Wean, lose or draw
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?”