In Trinidad and Tobago, the issue of race is like salt and sugar; it is imbedded in almost everything that is engaged in by the population. So when political analysts and ordinary citizens on talk shows and on the newspaper blogs raise it as a source of conflict and concern, no one should be surprised. No shock therefore when “race talk”—as different from sensible discussion on the challenges posed and the benefits which could accrue because of the multicultural nature of T&T—arises. Perhaps this recent outburst at the probe into the goings-on at the Hindu Credit Union was no more than a smokescreen designed to have the minds of those viewing drift into non-essentials while ignoring the fundamental reasons being articulated by a few at the hearing. From the front page picture of the T&T Guardian yesterday, there must be empathy with sole commissioner Sir Anthony Colman’s bemused look as he must have been attempting to unravel the disposition of witnesses and legal counsel and fact from fiction on the issue of race.
Not for the first time in this hearing and obviously not for the last, race contentions were pushed centre stage. And this was done in a manner which suggests that it was an attempt by those with an interest to serve to have talk of race supplant and hide the real issues. Fortunately, though, there are parts of this population who have been following the unravelling, sordid business of the HCU and understand that the issues have nothing to do with race, but rather with the commission of widespread fraud, gross mismanagement of depositors’ funds, indifference to the welfare of people who put large portions of their life savings into the HCU and the institutional weaknesses of the financial system and its inability to prevent the HCU and Clico disaster. That the HCU is an institution which reached out specifically to Hindus, who are overwhelmingly ethnically Indo-Trinidadian, makes it easier for the race-talk agenda to be brought into the hearing, whether or not there is justification for it.
The fact must be stressed, though, that the hard evidence which has so far been given to the commission indicates quite clearly that the HCU had for years been adopting practices which were inimical to the financial well-being of the credit union and its membership—whatever their ethnicity. No cheap racial baiting should therefore be allowed to distract from that reality, and it must be reassuring that the very experienced commissioner, not caught up in the racial games of this society, is not likely to fall victim to such attempts to distract. What is surely going to be demanded of the Government, the financial regulators and the national Parliament, irrespective of party affiliation, is the political will, when the reports on Clico and the HCU are delivered, with suggestions for the transformation of the financial infrastructure, to prevent a recurrence of the pain inflicted on hundreds of thousands of depositors by financial irresponsibility and more. The damaging body blow delivered to the economy by the two disasters must also be borne in mind.But in addition to the financial restructuring that has to take place, the law must be seen to be strong and unyielding against those who may be found to have to answer legal questions in the courts. Daily in this crime-ridden society there are calls for greater effectiveness on the part of the police and the criminal justice system as a whole against those involved in murder and other offensive crimes. The law must seen to be “no respecter of persons”—of any ethnicity or class—if there is to be equity and fairness.