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Raffique Shah


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Tell me something good

By Raffique Shah
September 30, 2012

I was privileged to have known and spent some invaluable time with one of this country's great thinkers, CLR James. He was in his winter years, mostly lying in bed, but his mind remained razor-sharp. A conversation with "Nello", as he was fondly called, was worth several high-level lectures at any university, so I extracted the most I could from him during what would be his final sojourn in the land of his birth. Today, I remember him more for his wit than his wisdom.

We were at OWTU's Hobson House, where he stayed for a year or more during the early 1980s—I, sitting at his bedside engaged in deep discussion with him, and nearby some union comrades in animated argument over the credibility of a senior union official (not George Weekes). As their voices rose, Nello and I could not help but overhear what they were saying.

"He is a blasted reactionary!" someone shouted in disgust. At a time when radical politics was alive and well, leaders and activists were measured as being 'revolutionary' or 'reactionary', the terms being opposites.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," Nello interjected, "X (name omitted) is not reactionary…to be reactionary you must do something. X does nothing. He is stationary!" Laughter erupted, the argument ended: Nello had settled the dispute with his trademark wit, which, as was also his hallmark, was blended with a word of wisdom.

I remembered that episode and CLR's intervention as I pondered today's column, a sequel to last week's 'backward ever, forward never'. Looking at developments over the past few weeks, the continuing political turmoil over the past two decades or more, really, I wonder if we are moving backward, forward, or if we have remained stationary.

As I write (Friday afternoon), a mike mounted on a vehicle is passing through the district, for the umpteenth time this week, the Prime Minister's voice seducing the party faithful to attend yesterday's 'Budget rally'. I should add that while her voice and tone are not annoying (as others' tend to be), the sheer repetition, night and day, has become a turn-off. It occurred to me that since this must be replicated elsewhere, hundreds of vehicle-mounted mikes must have criss-crossed the country all week. There were also a multi-media blitz, a multi-ministerial television propaganda hour, and heaven knows how many maxi-taxis mobilised for yesterday's shindig.

I ask myself, what is the cost of this election-style mobilisation? It must run into millions of dollars. And to what end? To try to prove that the UNC and the PP still command the support of the majority of the electorate? To do some damage control after the Section 34 fiasco? Hell, as recently as last May the PP splurged as it celebrated its second year in office. And the curtain is yet to fall on the Olympics-Golden Jubilee-Republic galas, all of which cost the country countless of millions of dollars and huge losses in man-days at a time when the economy is stagnated.

In other words, the government is gripped in the fete mode, work is suspended, productivity cast aside, governance measured in glitter—what the hell? As a nation, we are marking time as others less fortunate than us march on, making sure their economies are staying afloat, even surging, in these troubled times. The last year this gas and oil-rich country posted growth in GDP was 2008. In contrast, the much-maligned Venezuela recovered from a slump in 2009 and 2010 (which we also experienced) to post a 4.2 per cent recovery in 2011 (we had a 1.2 per cent decline). Bolivia and Ecuador, with economies similar to ours, are running a healthy 4.0 to 6.0 per cent growth in the years 2010 to 2012.

I shall not delve into other details that could embarrass the Government even more—if that is at all possible. Suffice it to say that while they are taking the country deeper into the debt hole by running deficit-Budgets, our neighbours to the South (add Colombia and Guyana) are striding ahead as best they can given the uncertainties of the global economy. Some of these countries lagged way behind us during the 1980s and 1990s, as we blazed a trail in petrochemicals and established the only LNG exporting plant in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Can this government point to a single revenue-generating industry, plant or enterprise that was conceptualised, not necessarily commissioned, during its 28-month tenure? Not one! The AUM plant that it opened with much fanfare last year was a work in progress for some four years. The same can be said of the few new manufacturing initiatives that came on stream since May 2010. Even Petrotrin's highly touted "Jubilee find" (crude oil) was the result of years of exploration, started long before the Partnership came to power.

I listened to Jack Warner and Anand Ramlogan attack journalists and columnists for not saying or writing anything positive about the Partnership Government. Tell me something good, as some singer crooned, and I'll write about it. Drop in crime in Laventille? We saw that during the Emergency; then the surge returned with fury. Oh, if you have a real handle on the gang warfare, not some temporary reprieve, where, pray, are the gangsters' armaments?

You see, fellas, you can fool many people for quite a long time, much the way the PNM did in its heyday, with a mass of blind supporters chanting the power-hymn. That equation is changing, though, albeit slowly. And surprise, there are actually some journalists and columnists who value professional ethics above "ah food". So you can host rallies, wine like a dog, fete like a hog (in mud), reality remains that the country is stuck in the stationary mode. We are going nowhere, and getting there rather quickly.

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