flasks of rum into their classrooms to managers who secrete similar-sized bourbon or whiskey in their executive desks, we must pretend these misdemeanours are acceptable. Interfere with our right to drink whatever concoction we "invent" (I hear Puncheon rum and beer is the hit cocktail among the young), and all hell breaks loose.

Which leaves me wondering what prompted Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing to think he could change our drinking culture, however idealistic he may be about cleaning up the capital city. Bar owners and patrons came down on Louis like the proverbial tonne of bricks. How dare he suggest that publicans stop selling alcohol at midnight? Hell, even if Louis concedes an additional two hours, our drinkers would want none of that.

After all, this is Trinidad, the paradise-island where laws, rules and regulations are routinely ignored. Louis can cite all the Canadian, American or British precedents and practices he wants, to no effect. People who comply with stringent liquor laws in these developed countries complain bitterly about any attempt to impose similar regulations here.

You drink all your stomach can hold, and then some, which you excrete on some nearby residents' walls. Say what? This paradise is a vast urinal anyway, so who gives a damn? Men, and now more than a few women, just bare their "pee-pees" anywhere, anytime. Do not even think of tampering with their rights to urinate, defecate or fornicate in public.

Mayor Lee Sing also made a bold attempt to take vagrants off the streets of the capital, albeit without proper planning for alternative accommodation. Again, supposedly sane citizens cried out, "How dare he touch these poor, homeless souls?" While I agree that many of these people need help, and some can be salvaged, I have long felt that Chacachacare can be restored with accommodations, utilities (including its own power and desalination plants) and other conveniences to house vagrants, drug addicts and other deviants. This is a better option than putting them in jail.

But people do not want any such changes. After all, vagrants are as much part of our cityscapes as the excuses-for-sidewalks, seeping sewage, and eyesores like bush-and-derelict-covered empty plots.

Soon, illegal "PH" cars will be regularised. Instead of insisting that the owners of these vehicles have them lawfully converted into taxis, the Government seems to be comfortable with legitimising lawlessness. Doing that, they argue, will formalise an existing system that provides a critical service to residents off main commuter routes. Fair enough.

The Government may now want to look at prostitution, which is legal in many developed countries: mutual consent, exchange of dollars and two people's needs are satiated. Or the private use of marijuana, which many countries have legalised. This puts the big drug dealers out of business, since people can grow their "grass". Tens of thousands of upstanding citizens "smoke weed" recreationally, and never commit criminal acts or descend into cocaine addiction or alcoholism.

Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan stated recently that some 5,000 citizens have applied for firearm licences, but have received no responses to their applications. I'm surprised the applicants are so few. Given the number of firearms in the hands of criminals—tens of thousands, some of them sophisticated weapons—law-abiding citizens should be entitled to own guns for their defence and that of their families.

Like all the "gobar" that's spewing around the country, the authorities will tell us that is no solution to the crime wave. While they do have a point, and I say this as someone trained in the use of firearms, they may want to impose a caveat to those who wish to acquire guns. Applicants should be granted licences only after they have successfully completed basic courses in handling and firing weapons.

I note, too, that in a bid to limit the number of vehicles on the nation's roads, government proposes to impose conditions under which used-car dealers can operate. One stipulation is that dealers must stock parts for the vehicles they sell. May I suggest a similar law be applied to new car dealers? Ask many owners of new vehicles—and here I mean months old—and they will tell you how supposedly reputable dealers do not carry adequate stocks of vital parts.

Indeed, the dealers send their warranty-bearing customers to other parts dealers, saying they would sooner get the parts there! Am I lying? No dealer can look me in the face and say that I am bad-mouthing them.

As Rudder sang, this is a place where "de gobar never stops". From resisting the imposition of order, opposing the enhancement of our city centres, to using our watercourses as dumping grounds, we seem to have no pride in our country. Until we show by example that we do, we shall remain a nation of unrealised potential.

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