Faced with covid19 challenges, Minister of Social Development and Family Services, Camille Robinson-Regis, complained that “some people are providing false information and statutory declarations to receive food cards while others have been applying to both the National Insurance Board and Social Development Ministry for double assistance.” That’s not all.
Responding to a question from Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial, Robinson-Regis admitted that “already more than 25 per cent of the almost 950 applications for rental assistance were so far invalid with possible fraud involved.” No “smartman tactics” will be tolerated, she warned. Is poverty or greed the overall cause? Will prayers cure these sins?
Regarding the $30 million food-support grant given to religious organisations, Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) head, Dr Knolly Clarke, appealed for church recipients “to be honest since there is a perception that religious bodies are dishonest.” All this – perception or reality – is nothing new. Inside or outside a viral pandemic, the smartman (or smartwoman) culture strikes. He exudes confidence, is charming, feels no guilt, is a quick thinker and feels proud with every hit. Smartmanship has its own morality too. Smartmen flatter to deceive the vulnerable. Victims are not always innocent in this sleazy game.
As things get harder after elections and citizens struggle for everyday goods and services, smartmanship will have a field day. Dr Rowley asked his covid19 recovery committee to examine this country’s expensive transfer and subsidy payments. The expansion in welfare subsidies particularly has grown as a response to both genuine need as well as for political support. To make reductions will be a bureaucratic nightmare. It will also be a high-risk political challenge in the multi-party environment.
Social welfare expectations have been encouraged to grow by one regime after another. Widespread dependence on politicians for favours and opportunity has become a psychological fixture in the society, leaving large space for political connivance and underhand corruption. A familiar request is: “Yuh know anybody in de ministry who cud help mih?” The formal bureaucracy for delivering government goods and services has become so dysfunctional, it has created opportunities for smartmanship of all kinds. The smartman space gets larger as you move up the political ladder.
The survival of the political party depends a lot on patronage, putting loyalists in high positions. This helps ensure that when political appointees turn into corrupted smartmen, they are smartly protected by the top. This helps create the psychological climate for ground-level corruption too. Example is still the greatest teacher. Will any party tackle this disease? A doctorate thesis would do well to examine the proposition: Did our smartman culture evolve from our political culture or vice versa?
The contradictory nature of our society is exposed when, on one hand, many people in times of disaster provide free assistance, show kindness and empathy. On the other hand, we are plagued by the skulduggery that Robinson-Regis cited. Which political leader doesn’t know this?
In fact, Dr Rowley cited the smartman culture two years ago. Smartman tactics range from everyday types like food cards and housing skulduggery to high-up million-dollar types committed by, for example, Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford. Illustrating the permanent nature of our smartman culture, I wrote two columns in 2018 – Our smartman society and Our prowling smartmen. The following are excerpts from Our smartman society.
“Even before the days when the “fat man” sold us tickets to a fictitious “Sam Cook concert,” the smartman was on the prowl, fleecing man, woman and child. Smartwomen luring men into devious schemes too. The smartman illegally selling government (Housing Development Corporation) houses to desperate citizens, promising jobs, selling cars not his, promising US or Canadian visas for $20,000 fee, promising driver’s licence for $15,000, using false deeds to sell other people’s land, corruption in housing/repairs subsidies, begging for funds for fictitious needs...
“They (smartmen) roam inside government agencies mainly because of slack supervision, bad record-keeping and worse yet, insider contacts...when questioned why they were illegally living in a HDC house at Greenvale, the couple said a "nice man from inside" HDC gave them the documents.
"Then there are smartmen who submit claims for flood damage that really did not happen to them...How do you break down the smartman culture when the guards themselves – top to bottom – are accomplices?