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After 56 years where are we?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
COLUMNIST Photo by:Irving Ward

With all the media emphasis on the Prime Minister’s last Cabinet reshuffle and the fallout from the distasteful “sari skit”, there were a couple of stories that managed to slip by with little notice. The first was the embarrassment incurred by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation when its president, David John-Williams, was publicly criticised by the US Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires for the organisation’s failure to submit visa applications for the Girls’ Under-15 team. And the second was the decision by the Canadian city of Vaughan, a municipality located just north of Toronto, to cancel the permits for the August 4 Carnival Kingdom concert after the promoter didn’t adhere to local ordinances for an event that was held the night before.

While these are two totally different incidents, one even taking place in a foreign country, they do share something in common. They are examples of how the Trinbagonian penchant for ignoring rules and instructions isn’t tolerated by entities that take them very seriously.

It isn’t hard to imagine how similar scenarios would have played out here; after all… it happens all the time. Fetes, especially those associated with the Carnival season, go on with little concern to residents who live near or around the venue. The music is unreasonably loud, patrons park their cars wherever they please, and the revelry always goes past the shutdown time. Neither the police service nor the Environmental Management Authority can be called upon to take action. And the promoters, who probably live nowhere near the event, have the insensitive audacity to call this chaos and noise pollution “culture”. Then there’s the gruelling inefficiency of our government offices—everyone dreads having to face it. That’s when it pays to have “a link”… to know someone, or know someone who knows someone else, who can help you. Why go through the hassle of rushing to make an appointment and dealing with disgruntled employees when a contact on the inside can tend to you personally. That may mean greasing a palm or parting with a bottle of alcohol, but the result is avoiding the long lines and wait times and getting your business sorted out.

It’s ironic how Trinbagonians complain about corruption and inefficiency and yet won’t hesitate to take advantage of those same flaws when it benefits them. Who amongst us wants to be bothered by regulations and bureaucracy? Whether it’s getting approval for renovating your home, having to renew a driver’s permit, or using fireworks in a residential area. But the flip side to this mindset of banality is that it’s exercised at every level of our society; from public service offices, to state enterprises, all the way up to and including the government. Just look at any scandal or questionable act that has taken place in T&T over the last six months. It is apparent in each case that standard procedures weren’t followed.

As recent as two weeks ago (August 5), this paper published a story about overtime abuse in the police service. It included a list of irregularities that highlighted just how poorly the relevant paperwork had been filed; lacking official stamps, signatures and even legible names. Before that, in July, the CEO of the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme, Nigel Forgenie, was dismissed following an investigation into financial mismanagement. During his deposition before the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee, it was revealed that he authorised the purchase of a vehicle for personal use and even had his wife employed, both of which were clear violations of the standing rules.

And then, back in February, there was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s disclosure to the Parliament that the Government had spent $2 million on MP Maxie Cuffie’s medical expenses, including treatment that he was receiving abroad. This cost, according to the stipulations of the Salaries Review Commission, should not have been covered by the state.

Unfortunately, citizens have accepted that this is simply the way things are. And that’s a shame… because it’s a mentality that contradicts any hope that things can change. Instead of instituting new plans or programmes, our leaders could better spend resources on ensuring that existing procedures are followed and that there’s transparency, accountability and consequences to go along with it. Those of the indicators of a properly functioning country. And after 56 years of independence, can Trinidad and Tobago lay claim to any of them?


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