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Raffique Shah


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Make poverty history

By Raffique Shah
May 5, 2013

"Madam," a drunken Winston Churchill is said to have whispered to the socialite sitting next to him at a formal dinner, "Would you go to bed with me for five million pounds?" "My goodness, Mr Churchill!...well, I suppose...," she hesitated. "Would you do it for five pounds?" the rascal politician interjected. "Mr Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?" she uttered, with righteous indignation. "We've already established that," Churchill said calmly. "Now we are haggling over the price."

It's an old joke, probably been around long before Churchill existed but attributed to him because of his notoriety—drunkenness, blunt­ness, racist, sexist. So maybe the incident never happened. But the moral of the story is as applicable today as it has always been: most people will sell themselves once the price is right.

Whoring, the oldest profession on earth, is driven by need among its more pitiful practitioners. But sheer greed has taken it to new heights, or depths, depending on one's perspective. And in the context that I use the term, whoring has little to do with sex for sale but a lot to do with selling the soul and selling the vote.

Some recent developments perked my interest in this regard, one being a brief but excellent analysis of party financing ("To buy a country") by my friend and columnist colleague Rolph Balgobin. I should add that Rolph ranks high among the small cadre of brilliant young minds who should form the nucleus around which this country is rebuilt from the rubble to which politicians have reduced it. But because he and others like him refuse to surrender their independence to political pirates, they remain ostracised.

His intervention came amidst widespread calls for legislation to make party financing transparent, something that the People's Part­nership promised to implement during the elections campaign in 2010. Balgobin, an Independent senator, said that tainted money might have found its way into the coffers of both the United National Congress (UNC) and the People's National Movement (PNM), given recent revelations at different forums. Others have kept alive a campaign for the relevant legislation to be enacted.

Let me disabuse their minds of this lofty ideal "one time". No political party in this whorehouse of a country would ever expose its funding or its financiers, not by law, not by convention, and most certainly not by moral suasion. For many years now, governments have been bought and sold like commodities. The only addition we need to complete the charade that passes for democracy is to have all registered parties listed on the Stock Exchange and their shares, such as they are, traded.

Let me back up a bit: sometime after the 2007 elections, a Central "tenderpreneur" (as Rolph dubbed them...I like the term) filed action in court against Jack Warner, seeking to recover $60 million he claimed to have "loaned" the UNC for that campaign. Basdeo Panday, who was leader of the UNC at the time, publicly stated that when he was alerted to the man's claim and he asked Warner about it. Warner first denied receiving the $60 million; later, he acknowledged that he got $30 million—as a gift, not a loan. Panday said when he asked Warner to account for the mon­ey, Warner started the campaign to remove him as party leader.

Had the UNC won the 2007 elections, do you think any of this would have gone public? At all! Panday would have stayed quiet, War­ner would have been quieter, and the "tenderpreneur" quietest of them all. In fact, I don't know whether the lawsuit is pending or it has been withdrawn. But I do know that the donor (or lender) has since benefited from ten times that amount in Government contracts.

Now, this is one donation or loan to one party. Investors like this man hedge their money, so more than likely, he would have given something to the PNM as well. Lawrence Duprey, who headed the biggest conglomerate in the Caribbean, admitted that his companies made contributions to both main parties although later, he fell in love with Panday's "socialism" (joke, Lawrence!) and presumably gave him more...and we are talking tens, maybe hundreds of millions here.

It is well known that the Syrian-Lebanese business magnates invest heavily in voting out regimes they do not like and voting in parties they believe would better serve their interests. That is serious money, eh, at least eight digits. The Chinese elite once stood solidly behind the PNM, but who knows where they are today? And lest you believe the moneyed Indians and Africans plough their millions into elections based on race, think again: their dollars must make business sense.

So hundreds of millions of dollars end up in the "war chests" of the main parties. They do not have to account it—not to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), not to auditors, not to anyone. Petty sums are looted by well-placed common thieves. But beyond hefty expenses incurred on advertising blitzes (you should see media houses' revenue projections during elections years...I know...I was there), concert-style central meetings, campaign paraphernalia, and so on, huge amounts are aimed directly at voters.

Ironically, the party faithful receive the smallest handouts: they will vote their choice anyway, so a T-shirt, a rag and a flag would suffice. Fence-sitters demand more: cash, cam­paign jobs, gifts for their families, grog, food, hampers, pampers, the works, plus, promises of jobs, better roads, houses—promises that will never be honoured.

In the end, the political investors get good returns on their millions and the winning party takes control of the multibillion-dollar prize, the Treasury, for five years (the losers await their turn). As for those who sell their votes for trinkets and promises? They seethe and steam for another five years, only to repeat the vicious cycle. Now, isn't this country the best little whorehouse in the West Indies?

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