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At your service, Mr Manning

By Terry Joseph
August 15, 2003

Prime Minister Patrick Manning's articulated vision of Trinidad and Tobago as a developed society by 2020 goes into encomium about the end product, dangling Utopia and detailing a strategy for getting there; but offers no reality check on our current condition.

Speaking at Hilton Trinidad on November 15, 2002, Mr Manning conceded the necessity for "commitment at all levels and the setting of new standards if new and greater results are to be achieved," warning betimes that, essential to its success was the acquisition of "new attitudes of excellence, dedication, patriotism, respect and honesty."

Which is perhaps where Vision 2020 will experience its most complex challenge. For all its trumpeting of energy-based initiatives, the plan is relatively silent on the local service industry, a sector historically low on those attributes and dwindling still, if my experiences over the past five weeks constitute anything to go by.

Episode one: The ambulance service despatched to rush one of my friends to hospital came with an all-woman crew who could not lift the patient. Called to assist but caught without a car, it was a lucky break that Raf Robertson dropped by and volunteered to help.

Episode two: While we were on that mission, my car was involved in a traffic mishap, hit from behind by a van driver, outside the Diego Martin Post Office. My fiancee, who was operating the vehicle at the time, is American.

The van driver who, on pretext of getting documents from his glove

compartment simply jumped into the vehicle and sped away from the scene, later convinced a constable at the station that he disappeared because he recognised "the lady had a foreign accent and wouldn't know what to do."

That explanation was apparently acceptable to the local police service (from whom I have heard nothing since).

Episode three: The patient we went to help experienced a particularly rough stay at Port of Spain General Hospital, doctors there diagnosing and prescribing medication without once consulting the recipient then, for days, stalling on details of test-results; before being confronted by another doctor who volunteered service to the family.

Episode Four: One week later, yet unable to walk and with vital signs at critical levels, the patient was unceremoniously dumped into a wheelchair and "discharged", without so much as a call to relatives. With no ambulance provided for the journey back home, the lifting problem was with us again.

This time, I telephoned long-standing friend Owen Serrette, who readily agreed to help.

Episode Five: As we were returning from the patient's home, a cyclist came whizzing out of a minor road and, for all my effort at avoiding him, crashed into my car then, thrown into the air by the impact, landed on the windscreen, smashing it to smithereens, showering us with glass splinters, from which Mr Serrette suffered two cuts.

I immediately called the emergency service, Mr Manning, requesting an ambulance and police presence. The ambulance soon arrived but after waiting for a full hour, police simply never turned up, although we were a mere three blocks away from the station. A wrecker to take the car that same distance cost $300. There, the investigating constable had no transportation to go back to the scene.

Episode Six: That was July 16, Mr Manning, and up to yesterday, the Licensing Authority had not yet sent a promised officer to check the vehicle which, police say, shouldn't be moved until that procedure is completed.

Renting a car for the month, sir, cost $5,000.

Episode Seven: Last Tuesday night, I arrived at Piarco International on BWIA flight 701, from Barbados, to discover my suitcase missing. Finding myself the last passenger standing, I approached the lost-luggage counter to find hostility waiting. Thinking me too far from where she comfortably sat, the passenger-agent said: "Mister, it is you who have to come to me, not me to you." Apparently, even after BWIA loses your luggage, telephone enquiries are for the passenger's account.

Episode Eight: Frankly, sir, I didn't know that a Tidco-approved taxi from Piarco to Diego Martin cost $170.

Episode Nine: No call ever came from BWIA. Six days later, en route to Salibya, I checked on the airline's lost-luggage division at Piarco, only to discover that my suitcase had been returned to Trinidad the very next morning after the report.

This then is the state of those arms of the service sector The State oversees with which I had cause to interface during the past five weeks, Mr Manning.

As you would know, sir, common to all developed societies is the efficiency of their services. If emulating the finer points of those models remains our mission, the nine episodes detailed above should provide some measure of our current condition.

This swipe at your service is therefore not merely a complaint but also intended as a marker, to help define precisely where we are in the run-up to the magnificent existence you have been so confidently asserting.

PS: The patient had to be rushed back to hospital yesterday evening.

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