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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Commentary

Not doing the right thing

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The debate about agriculture and housing, arising from the budget presented in Parliament last week has been predictable and also a little illuminating.

It was interesting that in light of the Chief Justice being doggedly held to account by the legal fraternity, in part for seeking housing for a friend, the MP for Oropouche West would complain to the House that she had asked several housing ministers to help one of her constituents get housing. I suppose an MP is allowed to lobby on behalf of a constituent, who one imagines is homeless and possibly a squatter and not registered to vote, but the CJ should not use his influence to help someone, since he has no electoral constituency and does not belong to that arm of the State.

But, in any event, it seems that requests do not always end in success, as told to the House by the said MP.

We all know that this country is run on preferential treatment by and for those we know. I guess that is how democracy works everywhere, but it is one of the factors contributing to the deepening inequality that leads to hopelessness, despair and then rebellion and violence. Maybe lawyers are more upright citizens than everyone else and do not indulge favours in any way, but how could that be when they are the product of the society? The size of the favour is irrelevant: as long as someone uses his/her influence or connections, are we not talking about the same thing?

Maybe lawyers try harder than others to be good citizens, and that is just as well, since most citizens have not overhauled their way of thinking. When only a small number of people held all the wealth and the vast majority were poor, most people lived by granting and receiving favours. And we have not changed that way of dealing, even though the middle-income bracket is now very wide and people everywhere are now part of the workforce.

Maybe lawyers do uphold the highest standards, as we want them to, and we make allowances for politicians who we tend to consider self-seeking. We understand that politicians make decisions based on how well a matter serves their political or even personal purpose, and we know politicians do not think twice about exploiting race, for example, to win votes.

But it really does not help us move forward. Pacts with the devil, a politician famously said, are par for the course.

But I was more than amazed that an MP elected to serve the people of TT would advocate for us to expand rice growing, using imported, disease-resistant seeds. That could only mean the seed is genetically modified and would be disastrous for our agriculture.

Furthermore, where would we find the land needed to be self-sufficient in rice after we have taken so much valuable arable land and put poor quality housing on it?

And now that all those people who once worked the rice fields now live on them and get flooded every time it rains why would they want to return to that hard life, even if it were mechanised and the seeds never perished? Is a 22nd-century method of rice production being suggested?

I cannot fathom why we would want to be self-sufficient in rice, of all things. We eat lots of it. but it is not the most nutritious food, and where would we find the economies of scale to make it worthwhile? Surely anything we produce has to merit every square inch of ground and make us ready for a future that will enable us both to feed ourselves and gain income from export.

This brings me to the present Minister of Housing claiming that in the last four years squatting has fallen exponentially, and boasting about the number of probably cheaply built houses, quickly erected on perhaps more disappearing, precious agricultural land.

The problem endures and squatting remains another serious threat to us being able to feed ourselves and to our patrimony.

I remember when the Valencia Stretch en route to Sangre Grande was a beautiful wilderness, totally devoid of people and buildings. One had a sense there of the power and majesty of nature and the road was a mere travesty, to be hurried along.

Over the years the squatting started, slowly at first, and then with absolutely no holds barred. That piece of tantalising uniqueness is now an eyesore and that land has been stolen from the people of this country. It is depressing to witness the negligence of those in control of our national wealth, allowing such a phenomenon to develop.

Everywhere we turn we can see how the countryside has been raped, with the collusion of those who should never have let it happen. It shows a failure of government policy over several decades. It means too that many gave or got favours and turned a blind eye.

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