June 11, 2008

Tempests Rage: Yet We Linger

Tempests rage: yet we linger
Published on: 6/11/08.
Source: The Nation Newspaper

If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
-The Merchant of Venice Act III, Scene 1.

MOST CARICOM LEADERS and citizens accept there is value in regional collaboration. That in the present sea of economic turbulence, driven by unyielding energy costs and surging food prices, the region's salvation must come from one voice resonating to a chorus that we are one people. Yet, these sentiments are mere words without serious intent or meaning.

All know that our small size and fragile economies stymie sustainable development. That our separate voices are too weak to be heard far less understood; that our countries have been known to be looked upon as 'a beautiful piece of real estate' where playboys languish on the sands and in the sun, while partaking of the libation of their choice.

It is years now since the 3B's – Barrow, Bird and Burnham – spawned CARIFTA. There has been a change in nomenclature – from CARIFTA to CARICOM – yet we still search for harmonisation of fiscal incentives; a regional Central Bank; a single currency; an all-embracing Caribbean Court of Justice; common cross-border legislation relating to a stock exchange; freedom of movement for CARICOM citizens; common customs tariffs; regional air and sea transport and regional security. Yes, we continue to be long on talk and short on action.

Here at home, as if blinded by regional practice and example, we have spent some two decades fiddling with the control and arrest of PSV culture and disrespect for law and order. That the minds of our young students, hungry for learning, are being vicariously poisoned by dancehall fare unsuitable for junkies seems not to be a sufficient bother.

Our sidewalks, store pavements and even streets are belching with the encroachment, even invasion of vendors claiming the right of the small man "to make an honest dollar". Worse still, PSV commuters as well as bystanders are being deafened by noise way beyond legal limits, claiming to be today's music and a pleasure to warped sensibilities.

Amidst price rises, creeping inflation and serious challenges in providing housing stock to satisfy demand we have permitted an unmanaged immigration process, bringing with it additional pressure for school places, jobs, and a real potential for social dislocation, crime, and health issues.

We seem to see no compelling reason to stop the rot despite the growing and frightening recklessness of violent crime in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica – a natural sequel to open migration, attracting, as it often does, scores of unskilled people. Meanwhile, the region smiles at the new title of being among the leading murder capitals worldwide.

We seem to find more energy and tasty satisfaction in debating the wisdom of a realignment of the age of consent, majority and its related consequences. Although our water stocks are known to be finite, our inability to provide natural gas to households in need is glaring, our productivity levels are showing decline, discordant voices continue to bellow unashamedly in the highest forums of the world, seemingly expecting a magical outcome of benefit to self and region.

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