Trinidad and Tobago


Terry's beach banner

Honour among thieves

By Terry Joseph
September 07, 2002

Despite subsequent claims about context, Desmond Cartey's "All ah we t'ief" speech, delivered during the run-up to the 1986 general election, retains respectable rank among history's Top Ten campaign embarrassments of all time.

And while today's politicians need not make such a declaration outright, one feels a clear sense Mr Cartey's remarks will be toppled from the standings by the time the current campaign is over.

Infinitely better-suited to a private audience with The Pope, Mr Cartey chose instead his home constituency of Laventille for that soul-cleansing confession, perhaps confident he was among people of like mind, who would at least appreciate candour; if not hoist him shoulder-high for adopting a sympathetic stance.

But contrary to long-held assumptions, the nation's thieves never did reside exclusively in Laventille. And among the laughably small number living in my old hometown at the time, none relied on politicians for career-option endorsement.

Not that they were bereft of well-placed models even then, although in the intervening years, a much more absurd parliamentary template developed and without hindrance from potentially disruptive concepts like integrity in public life.

Indeed, information only now coming to light indicates that the nation's low-life thieves had meanwhile developed their own code of ethics, completely independent of political influence or, as we have lately come to recognise, police intervention.

When thieves heisted a car rented to cricket-star Brian Lara and the perpetrators discovered his bat in the vehicle, they returned it. The same was true earlier this year for a pair of steelpans belonging to virtuoso Len "Boogsie" Sharpe and last week, calypsonian Black Stalin got back his stolen car, the vehicle intact and with passport and cell phone-two easily fenced items-sitting on the front seat.

As Stalin said: "I suppose it confirms that a certain amount of goodwill might have built up over the years and even among people who steal cars, there is a still kind of respect for certain things."

He might have said "certain people", because returns are indeed the exception. There is no Pilfered Goods Exchange where burglary victims can, purely on the basis of social standing, go to retrieve items liberated from their homes, no dial-a-robber service to get a revised listing of booty currently available for repatriation.

What then would move the thieves identified in examples above to give back stolen items? Can it be they didn't want on their consciences a lacklustre Lara innings, substandard Boogsie performances or Stalin stuck for transport, communication or travel documents when lucrative work was in the offing?

Lately, even kidnappers seem to be getting into the act, returning selected victims unharmed, or allowing escape by having the odd sentry doze off or letting abductors go out in pairs to purchase ganja, leaving fettered victims to extricate themselves; as if it were all part of a sitcom gag.

Outlaws with conscience and a sense of humour, too?

It almost makes you want to stage a Bandit of the Year contest, including predictable categories like artful snatch-and-grab, discretionary breaking and entering and strategic escape-planning, but weighting scores to specially reward the culprit's sense of social responsibility, where there is evidence of moral pangs.

"We had no difficulty in arriving at this year's champion," the chief judge would remark. "When a bank-robber takes time out from a stick-up in progress to administer CPR on a traumatised hostage, we think that gesture eclipses his closest rival, whose return of family heirlooms twice in three months is nonetheless a display of sensitivity worthy of our commendation."

Of course, a separate competition will have to be mounted for politicians, who cannot fairly be allowed to tilt with common canaille. Special categories would be necessary for skimming, aberration of tendering procedures and double-speak under scrutiny, while retaining staples like bribery, provision of jobs for the boys and blatant corruption.

It has come to this: Even where pure error may have been the cause, you get a sense that strange motives are at work in every major contract deal raised by Government or well-funded State Agencies.

Yesterday's advertisement by the South West Regional Regional Health Authority for a contractor to supply, install and commission a new orthopaedic theatre at the San Fernando General Hospital somehow included a requirement for "one maxi-taxi driver with accessories".

It was not at all surprising when one caller suggested the "accessories" might be gloves and a crowbar, while the large vehicle would double as inbound transport for professional thieves and getaway car. What other purpose would a maxi-taxi serve in constructing a theatre for bone operations, except graft was a crucial consideration?

Taken this morning, any survey of candidates who were successful in forming the Government in 1995 would read like a rap-sheet, from one still in jail on murder charges to money-management irregularities to a series of police searches and interrogations, in what UNC party aficionados contend is a witch-hunt.

But the public is not always so analytical. The quality of mercy common folk may offer to thieves who returned Stalin's car, Boogsie's pan or Lara's prized bat wouldn't extend to convicted politicians, if only because in the majority of cases, there is no evidence that they gave anything back.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage

Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph