The dust clung to the ventilation blocks. Compacted dirt hugged corner spots, skirtings and floors that begged for a power wash. Weeping ceilings left teary watermarks, and the children’s graffiti shouted down grimy walls.
But it was the overall feeling of decay, not the kind of place meant for teaching and learning. Yet, one can see there’s promise in cleaning up the school and maintaining the land behind the rambling structure. With the rains, the grass had turned a lush, earthy green contrasting the drabness of the school building. It could do with cutting and weeding and a few shaded benches, so the children could breathe fresh air during intervals from dull classrooms.
The poor condition of the Diego Martin Government Secondary School, St Lucien Road, had caused me to reflect while waiting to vote. One could see inside the dusty rooms storing chairs, desks and other equipment while walking along the corridor to the voting booth. Even a derelict looking red mowing tractor, at least it looked like one, was parked alongside the rooms, and there was a sorry dirt patch between two buildings where there should have been colourful shrubbery to break the monotony of concrete.
On entering the compound, the scenery was as expected—dreary, and typical of many unkempt public buildings. Then the parallel between the quality of local government and the quality of the school’s physical condition had hit home. The surroundings represented everything symptomatic of local government—wanting competent management, a sense of community caring and responsibility for the welfare of people and the environment. Who would be held accountable for poor maintenance? No one. I don’t buy the “no funds” argument because the government-assisted and the private schools do a satisfactory job on shoe-string budgets. Is there any wonder this school is yet another one where standards of behaviour and consequence management are non-existent? That’s not an assumption for it was only last month it had made headlines on the “chaos” of students clashing with guards, the teachers walking off the job, robberies, stabbings, and the “unmanageable indiscipline.” Should anyone be surprised?
And what about local government. As their names were called, the candidates came on the platforms like beauty queens and kings, waving flags to hyped-up music. If there was information on their demonstrated knowledge, expertise or experience suitable to develop their communities then it got lost in the fervour of the clichéd campaigning. How they would close the wide gap between unsatisfactory service and our expectations was left to the imagination. Anyway, 66 per cent of the population wasn’t convinced.
Surely, it’s time to wake up and smell not the proverbial coffee but rotting garbage. Evidently, accusations of corruption have lost currency on the political platform, to the detriment of the country. The public is as fed up with allegations of wrongdoing as they are with the actual corruption. No one “makes a jail,” and there’s a widespread perception that no major party has a monopoly in treasury raiding, and similarly, race-baiting. What did the Port-of-Spain Regional Corporation expect us to think when it distributed hundreds of free water tanks just days before the election other than its definition of stupidity and corruption is rather narrow. Apart from playing into the Opposition’s camp, what had the Minister of Works and Transport statement, “Not all Indians in politics are thieves,” achieved? Probably, defection. The electorate is not as foolish as the political posse seem to think.
Hustling community projects and doling out freebies just before an election to sway voters are time-worn tactics. And what is the risk in excessive, glitzy campaigning? Usually, the members get caught up in their own hyping and don’t know that the public had switched off.
What do communities want year-round and not every five years before an election? Good service to feel safe in their communities, water, health, garbage collection, school management that is respectful of the dignity and well-being of our children, maintenance of public infrastructure, a clean environment, answers to flooding, and law enforcement.
Oh, we may be weary, people do get weary of the same old politics. Just try a little of something else.