YOU CAN talk bad about Trinidad all you want once inside. When you talk badly about Trinidad to strangers, that’s where the starboy gets killed, as my mother used to say.
The Trinis have a quick-trigger violation mechanism for truths told beyond our borders. However, we generally agree with unflattering accounts of crime, poverty, corruption and desperation in a local setting.
This is why Miss World TT Jeanine Brandt’s remarks have raised the ire of so many. She exposed the underside of the TT company. In his tale of poverty, Brandt stoned a jep’s nest filled with criers, skeptics and know-it-alls. Social media battalions in home clothes mobilized quickly, vigorously opposing Brandt’s use of the word “thousands” to characterize the scope of the problem.
Flanking the beauty contestant on all sides, defenders of the kingdom mossly said they don’t know where she got her stats from. Never mind that online objectors have no statistics of their own to back up their resounding disbelief.
Even informed opinion has suggested that Brandt was way off the mark because governments have spent billions on alleviating poverty (whatever that is). We are (were?) one of the richest in the region. In an infinite field of choice, this was the weakest of the arguments offered.
Perhaps some real poverty research could shed some light on where the heat has been mostly so far.
According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2020, the most recent survey data (2011) suggests that 0.6% of the population, or 9,000 people, are multidimensionally poor, while a further 3.7%, or 51,000 people are classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty. poverty.
When most people think of poverty, it is usually defined as a lack of money. Multidimensional poverty, however, describes the affliction of multiple disadvantages – poor health or malnutrition, lack of clean water or electricity, poor quality of work or little schooling. These assorted deprivations join the story of Jeanine Brandt.
But that’s not all the UNDP report reveals.
Between 1990 and 2019, the Human Development Index or HDI of TT increased by 19.2%. Life expectancy has increased, as have years of schooling and income. These are all great results.
However, what the Human Development Index hides is the inequality of income distribution – which is at the heart of our problems. Although there have been improvements in the standard of living, we are not as advanced as we should be, given the wealth that has passed through this country.
Our oil industry is over a hundred years old. In stark contrast, Norway’s oil industry didn’t really get started until the 1970s. It has one of the highest standards of living on the planet. Before the advent of its oil industry, Norway’s economy was almost primitive. While the legacy of colonialism in the TT must be grappled with, Norway’s approach to investing in the future with oil revenues shows the path we have most often avoided.
Much of the poverty that so many vehemently deny can be traced back to the doorstep of political failure. Over the years, politicians have invested oil revenues through the malicious mechanism of politics itself because they see, somewhat perversely, the future of the country and the future of the party as identical. The party is the people and the government is the party.
This distorted ideology, combined with pathological corruptibility, perpetuates the unequal distribution of resources that we experience today. Those who deny it willfully ignore the pockets of poverty that dot this country. They confuse “access” to health care and education with quality and ease of use. There is a place in school for every child even if that child’s parents cannot afford to buy books, shoes and passage to school. There may be a bed in a hospital, but no doctor to see you; no functional MRI machine to be scanned. It’s easier to cite access and turn your back on inconvenient realities.
The billions spent fighting poverty are investments in the dependency syndrome that keeps people beholden forever.
Eradicating poverty would create educated and empowered citizens less inclined to vote for the continuing cycle of addiction and abuse. It is the TT that post-colonial politics has constructed.
Yes, this country has stuffed itself with immense wealth. We are better off than many of our neighbors in the Caribbean, for now anyway. But as Chris Cornell sang, money can’t give what truth takes away.
To quote tireless community and social activist Avonelle Hector-Joseph, Trinis must deny the poverty described by Brandt because “they should do something about it or harden their conscience.”