A national tragedy made worse

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

IT'S DIFFICULT to calculate that a national tragedy which tore out the soul of a nation could be made worse.

This, however, is TT.

The deaths of four divers, entombed in the dark, bereft of hope without knowing it, was and is a horror too malevolent for most of us to process. Yet this unprecedented catastrophe was met with the casual Trini incompetence, bungling and insensitivity that are our stock-in-trade. This was a terror that called for resolute leadership, contingency planning and, above all else, strident empathy.

It was a call that would go unanswered.

This column offers no opinion on the cause of the accident. With the announcement of a commission of enquiry, we can get the transparency, accountability and justice that this tragedy deserves – in theory, anyway.

In the meantime, what we do know about this industrial accident is troubling enough. The chaotic handling of the crisis, the bizarre communications "strategy" of Paria management, the contemptuous treatment of victims' families. It all played out in public with familiar callous amateurism.

We saw shades of this in the helter-skelter tackling of the Venezuelan migrant crisis, the comprehensively botched vaccine registration process – virtually any challenge that demands logistics or basic planning.

Still, with human lives hanging in the balance, some of us hoped hidden competencies would surface and take charge. In TT, it's hope itself that crushes the spirit.

Judging by the comments online, the nation was reeling. That fact seemed completely lost on the Prime Minister, in whose name a terse, officious and patently sterile press release was issued remarking on the incident.

The statement concluded thusly, "It is in times like these that we are called upon to be caring and comforting and I have every confidence that our nation will not be found wanting."

The caring and comforting expected of everyone else, it seems, was wanting in the PM. The unfolding tragedy demanded nothing less than a meeting with the families by the leader of this country. Such a gesture would have shown solidarity with the grief of relatives and, by extension, a traumatised nation in need of commiseration. This, apparently, couldn't be managed.

The PNM junta, dutifully defending the PM, has suggested that had he gone to meet with the bereaved he would have borne the brunt of their hurt and frustration.

Yes. That's the job. To confront anguish with a moderating influence that acknowledges the pain and offers the assurance of answers, justice and empathy. That's what leadership looks like.

The President of the republic, Paula-Mae Weekes, didn't fare much better. On this matter it would have been best if she had stuck to her customary absence, rattling around in President's House like a phantasm of that colonial appendix.

The release issued in her name, apart from its lazy brevity, was replete with numbing insensitivity.

The very first line in that statement was problematic: "Last weekend, the entire country held its breath..." Apparently not one soul in President's House could see how those words would be perceived by the public. The President's statement ended abruptly, as if the author had been called away to part a dog fight.

While it's understandable that neither the Prime Minister nor the President writes their own releases, it isn't unreasonable to expect that they would, particularly in this case, actually read them.

Then, of course, there was Fitzgerald Hinds – the wrong man for every moment. Yet he makes a point of insinuating himself into every situation with Don King-esque pseudo-sermonising. His take on the tragedy was, as is his wont, poisoned by politics. "Doesn't the scandalous UNC know that in matters of this nature, full investigations follow naturally, like they follow taxpayers' money; and police follow crooks and tief?"

No surprise there. You may recall in 2019 when seven fishermen were murdered at sea, Hinds, then acting (as now) minister of national security, was asked whether he would visit the victims' families.

Hinds said, "I have no problem, if time permits me today, if I have a request."

So, time permitting, and if someone formally requested he do so, he would meet with the families. At any rate, Hinds feared for his life to visit the Opposition-held constituency and, wouldn't you know it, blamed the Opposition.

Not that we needed reminding, but the response of Paria management and the Government confirmed that whatever the crisis, we are on our own. No help is coming. Leadership is abdication, incompetence is diligence, criticism is political mischief. No moment is so grave that we rise to the occasion.


"A national tragedy made worse"

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