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Thursday 14 December 2017
Commentary

Singing on the Titanic

Peter O'Connor writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

It is said that when the “unsinkable” SS Titanic hit an iceberg and was sinking, the passengers gathered on deck and the ship’s orchestra led them in song while the vessel was going under. There are tales too, of ships being torpedoed in World War II, those with passengers aboard being led in song by the crews.

As a child I was taught tales of heroism where brave people sang in the face of certain death. I thought that this was really heroic, and like all little schoolboys being taught by the British Crown, we would one day stand and sing stoically in the face of certain death. Today I believe that we should fight to save the ship, or failing that, save ourselves. But such actions are not really in our character.

We here in TT are still firmly bound to the rather insipid 19th century logic that heroic martyrdom is better than victory. And this condition persists here even though the rest of the world, particularly Great Britain and most of its former colonies, has moved on. We remain bound by colonial law and custom set by Queen Victoria. The two significant changes which we have wrought to this British stoicism are that we are no longer heroic or noble, and that the music is, like us, harsh and violent.

We had reached this stage twice before. In 1970 we were not oil-wealthy yet, when the Black Power Movement challenged the government. The National Joint Action Committee raised our collective consciousness and led the first tentative steps towards true independence. But there was violence in our streets and the government and establishment were severely shaken.

Then OPEC intervened, and the price of oil soared, and we became a wealthy nation, not by any self-endeavour, but by happenstance. And NJAC and the protests faded away.

By the mid 1980s, we had squandered our wealth and were facing bankruptcy, the ruling PNM abdicated the 1986 election and gave the sinking country to the NAR. Remember those times? Remember when Gypsy sang Captain, The Ship is Sinking?

Back then we saved the ship. We elected a new government, and people felt hopeful. Stalin sang We Could Make It If we Try and Mighty Trini sang Sailing With The Boat, and we came through, enduring a bloody attempted coup along the way, and we began to rebuild our country and our lives. We even changed our governments, by going to the polls and voting.

But disaster was still lurking in the wings. Just as we began to display some resilience, the price of oil soared again, as did the price on LNG (gas). Hallelujah! We were rich again! Work done! Corruption flourished and the corrupt were everywhere, and of every nationality. We began wasting money again. We were building ego-edifices, while our institutions were collapsing. In a wave of false morality we changed governments again, only to learn, once again, that the riches of governance are for the governing, never the governed. So we dismissed them, and they retreated, grumbling, to the palaces they had built for themselves with our money.

And we are left with the crumbling remnant of what was once political promise: A wilted and drooping balisier.

I do not think that there can be any doubt that we are currently enduring the poorest level of governance in our history. Even colonial rule was more efficient and caring than anything we are currently suffering. There is no leadership, and there are no ideas forthcoming. Every ministry is in failure mode. Violent, spontaneous crime is everywhere, people are close to riot mode, and there are roads which we fear to travel upon. We continue to ignore the peril of ISIS-trained veterans in our midst.

In a nation where flooding is a regular occurrence we cannot provide citizens with water, nor can we control the floods. We cannot collect the money for the water that is delivered (or not delivered?). How come that WASA cannot collect their money? Who got fired for failing to collect the money?

Our “State agencies” are just unbelievable parodies of buffoonery and corruption, into which we pour billions of dollars to support the lifestyles of politicians and the politically favoured.

And with all of this obvious failure and collapse happening around us, what are we doing? “We”, as Government? Opposition? Business? Labour? Everybody? Anybody? Other than complaining?

Well, we liming still. We dancing still. And the music plays on. And just like the passengers on the Titanic we all sing along. But what else can we do? And indeed, who can do it?

We are sinking because we have no credible leadership anywhere. None of our estates has any idea, far less capability to create even hope among us. And this seems to trouble no one but me. So sing on, folks!

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