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Raffique Shah


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No civility, much hypocrisy

By Raffique Shah
June 16, 2016

It would be asking too much of our politicians that they show some humility in their public lives. In fact, it will be true to say that, with precious few exceptions, politicians across the world are egotistical and arrogant, character traits that distinguish them from most ordinary human beings.

Lest I be accused of being unduly harsh on the men and women who offer themselves for high political offices, I ask that readers think of politicians you may know personally, contrast the genial soul you knew before he or she was elected or appointed to high office with the person you see (or saw) in office, lording it over lesser mortals.

A totally different animal, consumed by hubris, drunk with power, unmindful of the basic law in politics as in life: the higher you climb, the harder you fall.

So asking politicians to be humble while they hold office is an exercise in futility.

However, we can ask them to exercise civility in their interactions among themselves and with the population, although that too seems beneath them.

As an example, Government's decision to draw down $2.8 billion from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund should have been routine, since both Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Finance Minister Colm Imbert had signalled their intention to withdraw as much as US $1.5 billion over two fiscal years to help bridge the projected budget deficits.

The issue flared out of proportion when Imbert, showing a serious lack of "couth", refused to elaborate on the draw-down. He seems not to understand that the population has grown very distrustful of politicians, and in this "guava season" people want to know why Government withdrew $2.8 billion from their savings, and what they propose to do with it.

All it would have taken from him is a little civility, showing some respect for the people who put him in ministerial office-not the core PNM supporters, but the floating voters who make and break governments.

Imbert's refusal to climb down from his high horse in spite of having been booted out of office in two elections seems to have rubbed off on neophyte Shamfa Cudjoe, the loquacious Minister of Tourism who, if she does not humble herself, could end up planting both feet in her mouth.

Interviewed by the media in the aftermath of Denise Demming's dismissal as chairperson of the Tourism Development Company, Cudjoe boasted: I cannot be upstaged!

Well, excuse me!

Child, you have some harsh lessons to learn, and it's a pity you did not keep the experienced Demming around to help teach you. Because I doubt Denise would have allowed you to be suckered into spending $400,000-plus on the "Soca on the Seas" misadventure that will do nothing for the country's tourism industry.

Only last week, officials from the Tobago House of Assembly admitted that the multi-million-dollar annual Tobago Jazz Festival has failed to positively impact the island's tourism. I imagine the same holds true for the Heritage Festival, the Easter goat races and other similar initiatives.

Copycatting music festivals or cruises that may have worked for some Caribbean countries won't necessarily help boost tourism in Tobago or Trinidad. Tobago's many problems start with visitors' first encounter, a woefully inadequate airport. And the nation's failure to cash in on the huge tourism spend in the region starts with its people's' negative attitude towards tourists. They do not understand that service does not necessarily mean servitude.

But I digress.

Our politicians, especially whoever happen to be in power, must be civil to others, especially to the citizens they serve. That uncalled-for display of hubris by Imbert and Cudjoe can cost the PNM some goodwill, and maybe votes.

Meanwhile, the sanctimonious opposition UNC is picking at motes in PNM eyes even as the beams in theirs are shown to be rusted and rotten. Their "scorched earth" policy during their last few months in government-destroying everything as they retreated in defeat-showed unparalleled shamelessness, not to add hypocrisy.

It was they who increased budgetary expenditure every year to unsustainable levels, even as, for four of their five years in office, they enjoyed buoyant oil, gas and petrochemicals prices.

They increased the national debt, left behind incomplete billion-dollar projects (Pt Fortin Highway, Beetham Wastewater), more billions owed to other contractors, billions owed to public sector workers, and sundry other debts that we are now learning about, thanks to the vigilance of the media.

Imagine signing some 300 CEPEP contracts, terms extended from one to three years, on the eve of their departure, including Election Day! Before that, they quietly withdrew the Lotto-drawing contract from State-owned CNMG and awarded it to a small private company. They also employed hundreds of persons on short-term contracts, and now cry foul when these make-work contracts are not renewed.

Talk about the heights of hypocrisy!

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