Trinidad and Tobago


Backward and Fuad

August 22, 2001

THERE was nothing but praise all round for Junior Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, when he uncovered a rash of dubious dealings at the North West Regional Health Authority.

Fearless in his pursuit of the facts and hardly camera-shy as he dug to the core of the problem, Fuad proved himself to be well above the lure of a vulgar witch-hunt. He fingered political colleagues without malice, seeking only the truth. Most importantly, he earned the stamp of honesty and integrity in public affairs.

But those were problems involving other people. When trouble came home to meet him early on the morning of August 11, he responded quite differently. Undeterred by an absence of facts, he nonetheless (and liberally) leapt to a slew of conclusions.

On that morning, when friends dropped home his 17 year-old daughter after a night of partying at Club Coconuts, the girl was not quite herself. Diagnosing her case as one of drug-induced stupor, the respected doctor rushed her to hospital, then to the police, all on the premise that she had been the involuntary subject of a perverted mischief or worse, a heinous plot by his political opponents.

Now, quite unlike the procedure adopted during his painstaking investigation at the NWRHA, Fuad did not table a single shred of evidence, but seemed anxious to blame the yet unidentified person, over whose head some rather ugly suspicions now hang. He also suggested the management of Club Coconuts be sent to jail (presumably after due process).

The Junior Health Minister swiftly proposed drastic legislation to raise the legal drinking age to 18, clearly ignorant of the fact that it is already there. "Once I am in power," he said, "I am going to make sure that I bring legislation that no person under the age of 18 can be served (alcohol), or enter any alcohol serving area in the country."

Mark you, confusion over the minimum age is not limited to Cabinet Ministers, although someone holding a senior portfolio in the Health Ministry should certainly know it, or step severely backward from any discussion on the sale of alcohol to minors.

You would think it equally important for those persons actually selling liquor to know the rules but, as I yesterday discovered by telephone, most bar operators were in the dark on this issue. Replies ranged from age 16 to 21.

So, quite unlike his anti-corruption probe, Fuad’s approach to this matter lacks completeness. In fact, well after the initial trauma it must have caused to see his daughter in that state, his responses still seem unstudied and reactionary.

And it shouldn’t take all this time for specimens submitted by the Junior Health Minister to the forensic laboratory to get results, but up to yesterday, no update was forthcoming.

Consequently, his statements now appear just a tad reckless, evidently not the result of a structured inquiry into an incident with overtones for both his family and the Health Ministry. Indeed, this episode may have devalued his larger image as a forensic investigator of perceived wrongdoing.

But to even think of making all teenagers pay for what might have been his daughter’s dalliance is hardly fair. In any event, my experience is that young drinkers are far less of a nuisance than slobbering middle-aged drunks.

Teenagers without access to unlimited funding often opt for beer, guzzle far too many on Fridays, probably become inebriated, throw up on the back seat of someone else’s car, then bask in recuperative care and the attention of sympathetic aunts.

Older folks, who can afford exotic cocktails, get drunk far more often and significantly more easily. In that state, they are loud and boorish, tell long stories about failed relationships, give stale office jokes, salivate excessively, malign their superiors and sing "Swanee River" with spectacularly bad voices. Then, dear friends, they go out and scare the hell out of other persons on the roads.

And while a young person might readily hand over daddy’s car keys to a designated driver, it takes a professional wrestler to get possession in the case of a mature person who just last week bought a prestige vehicle. Perhaps Fuad might now wish to consider legislation that would establish a maximum drinking age.

But he should be careful to not panic. While his family may not have engaged in the practice, parents with no aversion to alcohol often give their children a taste from very early in life, in the belief that such rituals build up resistance to the effects of strong spirits.

So, it would be far easier to overlook Fuad’s folly and would certainly do his integrity a world of good, if he were to rush back to the media, with the overdue test results of samples taken from his daughter on the night of her adventure.

That way, he could convince everyone that his was not a knee-jerk diagnosis, a truly frightening prospect from a man who may one day be supremely in charge of the nation’s health.

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