This must be the fortnight of post Carnival let-down madness, of planes bumping into walls at Piarco, of banks not having foreign exchange for Trinis to travel (US$200/day) but enough (US$200 million) to buy banks in the Cayman Islands, and of ministerial gaffes, so many, they coming like measles outbreaks.
I do not speak only of Minister Imbert whose continuing arrogance seems to have no limits although, I confess, he was the only Minister of Health who ever took my advice, once, and I have served over ten of them, beginning with Mr Mohammed who must have started this ministerial arrogance business. My first encounter with him was hearing him tell the Professor of Child Health from the Great Ormond St Hospital, David Morley, the man who started the Under Fives Clinic in East Africa, which almost won him a Nobel, that he, Mohammed, was going to perfect both a community and a hospital health system, something that nobody had ever done and nobody ever has, our health centres still being the lesser of two evils. If English doctors knew how to steups, Morley would have.
Then there was former minister of health Dr Khan with a timely message about obesity but presented as insensitively and as offensively as he could. Here was a golden opportunity to capitalise on T&T’s growing awareness of the ill effects of overweight, a complex subject with many causes and he blew it. Fat is OK now.
The most offending comment, however, came from Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
The Newsday headline was: “Garcia: Everything being done for special needs children”. Minister Garcia went on to stridently declare in politician doublespeak, "This Ministry and this Government is cognisant of our responsibility where children who are afflicted with special needs are concerned and we are doing everything possible to ensure that their needs are taken care of adequately."
Well, Minister Garcia seems to be, as they politely say in Parliament, a stranger to the truth. This is not the first time he has made such atrocious comments about special needs children. And he does not have the excuse of inexperience, having been a teacher for his professional life. The only thing I can think of is that he does not know what special education involves. If so, he is incompetent and should immediately resign. That would be news indeed, a T&T politician resigning!
He was responding to a private motion in Senate by Independent Senator Paul Richards, and who, I quote from Newsday, “called on Government to commit to the allocation of adequate funding, reform of the appropriate legislation and revision of policies designed to ensure that all children with special needs are provided with equal educational opportunities and that the Education Ministry immediately initiate and implement and comprehensive strategy to assist all children with disabilities, additional learning needs and/or challenging behaviours”.
APATT, the Autism Parents Association of Trinidad & Tobago, (an organisation with over 3,000 members), replied immediately to the minister’s statements, calling them “outrageous”. See https://www.facebook.com/834689853293677/posts/2103779226384727/
They went on to say that Garcia had made a few imprudent statements which they had already addressed in the past. However, “giving the fact that he continues making irresponsible remarks, the association feels the need to respond to the public. APATT feels compelled to dispel any myth that gives the impression that special needs children properly receive their rights to education/therapy (which is part of their education) in Trinidad & Tobago because that notion is absolutely false”. I agree entirely. So does every person involved with special education.
Yet Garcia can say boldface, boldface: "I don't know anywhere in the education system where students are deprived of equal treatment." Shame on you, sir.
We all wait for the Draft Legislation for Persons with Disabilities to be passed. If the only way to make these people do their duty is to take their ministerial selves to court and sue them for dereliction of duty or whatever the legal phrase is, so be it.