Thinking deeply about the present condition of Trinidad and Tobago can be extremely depressing. You get the feeling of being in permanent semi-darkness, a constant dusk, that darker part of twilight when the dimming light of the sun has disappeared and night approaches.
Everything seems to have deteriorated irretrievably—the economy, the society, the State—all floundering, lacking leadership and direction, generating depression over the present and doubt about the future. For the past seven years, this has been a nation dimmed and dimming.
The IMF now rates Trinidad and Tobago among the 20 worst performing economies in the world. Seven years of contraction have produced business closures, increasing unemployment, a shrinking middle class and growing poverty and deprivation, reflected in families unable to pay their rent facing eviction; and greater demand for box lunches in schools as household incomes decline. How many of the 18,000 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that once employed 25,000 people are now no more? How many more SMEs will close down and how much more unemployment and poverty will be created with the proposed increases in electricity rates—between 51 and 63 per cent for businesses and 15 and 64 per cent for residences—termed “wicked and heartless” by suffering citizens? Food prices have already grown by almost 46 per cent from 2015-2022, says economist/lecturer Dr Roger Hosein. And not one single idea in seven years from the Government for economic revival. No wonder we are dimming into darkness.
Barbados puts us to shame. A sugar monoculture at independence in 1966, Barbados diversified into three main sectors: services, light industry and sugar. Its offshore financial services sector is today the country’s second biggest earner of foreign exchange after tourism. Barbados’ real GDP accelerated from 1.7 per cent in 2021 to 7.5 per cent in 2022 as its resilient economy recovers from the pandemic. But our dying flame has been temporarily revived, not by effort or wisdom, but high energy prices from the invasion of Ukraine.
Night is coming. This decaying society is descending into chaos fuelled by declining communities with epidemics of domestic violence, child abuse, teenage pregnancies, pupil hooliganism and frightening levels of crime. Schools themselves are a breeding ground of violence. Of the 111 Government secondary schools, 26 are on the watch list and 91 have safety officers attached. Children, too, are becoming violent rampaging criminals! Court records over the last four years reveal 1,771 criminal matters against children ages 7-18 for possession of firearms, robbery with aggravation, shooting with intent, larceny, domestic violence, drug offences, kidnapping, manslaughter and murder. What a state! Soldiers and police officers are also being charged. Home invasions are on the rise. And at the annual rate, 2023 would reach over 4,000 murders in the last seven years; 601 last year, the highest ever.
“The horrendous crime situation is retarding growth and must be frontally addressed,” says the American Chamber of Commerce. “The country is begging for leadership on crime,” said an Express editorial. But after 36 years in Parliament, including five years as Opposition Leader and seven years as prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley now says that having “reflected deeply” on crime, he will hold a national consultation to get “a document of things to do”. What an utterly useless political career! What an absurdity! Last year, when Dr Rowley announced his crime committee of permanent secretaries, MSJ leader David Abdulah correctly predicted “another dud, another failure”. We have heard nothing from this committee. And nothing from Rowley’s “Roadmap Committee”. And nothing from his Watkins’ Community Recovery Committee. It’s all nothingness.
Meanwhile, the State itself is in near-collapse, cheating citizens in multifarious ways, plagued, as I have said for years, by “institutional dysfunctionality”. In the last decade, after spending hundreds of billions on State institutions, $60 billion on national security alone, we still have more inefficiencies, unproductivity, unresponsiveness, waste and mismanagement. Are we assured of quick and effective attention at public hospitals? Or from police in an emergency? Or in having potholes and leaking mains repaired? And if we can’t properly handle these mere basic requirements for civilised living, how will we manage complex issues like the country’s improved competitiveness, the relevance of the education system to today’s requirements, or the criminal justice system generally and the delivery of justice in particular, on all of which there has been more deterioration than ever in seven years.
Today I am now asked, “can the new President, Head of State, save the State?” I smile sadly, recognising the understandable desperation. As I said years ago, the inauguration of a new president will be yet another absurdity in Trinidad and Tobago. If past practice persists, we would waste millions in another useless exercise of hollow pomp and imitation grandeur, exposing our ridiculousness in open air, pretending it is some momentous event, when the president can do absolutely nothing to improve our lives.
An already shallow office is almost completely hollowed out by the method of selection which makes its occupant more a deterrent than a protection of our democracy. We will end up with another manipulable cardboard figure masquerading as head of the national family. We continue dimming into darkness.