Wean, lose or draw

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE - Tony Deyal

DID YOU see the movie about Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) Prime Min­is­ter Keith Row­ley? Yes, I ex­pect that in the next Academy Awards it will be an Os­car Weaner. Why would the Trinidad prime min­is­ter beat Op­po­si­tion Leader Kamla Per­sadBisses­sar in a race? Be­cause it was weaner take all.

What is this about? A few days ago, the prime min­is­ter, fresh from the 2016-2017 Bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion by the min­is­ter of fi­nance, Colm Im­bert, and in the midst of a re­ces­sion and fall­ing fu­ture rev­enues, com­plained, lamented and at­tacked simultaneously what in T&T is com­monly called a ‘de­pen­dency syn­drome’. Es­sen­tially, ‘de­pen­dency’ the­ory is about how a coun­try de­vel­ops as a di­rect re­sult of ex­ter­nal forces where there is a dom­i­nant coun­try and a de­pen­dent one. The idea is that the rich one gets richer and the poor one gets poorer. It is also linked to hand­outs like Food Aid and the un­will­ing­ness of com­mu­ni­ties or even coun­tries to ini­ti­ate ac­tiv­i­ties to im­prove their own well-be­ing.


The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) sees de­pen­dence syn­drome as an ad­dic­tion or “a clus­ter of phys­i­o­log­i­cal, be­havioural, and cog­ni­tive phe­nom­ena in which the use of a sub­stance or a class of sub­stances takes on a much higher pri­or­ity for a given in­di­vid­ual than other be­hav­iours that once had greater value”. But is this what Prime Min­is­ter Row­ley meant, es­pe­cially as no for­eign coun­try is in the mix or any health is­sue in­volved. He is quoted as say­ing, “Ev­ery fa­cil­ity built in this coun­try has to be built by the govern­ment, ev­ery school, ev­ery health cen­tre, ev­ery this, ev­ery that, be­cause in this coun­try, for the last gen­er­a­tion or two, we’ve grown up on the govern­ment.” He then laid down what turned out to be a mas­sive dic­tum, “You bet­ter be­gin to get weaned off the govern­ment be­cause the govern­ment’s shoul­der can­not carry the weight anymore.”

In­stead of be­ing be­neath their sails, the ‘weaned’ blew most of the so­cial me­dia and other com­men­ta­tors away. In fact, the ‘weaner’, as the prime min­is­ter was then called, took it all – the re­sent­ment, anger, jokes and com­plaints. One Face­book post was clear, “It would be nice if the govern­ment can wean them­selves off me, so I won’t have to pay any more taxes!” Then the talk started about ‘wean-wean’ and ‘wean-lose’ so­lu­tions and the com­mon un­der­stand­ing that the prime min­is­ter was re­ally pro­vid­ing us with a ‘nowean’ sit­u­a­tion.

Some­one else said that we are a bunch of wean­ers, and an­other asked, “What makes some of us wean­able and the govern­ment un­wean­able?” And then came the com­ment that we were be­ing treated like Weany the Poo.

Other com­ments were more se­ri­ous but still in­censed. A for­mer politi­cian made a telling point: “The govern­ment got peo­ple hooked and now want them to do it cold turkey. What a place.” There was the ironic query: “Roads, hospi­tals, schools?” One of the com­men­taries looked at it from the per­spec­tive of a ‘free meal’ or what is called in T&T, ‘eat ah food’. He said, “I won­der if Row­ley is ca­pa­ble of wean­ing him­self off the govern­ment. The big­gest drain on our re­sources is the govern­ment it­self. Eat ah food!” There was the sug­ges­tion of a Twelve Step pro­gramme to wean cit­i­zens off the govern­ment, and the logic of “If we wean our­selves off the govern­ment, we won’t have to vote ever again.”

I found some com­ments that were much closer to the bone, like, “This is what has hap­pened in many coun­tries when the State thinks it is God and peo­ple be­lieve it. When the State thinks it is bet­ter and more pow­er­ful than God, then what God has cre­ated ceases to ex­ist in the way they were cre­ated.”

The prob­lem of the role of the State and the power of the rul­ing party, es­pe­cially the way that power in­evitably seems to go to the head of the head of govern­ment, is as much a re­gional prob­lem as a T&T prob­lem. How­ever, nowhere else has it been as much in ev­i­dence his­tor­i­cally as in T&T.

The first prime min­is­ter of the coun­try, Dr Eric Wil­liams, told cit­i­zens flatly that if they did not like how he was run­ning the coun­try, they should get the hell out.


But it is not just the in­so­lence of of­fice that is the is­sue. It is also what has been deemed an en­ti­tle­ment syn­drome. Make-work, freemoney projects and so­cial-wel­fare pro­grammes that cover from womb to tomb and cra­dle to crypt make many peo­ple feel en­ti­tled, not just to what the govern­ment gives them, but to what other peo­ple have. Al­most all the crimes in T&T and the re­gion are crimes against prop­erty. It is a case of, “It’s not per­sonal, and we have noth­ing against you, but you see that watch you’re wear­ing or the car you’re driv­ing or the house you’re liv­ing in and the busi­ness that is flour­ish­ing ... . ”

How­ever, right now, wean­ing peo­ple away from a govern­ment in a coun­try where race and pol­i­tics are sym­bi­otic is not the prime min­is­ter’s only prob­lem. He is locked in a bit­ter and public dis­pute with the head of state, Pres­i­dent Car­mona, about who lied to whom about a meet­ing with the min­is­ter of na­tional se­cu­rity. Public opin­ion seems to favour the pres­i­dent’s ver­sion of events.

At the same time, the pres­sure on the prime min­is­ter to man­age in­sa­tiable de­mands with shrink­ing re­sources is es­ca­lat­ing. There are three pos­si­ble out­comes to the three seem­ingly in­tractable prob­lems – wean, lose or draw.

Tony Deyal was last seen ask­ing, “When the dust set­tles on the dis­pute be­tween the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter, who will emerge the weaner?”

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