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The price of cocoa

By Terry Joseph
May 20, 2005

Given a most bizarre template for domestic economics revealed last weekend by Senior Counsel Israel Khan, it may be time to retire the old saying that suggests spontaneous utterances or initiatives by the usual suspects "won't change the price of cocoa".

Delivering the feature address at a National Land Tenants and Rate Payers Association (NLTRA) function, Mr Khan said it was time for the rich to carry the burden of the poor - a theory long exploited by kidnappers - urging in his version that residents of upscale suburbs pay higher utility bills than people housed in depressed areas.

Lawfully, Mr Khan may have done nothing more than parrot an albeit peculiar variation of socialism but we cannot rule out subtle political ambition, given his position as senior legal advisor to the NLTRA, the very platform provided for a previous holder of that portfolio, Karl Hudson-Phillips QC, who went on to help found the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR) some 25 years ago.

But Mr Khan did not stop at suggesting utilities cost well-to-do citizens more. He graduated to even larger oddity, telling his audience big-shots should also pay premium prices for doubles, saying Tobagonians already embraced the principle, as evidenced by charging him more for fish than they did fellow islanders and virtually gouging tourists purchasing the same commodity.

"In the same way," he said, "people who are pulling up in a Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar or Audi should be paying more for doubles. They could afford (it)." We may presume the identical dogma applies to rice, ground provisions or other staples and, for that matter, the price of cocoa.

It seems clear, at least in the "doubles" example, Mr Khan's position requires much more work if it wishes to avoid derision. A leading lawyer, he must know litigation may ensue from implementation of his formula, both by the poor whose appearance might trick less vigilant vendors and the rich who, if mistakenly charged low-life prices, may feel socially reduced and, as lawyers say, brought into public odium.

Schoolchildren will, of course, be subject to prestige prices where uniforms indicate enrollment at such institutions. Adults on vacation or into retirement will have to carefully weigh up whether to approach doubles vendors in casuals or don work attire just to buy "two with slight" at fair price. Purchasing on Sundays and public holidays, when outward and visible signs of wealth may be misleading, will import fresh problems.

But on regular weekdays, larger difficulties loom at the point of sale, as vendors will now have to either pursue training in assessing customer profiles or hire consultants to address this new facet of the business. Each outlet will suddenly have an opening for a systems manager.

Predictably, he will require purchasers to present valid identification, copies of recent tax-returns and current bank statements for scrutiny by the consultant who, upon approval, will categorise buyers before ushering them forward to the actual stall.

Mr Khan's vehicle-ownership caveat will render the situation infinitely more intricate, perhaps encouraging another line of business, if astute rental firms devise deals for drivers of million-dollar cars, offering a park-and-ride facility, where the rich leave the Benz, Jaguar or Audi in "The Bamboo", switching to down-market vehicles and pooling to pick up their curried sandwiches.

Sequentially, vendors will then be faced with further expenses, including hiring private detectives to track buyers suspected of automotive trickery, probably demanding certified copies of vehicle ownership before processing potential purchasers and forwarding relevant documents to the consultants who, we may further surmise, would demand amenities in keeping with their station; they too now having to fork out more for the barra and channa preparation.

According to normal business practice, all customers should share these new costs incurred by segregating the rich but Mr Khan already having frowned on that approach, the wealthy may well have to fork out upwards of $30 for the fast-food that currently costs around $2 and this estimate does not include critical facilities for processing high-end customers, like credit card technology, since the rich hardly ever walk around with bundles of cash.

Ironically, plastic-card machines require electrical and telephone connections (as would personality-profile consultants, the systems manager and private detectives on site), areas of recurrent expenditure already incorporated in Mr Khan's fundamental position on who should pay what for such utilities, so the rich will also have to bear the cost of these upgrades.

Considering all of the above, if Mr Khan's proposed economic regime for doubles vendors kicks in, retailers will become rich overnight and may contemplate retiring earlier than originally planned. Hopefully, sudden wealth will not encourage them to build mansions in upscale suburbs or purchase posh cars.

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