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Raffique Shah


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All the Queen's donkeys

By Raffique Shah
June 9, 2013

The dilemma I face every week writing a column must be no different to what my colleagues in all the print media do: what can I write about that's reflective of good things happening in the country? Surely, there must be positives in the society, nation-building initiatives, achievements by citizens that are worthy of public praise.

And the truth is there are. But such achievers and contributors are so overwhelmed by rampant misbehaviour of people in public life, who are aided and abetted by large numbers of lawless or irresponsible or indifferent members of the society, that the good get lost in the jungle of the bad and the ugly.

Which is unfair, really. These people deserve better—more coverage in newspapers, more than the fleeting seconds devoted to "positive vibes" on television, and certainly more recognition by the nation than that accorded to self-promoters who, besides grabbing media attention for every "tooloom" they give to a deprived child, nominate themselves for all kinds of awards. The real heroes of the country invariably work quietly to uplift their communities, to save youths from the vortex of crime, to bring some joy to abandoned elders, all outside the glare of the media.

Their reward is the satisfaction of seeing their selfless devotion bear bountiful fruits. You have to experience it to understand the inner joy you feel when, years after the act, you see someone you gave a break to at a time when his or her life appeared to be aimless, go on to prosper, to achieve heights neither you nor she thought was possible. Multiply that by many such good deeds and you know you have helped people in need without fanfare, without craving recognition.

Or an idea germinates in your mind and you persevere against all odds to breathe life into it. Later, you see it bloom, bring benefits to so many, the least you can do is smile with satisfaction. Such is the stuff that demarks true patriots from publicity-hounds. And believe me, there are many such people in this seemingly cussed country, some dead and gone and forgotten, others still striving to make it a better place.

But such citizens hardly command the attention of scribes, for good reasons. Every week, without fail, the politicians provide us with fodder that we simply cannot ignore.

Today, for example, readers would be disappointed if I did not comment on the Cabinet-approved $6.5 million spent on retrieving a $2 million "flying firetruck", as my friend BC Pires would describe both the wrecked appliance and those who sanctioned the stupidity. The sordid affair came to light only because of alert journalists, the very professionals that politicians delight in persecuting and cussing.

The story is so incredible, it sounds stranger than fiction, more like a joke a comedian would deliver to send his audience into stitches. I won't repeat the details, which most readers are aware of. Let us try to figure out what happened in the aftermath of the accident in which a seven year-old, $2-million fire tender, plummeted down a cliff, some say 100 feet, others 300—it does not matter.

If that had happened to my vehicle, or yours, and if we came out alive, we would first try to assess that state of the wreck. Is it a write-off or is the damage minimal? What are the costs of salvaging the vehicle, and the likely costs of restoring it? Common sense and the terms of the vehicle's insurance would dictate the course of action. But for sure, not even a jackass would consider wrecking charges that are three times the cost of a new vehicle. It might make more sense to sell the wreck as scrap, on an "as is, where is" basis.

Yet, in this instance, ex-minister Jack Warner confessed—nay, boasted—that it was he who agreed with the contractor's $6.5 million quote (down from $10 million), and he got Cabinet to approve the ridiculous sum. After "de mark buss", he not merely took possession of this act of supreme stupidity, but he added that he would do it again if he had to!

Now, this is a man who acted as Prime Minister of the country on several occasions, who as Minister of Works oversaw multi-billion-dollar projects, and as Minister of National Security was de facto chief of the Police, Defence Force and related security agencies. Having acted in such a cavalier manner with taxpayers' money in this instance, one must wonder where else he threw away our money like wastewater.

Some professionals have expressed the view that the $7 billion or more that we are paying for the Point Fortin Highway is excessive. Before this wrecking madness, I dismissed their claims as part of the re-route pique. Now I don't know what to think or believe. Could it be that a more realistic cost of the much-needed highway is $3 billion or $5 billion?

The issue gets even murkier when you consider that the Cabinet voted in favour of paying the $6.5 million wrecking fee. It is frightening to think that "all the Queen's donkeys, and all the Queen's men" (to misquote the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty"), in their collective stupidity, endorsed this madness. This Cabinet commands full authority to spend $50 billion in budgeted expenditure on an annual basis.

Maybe from its inception three years ago, this Government has worked hard to undermine its own credibility. It does not need inquisitive journalists or independent commentators or retired diplomats to accelerate its demise.

What it does have in its favour is an amoral majority, a phalanx of bearded and "hijab-ed" hypocrites, hordes of devotees devoid of dharma, pews of Sauls posing as Pauls, who, in the name of a god they claim to be all things good, endorse evil excesses reminiscent of pagan empires without so much as a tug at their consciences. We reach.

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