Independence Day flew by marked only by the growing threat of COVID-19. As expected, our leaders spoke inspiringly about the need for love and unity, assuming that the population with our limited memory span, have already forgotten the General Election held about a month earlier, when simmering bitterness and anger rose from hidden darkness to burst to the surface like a tsunami of hate.
Of particular interest was the message from Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. President Weekes asserted that the “The General Election 2020 flipped Trinidad and Tobago over and exposed what can be described as its ugly underbelly.” I beg to differ. The problem in T&T is that for decades we have shrugged of racist rants. The ugly underbelly has been there since independence in 1962; we have just chosen to acknowledge it only when it displays its nature in an excessive manner. We honour calypsonians who besmear specific ethnic groups and call it art.
Corruption in Common Entrance
But corruption is a constant annoyance.
Going on too long in common entrance
You don’t have to be intelligent that is a lie
Your father must pull a good string with complexion high
Your child could be bright like a bulb and from Laventille
Forget Holy Name Convent and Bishops Anstey.
Because they have to pick Lackadeo Boodoo, Krishna Maraj,
Because Arjoon and Sarge Father have big garage
Chaitey Bissoney money and Pormanee
The brother sister son and Narwanie….
(Cro Cro- Lyrics reproduced from listening to song on You Tube)
Remember the rapturous applause when Indo-Trinbagonians children and parents were demonised for their sacrifices to obtain quality education? Was it an act of nation building to denigrate the hours of lessons, before and after school hours, that children endured? What about the long waits by parents to shuttle their children to and from different educational venues? When these words were sung 32 years ago and transmitted throughout the world, was our ugly underbelly not exposed? Cro Cro was even crowned national Calypso Monarch for that offering, notwithstanding the fact that from 1962 to 1986, T&T was rule by an Afro-Trinbagonian political party that had control over the administration of education in T&T, placing 100 per cent of students in government schools and 80 per cent in government assisted schools.
George Chambers, Patrick Solomon and Donald Pierre
Cutty Joseph and Marilyn Gordon, check out dem hair
Dem is the people who ran the show
So tell me who failed to educate the children from Laventille looking like Cro Cro?
However, President Weekes is quite correct in her observation that “We would all have noticed the recent reduction in acrimonious cyber traffic, but the underlying issues and feelings have not magically disappeared. They have only been driven back underground to smoulder and foment continued bitterness until the next explosion”. The underbelly has merely slithered back into its morass of filth. So where do we go from here? How do we change the narrative?
President Weekes has called for the urgent implementation of “A practical and sustainable programme under the umbrella of a national framework.” This progamme is to be developed by professionals such as sociologists, historians and psychologists. Yet such a programme should go beyond issues of race and hate speech, and look at the impact of race on the economic well-being of T&T.
The programme must probe appointments to institutions that are owned by taxpayers or funded substantially by taxpayers and examine whether T&T is making use of its best available talent. There is a strong feeling in T&T that the intersection between race and politics has led in many instances to the rejection of merit in favour of mediocrity. Our nation cannot afford to subsidise its efficiency by utilising human resources selected on the basis of race or political considerations.
Finally, Her Excellency has urged that the proposed programme be adequately resourced. The call is for the employment of professionals as to “depend on pro bono contributions is to jeopardise the sustainability of the programme.” Therein lies the dilemma. Where is the funding coming from? COVID-19 has wrecked our economy.
The programme may be what is needed, but if it is dependent on government funding, it may never see the light of day. Surely, we should not dismiss the notion of pro bono assistance. This country has contributed substantially to the education of thousands of professionals, can we not find our spirit of charity and give back to our nation in its time of dire need?
In 2013, in the midst of an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Paria, the former President, His Excellency Anthony Carmona, reached out to academics from the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago to prepare a report on the oil spills in the Gulf of Paria.
I was a member of that group of academics and can categorically state that my services were rendered pro bono. Rather than wait, President Weekes should take a leaf out of the book of former President Carmona, and appeal to the professionals of the nation to come forward and assist at a time when we need to finally confront our reality and find a path to genuinely benefit from our diversity.