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You never know

By Terry Joseph
August 12, 2005

Context didn't matter when Geraldine said: "You never know," because her intonation was non-committal, each word dispensed in that deliberate way only a mother of large experience could muster at short notice; bringing closure to the most complex debate but leaving enough wiggle-room in case unfolding events later offered an opportunity to chime "I told you so".

Mother frequently applied this technique to arguments involving nature, speaking with the authority of someone in constant contact with the entity responsible for sudden weather variations, not going quite as far as predicting thunderstorms in the face of a cloudless sky but insisting nonetheless that I take the umbrella, because "you never know".

It is therefore reasonable to surmise she would have stoutly supported Prime Minister Patrick Manning's latest rationale for constructing the Tarouba Stadium. In an address last weekend to the party faithful, Mr Manning described a scary scenario, in which the facility would double as a shelter for disaster victims.

A geologist by profession, Mr Manning cited the undersea volcano off the coast of Grenada, "Kick 'em Jenny" which, he said, "could explode at any time, you never know, causing a tsunami that would, at least for the purpose of his argument, travel in a most unfortunate direction, creating a wall of water barreling toward Tobago and Trinidad (in that sequence).

The Tarouba Stadium, we were told, would save us from otherwise certain death, as experienced last Boxing Day when an undersea earthquake originating in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia, produced waves up to 30 metres high, killing some 370,000 in the immediate region and causing death as far west at Port Elizabeth in South Africa; some 8,000 kilometres from its epicentre.

Presumably, Mr Manning had extensive dialogue with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and professional colleagues at UWI's Seismology Department before making so sweeping a statement since, to publicly postulate on the result of a Kick 'em Jenny eruption, in the absence of such consultation, would not only devalue his thesis but raise speculation regarding decision-making on a wide range of issues.

It was the first time we were hearing of this dual purpose for the Tarouba Stadium which, if it were listed in the first wave (oops!) of justification might have saved the Government an ocean of negative comment, particularly from the uninformed, a group that, with hindsight, includes Sports Minister Roger Boynes who, in a recent Q & A with Sunday Express columnist BC Pires, proffered a slew of reasons; all springing exclusively from his portfolio.

In fact, Mr Boynes recently waylaid Chaguanas MP Manohar Ramsaran who dared raise questions about the Tarouba Stadium in Parliament. In the interview, Mr Boynes referred to the breadth of consultation his Ministry undertook: "A lot of people in sport have actually asked us to do this," he said, emphasising it was not his plan. "All of the sporting organisations have come together and said, "Minister, this is the way to go," he assured.

Of course, you never know if a Prime Minister has spoken with relevant Cabinet colleagues on any given subject, so it remains difficult to assess the degree of influence either the Sports Minister or, for that matter, his counterpart in Works and Transport had been able to exert in preparing a defence of the undertaking but clearly, Mr Boynes was way off target in prioritising cricket-training as its raison d'etre.

He may not have known, for instance, that the Transport Ministry's beefing up of inter-island ferry service was not merely to accommodate pesky complainers but part of a long-term plan designed to expedite travel from Tobago in the event of an oncoming tsunami.

Mr Boynes might also have been deliberately left in the dark about the duplicity of a recently promised evacuation plan geared to clear Port of Spain in a flash and excluded from discussions about a proposed $15 billion train-based mass-transit system, no doubt capable of shuttling tsunami-traumatised residents from North Trinidad to Tarouba in little or no time.

To be fair, Mr Manning may have been merely making one of his famous tongue-in-cheek quips, "Kick 'em Jenny" being equally useful language to rekindle debate on an abrasive comment about Syrians that recently came from Public Service Association (PSA) president, Jennifer Primus-Baptiste; suggesting Tarouba might be a good place for them to shelter from future attacks. You just never know.

And even if he was being serious about the tsunami escape centre, who's to say the idea is ludicrous? Certainly not this writer because, after all, you never know and worse, I wouldn't want to hear: "I told you so" in this particular set of circumstances.

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