Peter O'Connor writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Who among you Trinis remembers “crazy ants?” Tiny stingless ants that raced incessantly and crazily around their nests, constantly bouncing into each other, but never going anywhere. We do not see crazy ants any more, and we need to wonder if they have become us—the people of Trinidad and Tobago?
At every level of our society we are rushing crazily around, bouncing into and hindering everyone else. From governance, through business, labour, all the professions (especially law and justice!), sports and entertainment, everyone is part of an agitated crazy ants nest. In no sector and at no level can we point to any leadership which might calm us down and start to move us in one productive, sensible direction.
And what is particularly worrying is that no one from any sector is even acknowledging, far less addressing, this state of affairs in terms of resolving the crazy melee we are enduring. I acknowledge that labour jefes (I am deliberately not using the term “leaders” here) are posturing, making calls to shut down sectors, or the whole country. That is not a solution.
After over fifty years of Independence and two massive oil and gas booms, we are once again a broken country unable to meet payrolls or to pay for goods and services. And not surprisingly, our crazy ants’ society feels no sense of shame over this condition which we have brought down upon ourselves once again. We have become so chronically corrupt that we do not even consider most of our dishonesty as corruption. And this condition prevails more at the top than down through our society. And we only concentrate on the people who use guns and violence to commit their robberies, while ignoring those who use their pals and their pens to enrich themselves at society’s expense.
Corruption is endemic in our society. From “passing something” to get a driver’s license, to passing something to override laws and bring in uncustomed goods, get building plan approvals for massive buildings or “developments” where residents’ objections are overridden by money. It includes the apparent discovery so far of petroleum lease operators being paid by senior officials of Petrotrin for oil never delivered. It includes the airport duo who continue to live a high society life here while their American co-conspirators have long been convicted. It includes the rape of Clico by its principals. They too live comfortably in supreme wealth while many senior citizens have gone to their graves never having enjoyed their life savings. I could go on and on, but you know all these stories, and some of you still tip your cocktail glasses with these high class crooks, who remain admired in our society, because they remain rich.
But we have been here before, if we could only remember, In the 1980s we wasted and lost billions of dollars of money we hardly even worked for. And we woke up one morning with nothing and then prime minister George Chambers telling us “Fete is over, go back to work.” We have returned to that condition of being deeply in debt and having no money. But we seem not to have acknowledged that. It is time for our Prime Minister and his Government to address us in terms of where we are and what needs to be done to save the country.
Having said that, I am aware that the Government (and indeed the Opposition and all of our Estates) really have no idea what to do to bring us back on an even keel and get the ship of state moving again. And neither did George Chambers or anyone else back in 1982 when the economy had collapsed. At least Chambers knew that he did not know, so he summoned the National Consultation on Productivity, and invited every group and every interested person to come and present their ideas to the nation. The consultation lasted three days, then broke for a couple of weeks where people and groups went to develop plans out of the ideas presented.
Notwithstanding the fact that most of the final plans were never implemented, one of most important outcomes was that we all left the consultation understanding each other’s problems and we shared in developing solutions.
And right now we need to understand each other’s problems and all together work to resolve at least some of them. So I am calling upon the Prime Minister to summon the nation to a new consultation so that all of us can enlighten Government and each other to the possible solutions for saving our nation.
Bring all of us crazy ants into one venue, where instead of constantly bouncing into each other without any purpose, we may start to move in one agreed direction.
Call on me, Prime Minister, I can help you do this!