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Mud slinging and ‘bussing mark’

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why do governments never speak about their responsibilities and duties to the people? Why is it that amongst all the distractions and diversions there is never any constructive discussion about how they intend to maintain law and order, protect the lives and properties of the citizens, promote democracy and social justice, ensure a secure and stable government to enable economic growth and development or provide employment opportunities?

Instead, governance in our country is all about scandal, mud slinging and “bussing mark”. Take last week for example, a former housing minister read out alleged text messages in Parliament between a process server and a senior Cabinet minister and claimed they showed a conspiracy to bug an attorney’s office. The same former housing minister was then named by the Legal Affairs Minister at a press conference and in a public statement as being linked, when in office, to bid-rigging among a cartel of contractors who were claiming monies for shoddy or phantom work, with a promise that a civil claim would be filed against the former housing minister.

Of course, what was astonishing was that the Legal Affairs Minister named as one of the alleged bid riggers a company only recently awarded the largest infrastructural contract under his government at a time when apparently evidence was being unearthed of its alleged corrupt acts.

Amid these salacious revelations, allegations and counter-allegations, was a story tucked away in a daily newspaper that the agent for an American brand of yogurt was no longer importing the brand because of forex constraints. At first glance, although this story seemed to pale into insignificance to the headlines, it was interesting for many reasons.

It said a lot about the tastes engendered in us by the food importers. Yogurt—called “dahi” in India—is the food of our forefathers, made by introducing a yogurt culture into milk which in the West has been pasteurised, and in the East has been boiled and cooled to room temperature. The result is rich, creamy and very nutritious.

There are small producers of yogurt here like the Abbey at Mount St Benedict, and large producers like Flavorite. So why are we spending forex on importing American yogurt? The answer, of course, is that it enriches food importers who, unlike the local farmers, are not producers who add value to anything, and gobble up forex.

Hence we see American tinned ochroes and tomatoes, Florida orange juice and Asian coconut water on our shop shelves. And the Western model restaurant industry, so dominant here, thrives on imported ingredients and sauces, prepared doughs, frozen French fries, processed meats and pre-cooked meals, all dunked into hot oil or heated in a microwave or oven and served to you with colourful packaging. The emphasis is to exploit our weakness for—and quick addiction to—the big bad three of that kind of food: fat, sugar and salt.

Why are we spending billions of dollars on the importation of food? Our country is more than able to feed itself and export to our Caribbean neighbours and the rest of the world. Some of the world’s finest cocoa is grown in Trinidad and our honey is also rated among the best in the world, winning the Hender Cup for the best honey in the world at the London Honey Show, in 1999 and 2000.

It is the food importers and the politicians who rather the quick fix of energy revenue who have helped the decline of agriculture. No nation can achieve greatness or even long-term viability without being self sufficient in food. But can we expect the PNM, who shut down our biggest farm Caroni (1975) Limited and more recent projects like Caroni Green Limited, to allow us to achieve food security? And what about the Opposition, what are their ideas on food security and profiteers? Surely this requires as much discussion and consideration as these recent distractions.

Mickela Panday


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