Undoubtedly, there needs to be greater equity in a wide range of economic and social activities than there is at present in this multi-ethnic and multicultural society of Trinidad and Tobago; a society which has developed along skewed colonial and neo-colonial lines. But as hinted at in last week's column, for one individual operating in one segment of national life to embark upon this re-balancing in a very narrow and vulgar manner, and to seek to do it without political, legal or any other form of mandate from the population, cannot be in the interest of peaceful, stable and progressive development. But now that the issue of imbalance has been raised, albeit in a most inappropriate manner designed merely for political polemics, here, therefore, are a few questions, assertions and proposals for debate. The first assertion is there can be no nice distinction between achieving balance in the public sector while disregarding the private sector. Traditional arguments have been that the focus has to be on the public sector where public funds are spent. But are public funds not spent in the private sector?
The answer must be-in large quantities, as incentives to create jobs, build the economy and increase the productive capacity in general. Indeed, the business community is always clamouring for the government to construct the economic and social infrastructure for it to create winners. Contracts, incentives and the like for the private sector, form part of government spending in the same manner as support of the public sector and transfers to state enterprises. The reality of public resources being sunk in banks and commercial finance houses is well illustrated by the recent examples of the Government stepping in to bail out Clico and CL Financial, the Hindu Credit Union and a number of credit unions and cooperatives which invested in the Clico executive investment fund. The trading sectors in Trinidad and Tobago operates on the basis of the re-distribution of very public energy revenues. No business (ethnic) company trading and producing can do without the patronage from other ethnic enclaves, eliminating the notion that any one group has done it all by itself without the input of the entire society in all its variegated wonderfulness and capacity for patronage.
Trinidad and Tobago students educated at UWI and UTT enjoy the benefits of full scholarships paid for by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago with public funds. Many others who go abroad do so partly, and in the instance of full scholarship winners, on the basis of substantial spending by the Government of public funds. The examples abound of the fictitious dichotomy between public and private sectors and the inadequacy of focussing on the spending of the public sector. But the point has been made: no one can say that achievement of professional, technical and other forms of skills and education is done solely on the basis of individual capacity. There are very few, if any, business operations which come into existence and survive on the basis of private capital and enterprise; individual and special group accumulation of wealth is contributed to by all.
It is nonsensical to talk about exclusive group industry and effort returning rewards without the contribution of other groups in the society. Commercial banks, insurance companies and other finance houses mobilise capital from all groups and from the Government. It obviously would be unacceptable for these institutions to utilise the capital gathered for the benefit of exclusive ethnic and social class groups. However, that has been done and as Ryan pointed out, volume two of the study done by Ryan and La Guerre at the Centre for Ethnic Studies displays the evidence to support such allegations made for decades by blacks and Indians, especially those from the social underclass. This means the society cannot merely focus on the police service, the army and the coast guard; unless of course there are special concerns that groups of individuals may have that with an imbalance existing at the higher echelons of the security forces, that imbalance could be used against them.
As Ryan and La Guerre found in the early 1990s, there was an historical imbalance favouring Afros in the public service, although the gap was closing. How imbalanced it may still be must be investigated and solutions found; rabble rousing will not do it. The imbalance in the business community is quite glaring. A very small business community, consisting of very small minority groups inclusive of the Syrian-Lebanese community, the old French-Creole class, ethnic upper class Afro and Indo-Trinidadians and members of the Chinese business community, controls the large percentage of the business activity. How is that imbalance to be redressed? Indo-Trinis have in the last couple decades been dominating the medical profession; sure they do so in part on the basis of displaying academic brilliance but the allegations of being favoured for admission to the local medical schools have continuously been made.
Will the citing of a law school in Penal allow Indos to hold an advantage in the legal profession? If there is a need to balance opportunity should there not be a more central location for one law faculty to allow equal geographic access for all ethnic and social class groups? Are there not deep social and academic risks of signaling that one school is for Indos and the other for Afros? That takes us to the primary and secondary school education system and the expenditure of public funds there which have historically favoured not merely certain ethnic and social class groups; but has also seriously discriminated against young people with other kinds of abilities. There certainly has been insufficient focus and spending of resources on developing curricula and institutions for children and young people with other kinds of abilities and dispositions. The trade union movement, bar a few unions and union leaders in certain areas of the economy, has been traditionally dominated by Afro-Trinis. If Indos were not inclined towards trade unionism, a special effort must be made to have them understand the importance of having a major stake in industrial issues. These are merely a few provocative thoughts on bringing justice and equity to this multi-ethnic, cultural and religious society.