How to fail without really trying

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

A BROKEN record. It's funny, because it also happens to be a broken record of performance, one that's been playing in the background for as long as most of us wish we could forget.

Politicians reaffirm their commitment to doing things the old way which only ensures our decline as a society. They get high on their own supply of ignorance and hubris, knowing their failure to act holds no consequences for them personally. It's another matter entirely for us plebs here in the real world. Ordinary citizens live day-to-day with the effluent generated by the old politics and the fossils entombed in it.

Not long ago, I made a Facebook post about road work in my area that has been dragging on for months. The epic box drain and culvert project judders along with unmerciful sloth, inconveniencing people in the area. I am not a civil engineer, but this construction doesn't seem overly complex. Yet, this is TT and we all know how a simple bridge contract can transform into a manned mission to Mars.

My natural instinct was to blame the workers sitting on concrete blocks watching the world, and taxpayers' dollars, go by. But I decided to dig deeper. Several phone calls around the place turned up an explanation for this overblown road project. Turns out, in this case, the workers are actually innocent of the charges I laid against them.

It is true that by 10 am sounds like the squeaking of a wheelbarrow are replaced by the chorus of the kiskedee. These labourers are gone before most public servants are even at their desks ignoring your calls. As it happens, there's an interesting reason for that.

This is one of many state projects starved of adequate resources. Consequently, the construction crew dutifully turns up with sparsely supplied cement, bricks, gravel and other bits of the trade. There's only so far they can advance on the culvert and drains with the materials they're drip-fed from one week to the next. At some point in the morning when the materials are used up, there's little sense sitting and baking in the sun if they can go no further. That's why they're gone by the time my tea cools.

Apparently, this is a problem at regional corporations across the country. This revelation opened my eyes. I started to see the work crew, and the wider problem, differently.

One day, as I was passing by, I exchanged pleasantries with some of the men. They shared interesting insights on construction like differing block sizes used for drainage and the thickness of sheeting used to build the bridge for the culvert. Did I say interesting? Well, interesting to them. What was of interest to me was the passion with which these labourers discussed what they were doing.

These men appeared more keen on their work than I had given them credit for. There was a noticeable pride in what they're doing. Many workers, the ordinary guys taking heat from the sun and then heat from us for failing to complete projects – they are victims of the failures of our institutions; just like the rest of us.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t some work crews with a poor work ethic. But the example in my area is a reminder that sometimes there is more than what meets the eye. Mismanagement and incompetence undergird our institutions, crushing the spirit of those who actually want to work, to be of service, to give value for money. The ones below eventually mirror the ones on top, transformed by the futility of hoping for better.

I experienced this myself as a journalist at state-owned TV station TTT. Sustained missteps at management level broke the will of those determined to do good work. The work environment became so toxic that TTT was not as productive as it could have been and it was eventually shut down by the politicians who contributed to the station's poor performance.

It's a crushing reality our politicians seem not to get. They remain so caught up in their parliamentary pugilism they are unable to appreciate the impact of their non-performance on the institutions meant to run our country.

So to Bun Garlic (aka Sizzla Kalonji) and the rest of the long-suffering construction culvert crew, I offer my apologies for judging without understanding. I know what it's like to want more and be weighed down by the less of others. It is the story of TT, isn't it?


"How to fail without really trying"

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