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Monday 23 October 2017
Commentary

Mauby pockets

Mauby. This word, not in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, but in our John Mendes’ handy “Cote ce Cote la” 200-page book, means “beverage from a bark that treats diabetes, but diluted to make a refreshing drink (Columbia arborescens).

“Treats diabetes?” Hmmm.

Anyhow, and quite interestingly for these times, the word just under “mauby” is “mauvais langue.” I do have a bottle home, but the word mauby flashed across my mind as I remembered the late Dr Eric Williams’ words: “We here have mauby pockets but champagne taste.”

If these words do not wrap up much of the economics of our times, I dont know what will. Of course, many people — much more than one per cent — have both champagne pockets and champagne taste. But the pressures for dropping down to mauby taste is quite heavy now, except that a look at our grocery shelves don’t tell us so. The champagne culture is quite strong. And for the millionth time, how does a culture escape from itself?

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, preparing to take on the bull when, struggling to match a $51 billion expenditure with a $38 billion income, declared he was “prepared to lose votes” that seek to sustain the champagne culture. Big challenge. That champagne culture, no doubt forged from the early excitement of independence, has created a political intoxication which led to free and almost reckless spending – so much subsidies, transfers, debt write-offs.

The self-help spirit and attitudes required for post-independence development weakened under the champagne culture. Transfers and subsidies at $22 billion in 2010, $35 billion in 2015, now pressured by oil prices, down to around $25 billion — still too high for the economy. And dont forget the historic $64 billion Central Government expenditure in 2014. Government had trouble with the state corporations, so “Special Purpose Companies” were established, only to make a bad situation worse. Not only the economy but the TT dollar itself.

Do you know how many Caricom countries do not accept “Trinidad money.” And then you may ask how come the EC dollar in those “small Eastern Caribbean countries” is worth so much more than the TT dollar?

The comments by two gentlemen pushed me into these comments. The first was businessman, Mr Christian Mouttet, who publicly complained at a business conference last Wednesday about “the high rate of absenteeism” in the restaurant industry. Managing 111 restaurants and 3,000 workers, he declared: “We have an absenteeism rate of 40 per cent on any given day.” The various labour and business organisations should try and fix this. Attitudes in an economy like ours are just as important as money itself.

To absenteeism, Prime Minister Rowley replied: “This is not a labour problem but a management problem.” Discipline and fire them was the cry from the largely business audience.

Look, facing the truth and for whatever historical or psychological reasons, this country has an unpunctuality and absenteeism disease. And whether oil price goes up or down, this disease will help stifle the country’s economy.

Then was the letter from Mr John Jessamy who called upon the country “to wake up and smell the coffee, the country is almost broke.” He advised: (1) Reduce the number of State boards from 130 to 10” where many people get hired as if to make money for themselves. Patronage breeds inefficiency. (2) Get rid of the Estate Management Development Company (3) “Clip the wings of Caribbean Airlines which cannot account for $700 million.” (To this I add: How can a losing airline buy another losing airline – Air Jamaica?) (4) Take a careful look at the overpricing by contractors. (5) “The DPP should start prosecuting white-collar criminals no matter who they are,” (Express, September 27).

From the school-building projects to road works, there is not only shoddy work, always needing more and more repairs, but the prices charged are like crookery — without required oversight.

TV vigilante crime host, Ian Alleyene, shows a provocative clip with top brass in PoS dancing and drinking up at Republic Day parties while, as he says, “Poor people catching dey tail down here.” In this season, maybe champagne days should take a lil holiday.

Yes, money is important but better attitudes and less greed and pomposity could help pull us through.

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