By Phillip Edward Alexander
Once again allegations of corruption are leveled at public officials and private parties in Trinidad and Tobago regarding public works and public funds and once again the public begins the dance of passing on hearsay in the absence of anything like evidence. About to begin in earnest, this is a game where the allegers promote the notion that competing interests are engaged in malfeasance in the hope that it would smear the government enough, if not bring it down, then at least to make it unelectable in the next election, guaranteeing a show like the passing of gas, creating odour but with very little to show for it in the end.
Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
This dance, this game is why the electorate has become so jaded with politics, why they openly sell their vote and are becoming quite savvy I might add in negotiating for it, because most of us have lost all faith in a system where there is every likelihood that every public works or private enterprise constructed with state money in our history has been corrupt from the very beginning of time as we in Trinidad and Tobago know it.
I was tempted to write this piece as a joke, to say that I was going to get in touch with Parker Brothers, the people who created the board game Monopoly and ask them to help me create a Trini version called 'Yuh Geh Way,' where the objective is to amass as much public money as possible in any circumstances, with the winner being the person who 'gets away' with the most in the end, but the old people tell me true true joke not funny.
Instead of Boardwalk and Park Place, we could have Goodwood Park and St Clair, instead of 'Free Parking' we could have 'Case Dismissed for Lack of Evidence,' instead of 'Go' where every time you pass you collect two hundred dollars, we could have a space called 'Preferred Bidder,' where every time you pass you get a new state contract worth millions for which the listed cost needs to be raised due to any overruns you can come up with, with the object being, of course, to Get Away.
How funny it is when, no matter how wild your imagination, you fail to get fiction to be funnier than real life.
Our system as set up does not protect the people and no politician alive or dead has ever seen it fit to advance even the closest of ways or means to protect the public purse. I have read some of the most detailed proposals at procurement reform and they are all one sided and agenda driven, designed to channel public money away from others and towards those advocating for them. Greed will continue to haunt this land for as long as we continue to get hundreds of millions of dollars out of the ground for little or no effort and, while the game I mentioned above may never become reality, some are still playing as we speak, and many have gotten away with the financial equivalent of murder.
So what do we do?
By now, if you have not noticed, I have deliberately avoided naming any names or financial scandals that have rocked this nation but I am almost positive that while you were reading it some big names and bigger events have come to mind. It is a sad indictment against us as a people that we have never taken ourselves, each other and our future seriously enough to demand that better be done and, while it is not too late, how many billions have already been misappropriated that could have done so much for so many?
Every time I hear the political leader of the People's National Movement say the word corruption I laugh, simply because, like many of those he accuses, he has zero moral authority to hold anyone to a standard higher than the one to which he holds himself. And while life may imitate art and he and many others have in fact 'gotten away' with whatever they have been accused of being involved in, he knows like I know that he would never live long enough to outlive the smear of Landate and Cleaver Heights and perhaps that is the saddest irony of all.
Like the joke where two friends were running from a tiger and one says to the other we can't outrun a tiger and the first friend says, “I don't have to outrun him, I have to outrun you,” many of our politicians seem to be playing a game of their own called 'Who Thief More,' using salacious allegations to smear names and characters whether true or false, to make their own sins appear less damning.
But who is to judge?
We in Trinidad and Tobago have a saying that thief from thief does make God laugh, but what happens when all you have in the game are thieves?
Is it as some say, the system is set up for exploitation and it is impossible to do otherwise. What has transpired over the almost 52 years of our independence that has resulted in effective prosecution and conviction and a return of state funds to the people's purse? Which matter brought scandalously into the public domain has been prosecuted and put properly to bed, with the people walking away with the satisfaction that truth and justice has prevailed?
Not one single case.
We are a corrupt nation because we are a corrupt people and corruption does not exist in this place by accident. Every strata of our society is riddled with the cancer of corruption, with the true national symbol of this country being one hand greasing another.
Can this be fixed?
Ask yourself if you've ever paid to skip a line, to fix a situation, to expedite a circumstance or to advantage another. If yes, then the answer is no, and depending on the amount of people who answer yes you will know if Trinidad and Tobago is mildly infected with the corruption bug or terminal and at death's door.
At the end of the day we can call names, buss marks, expose files to our heart's content and it would be good sport, but until we the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago wake up with a collective cleansing of character and a crisis of conscience, corruption will not only be with us, it will define us.