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Commentary: Saving Rome...
Published on July 8, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Phillip Edward Alexander

Diligently writing, writing is the equivalent to fiddling, fiddling while Rome is burning all about you. I read some of the contributions from my fellow columnists and go back five, ten, fifteen, sometimes even twenty years or more and it is almost as if they are writing the exact same column, with only the names of the important players changing and I wonder if they don't wonder as to the relevance of it all?

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
If you are standing waist deep in filth for years, at some point wouldn't you have the situational awareness at least to try and change locations?

It is no exaggeration to say that our country is in a very bad state, but to continue to blame those in authority for the actions and behaviours of those on the ground or those who facilitate wrongdoing accomplishes what? Where is the real social mirror? I listen to the responses of the average person when politicians in opposition who used to support policies while in government are now against those same policies simply because they do not want to help the government look good, so who puts the people first?

This is beyond crazy, we are really like little children running the house because mammy and daddy gone away for good, so we only interested in cake and ice cream while everything else falls to ruin.

Take the drug trade as a good example. I read in one international publication that the drug economy in Trinidad and Tobago rivals and surpasses the local economy, which estimates between sixty and a hundred billion dollars a year. So what are they saying; that a hundred billion dollars worth of drugs and drug money passes through Trinidad and Tobago every year? One thousand million a month? Can you imagine the size of the organization required to facilitate such a massive illegal venture?

Who is letting it come in? Who is letting it go out? Who is facilitating the changeover of delivery methods of that staggering amount of 'product' between the coming in and the going out? Then there are the proceeds from sale, how is a thousand million illegal dollars processed through the system where banks ask you to fill out a form if your deposit crosses ten thousand dollars? Are the banks turning a blind eye? Or are they involved in the enterprise?

Another article written in the Wall Street Journal no less, by a well respected journalist who spent a couple nights on an oil and gas platform between Trinidad and Tobago and the South American mainland said that “more water craft lands on Trinidad's coastline at night than were involved in the Normandy invasion.” Seriously? So is it that we cannot guard our coasts? Or is it that we do not want to?

When I first got into charity work and targeted the orphanages and homeless to help I was surprised by the sheer volume of information out there as to why the system did not work. Lawyers, media practitioners, even former government ministers with responsibility for the system had the worst things to say, and I found myself wondering how can this country be so blighted by knowledge and left thirsty for action? So no one thought that, if the system is not working, change the system? Where are the men and women of drive and patriotism to say this sphere, this one thing I will get involved in until it is fixed or until negative momentum is changed to positive?

The plight of the disabled in our society should literally make us all hang our heads in shame. From a simple thing like access to the more obvious concerns such as assisted living and the provision of an ability to earn a living require so much drama the people prefer to go year in and year out and sell their barbecue and curry-que tickets outside supermarkets hoping to get enough to be sustained, to help those who cannot help themselves.

We live in a society where governments have come and governments have gone, knowing that under-aged girls were being housed in the women's prison because of a lack of facilities. Facilities? We have multi-story buildings going a-begging all over Port of Spain that cost the people of this country hundreds of billions of dollars; can't one of them be repurposed? What about the building at the corner of Alexandra Street owned by a senator and his family that the government is alleged to be spending over a million dollars a month for but cannot use or occupy, surely that can be remade into a youth holding facility complete with view?

Yes, the above was sarcasm but used to make a point, because ten million dollars builds a school so we know that, for the cost of a year's rent for the building in question, we could have built a purpose-designed facility to treat with the at-risk girls in society, but to do that, we as a people have to care.

Do we? We seem to lack the compassion to continuously ask how in heaven's name Morvant, Beetham, Laventille and Sea Lots can continue to be the way they are despite one hundred thousand million dollars passing through this country every month. Every one is a specialist and a scientist when it comes to the reasons for poverty and crime and the plight of the predominantly grand children of Africa in these communities, but no one is advocating a plan, an idea, a clue as to how to engage them?

I remember sitting with ministers and asked if that was my issue to solve, what would be the first thing I did, and my answer was as simple as it is counterintuitive – A Ministry of Morvant, Laventille, Beetham and Sea Lots, charged with the responsibility of identifying why these communities are the way they are, and to create on a massive scale, literacy, job training, re-housing, educating, community developing policies and a frame work with a goal in mind, to reduce poverty, crime and dependency in those communities by a sufficient margin by a specific timeframe.

You see, and all of our problems bear this out. You cannot solve a problem until you identify how you come to be having that problem in the first place, but more importantly you cannot solve a problem unless you first want to.

It is an indictment of epic proportions that our people in the 'hot spot' communities live the way they live, that our at-risk communities and dispossessed people live the way they live, and that this most blessed of countries is also a narco-state of international infamy. There are not enough words available in this column to touch on all the other things that need touching on, but look through this paper and all the other papers, see what the other columnists are focused on, and see if you don't get a better understanding as to why our Rome is burning to the ground as we speak.
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