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Raffique Shah


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We have the capacity to carve a model nation

January 01, 2006
By Raffique Shah

IT'S yet another year that we'd rather forget about. The unsolicited windfall from oil and gas that brought us unprecedented wealth failed to deliver even a modicum of social justice that we have sought since independence. The rich, as they have always done, grew richer, while the poor remained mired in hopelessness, scrambling for the crumbs, for a ten-days here, a meagre increase in salaries there, and facing inflationary pressures that made the few extra dollars they may have earned meaningless. Then there are the destitute for whom neither windfall nor bust makes any difference. Their lot seems to have been pre-ordained: they are condemned to "ketch-arse" status, matters not what our economic fortunes are.

Imagine in a country so generously endowed with natural resources and human talent, we had, at every turn, to look to the field of sports for reason to celebrate. Our football team barely making the cut, in a manner of speaking, to World Cup 2006, was cause for wild celebrations here and among the West Indian diaspora abroad. Brian Lara, tired man that he must be, having carried West Indies cricket on his shoulders for-what?-a decade or more, brought us some joy when he topped the Test-runs list, carving yet another mark that may stand for a long time. And although our track and field athletes did not star in record-breaking performances, we ended the year with the most ever among our sprinters listed among the IAAAF top 50 in the world.

So tell us, Messrs Dividers, what else did we achieve that we can be proud of? Maybe some of our young academics who performed admirably at the secondary and tertiary levels. But contrast that with the flood of failures that exited the education system without even common sense, far less a basic education, and we see fodder for the growing army of dropouts, recruits for the aimless but deadly gangs that have brought us to our knees. For all the money that we boast of having, we look at the crime statistics that put us alongside hellholes like Jamaica and Haiti. Are we proud of this? Worse, for all the initiatives promoted by the Government in the "fight against crime", we have failed to make a dent on the murder rate, on kidnappings, while "petty" crimes like robberies, burglaries and rapes aren't even reported, far less documented.

Surely, this state of affairs must have put paid to the declaration by the late Dr Eric Williams, that "money is no problem". If anything, money seems to be our biggest problem. Its inequitable distribution in a society nurtured on materialism has been the root cause of all our evils. Take the "Messrs Big" who cut their criminal teeth on simple scams like stealing cars, and who later moved into lucrative areas like cocaine smuggling. Today they masquerade in "high society", so much so that publican and priest sing hosannas to them, bow at their feet. And when they fall victim to the very criminal activities they built their empires on, the high-in-society shed tears for them as if they were saints, not the sinners that people at the ground level know them to be.

We cannot continue this way in 2006. This society will be torn apart if we keep burying our heads in cow-dung, spewing gobar about GDP growth, about mega-plants and grandiose projects, about single-digit unemployment, about a secondary-school-place-for-every-kid. Until such time as we tackle the core of our multiple problems-and to be fair, we are not singular in this respect-we can say goodbye forever to the peaceful, harmonious society we-the over-50s -once knew and enjoyed. Sadly for us, those in authority and in high-society seem to think that the solution to crime and the general decay in society lies in militarising the state apparatus, in executing a murderer a day (or more if need be), in building bigger jails and imprisoning more young people.

Such strategies will not work. Not in a materialistic world in which the filthy rich flaunt their wealth even as they offer the poor overpriced goods while they pay their employees minimum wage or less. Last night, a few thousand people will have spent $1,000 or more each to "ring in the New Year". Last night, too, tens of thousands of people, many of them children, others aged, will have gone to what they call beds with hungry or half-empty stomachs. And tonight, a few hundred young criminals will stalk the land seeking their prey, be they "soft" middle-class targets who cannot afford security systems, or hapless victims of circumstance like that Rattan kid.

This is a society that has degenerated almost in inverse proportion to its claim to wealth, to prosperity. We are not alone in this dilemma. But if only we would use the many talents with which we are endowed, we have the capacity to show the world what a truly model nation is. Sparrow believed that back in 1962. I believe in it to this day.