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Crocodile tears

By Terry Joseph
March 11, 2005

The Breakfast Shed
The Breakfast Shed

Uncontested folklore tells us Crocodiles aren't being sincere when they shed tears, a dubious rap based largely on last words from persons of suspect intelligence attempting to verify emotion by getting close enough to see the white of their eyes.

Quite unfortunately, comparative research among high profile public figures is yet inconclusive but my hope is that cooks at the Breakfast Shed took this week's goings-on with a pinch of salt, because to think otherwise is to believe Cabinet Ministers, the Central Bank Governor and Chairman of the Urban Development Company (UdeCOTT), the agency with whom the women have locked horns, could spare space in any day to come taste their food, even if it also served up opportunities to smile approvingly at news cameras.

This past week, the lowly Breakfast Shed saw some of Trinidad and Tobago's most celebrated citizens, including those with cardiac concerns, drape themselves around rugged picnic tables, sitting on hard wooden benches at the Capital City's most famous "greasy spoon" for a public chow-down on cholesterol-laden food; good optics outweighing all other considerations as they demonstrated solidarity with protesting cooks.

It was the kind of "ghambarge" with which we have become all too familiar but it bordered on the vulgar at every sequence. Suddenly, UdeCOTT, a State agency was, with overt Government support, being made out as an alien corporation operating with prejudicial disdain for natives it encountered, intent only on exploiting the underclass, cavalierly uprooting history, operating by "vaps" as it unilaterally bulldozed its hare-brained schemes hatched with spiteful remit to permanently disfigure Port of Spain.

Senator Ramesh Deosaran got into the picture early, the professor caught mid-chew by pesky paparazzi. Public Services Association (PSA) president, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus reported her union passed a resolution pledging support for the cooks, saying UdeCOTT should up its compensation offer from $93,000 to $200,000, since the country had money which must trickle down to the poor man (sic).

The Breakfast Shed cooks quickly became the reference position at an observance of International Women's Day, with Gender Affairs Minister, Senator Joan Yuille-Williams assuring her "sisters" the Government would not let them down, calling on fellow Cabinet Member and wife of the Prime Minister, Hazel Manning, to join the impromptu crusade.

Then came the crowning performance: Prime Minister Patrick Manning himself, heading a VIP table replete with unaccustomed linens, hosting ambassador Jerry Narace, Cabinet Members Camille Robinson-Regis, Hazel Manning and Franklin Khan, UdeCOTT chairman Calder Hart and Ministers in the Prime Minister's Office, Christine Sahadeo and Conrad Enill; all gleefully chomping on fish lunches served with home-grown fresh salads, ground provisions, bhagi and rice, coo-coo and callaloo.

Given the composition of his contingent, it seemed Mr Manning could hardly be at odds with Mr Hart, even after convincing the cooks he was squarely on their side, according them an audience and delivering on a promise to lunch at the Breakfast Shed. It was the quintessential political masterstroke, reassuring both sides of the polarised argument that he fully internalised and supported their diametrically opposed positions.

Meanwhile, sacrificed in the big pictures as the country's movers and shakers crowded the already well-patronised diner, was the little reported fact that the cooks had already accepted UdeCOTT's offer of $93,000 to each affected person and only reconsidered their decision after being invited to speak with Mr Manning at Whitehall. They were also said to be "considering" relocation to the new site.

In a curious twist, though, the cooks defiantly vowed to stay at their current site until the new UdeCOTT facility was ready which, of course, raises serious questions: Was the $93,000 compensation being offered for calculable loss of earnings during temporary suspension of operations? Or can they stay put in the interim and then get paid $1,000 per step for having to walk 93 paces to the new spot?

If, by their own decision, they will dig in until time to fire up their stoves at the other place, then why is UdeCOTT being badgered to give them any more than it would cost to hire a small van to move pots, stoves and supplies?

But when senior public officials shed tears, no one really gets close enough to see the white of their eyes, although results are swift and highly visible. In the circumstances, we may confidently surmise that the next stop for the Prime Minister's empathetic bandwagon will be City Gate, where vendors (by their own admission operating illegally) have been kicked out.

The latest scenario offers yet another chance for Mr Manning and his crusaders to return to the Breakfast Shed for lunch and in an equally impressive show of continuing solidarity with the little people, walk more than 93 paces to City Gate to publicly purchase dinner mints.

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