There is nothing like being on the ground and hearing about the real issues that are affecting people. After spending 8 months in New York I am back in Tobago for a short stay and I know much of the two weeks will be spent catching up with people and having conversations surrounding issues of development. When talking about the development of a society it is important that these conversations transcend political differences and reach to the point of a middle ground where the entire society benefits.
If we operate from a platform of the common good for the society and trash out differences through negotiation and compromise better solutions will always be found. Currently we operate on a platform that stunts development in all aspects and it is either my way or the highway and rarely is progress seen. Too often our conversation are shallow and our vision for what development is narrow. The entire society must develop together. In doing so real progress will be made and people regardless of their political affiliations will engage each other for the common good of the society.
During the 13 months I spent in Tobago learning about my country, one of the issues I paid close attention to was that of income inequality. Closely related is the issue of human capital development and it appears that these issues are placed on the backburner. Also related is the issue of productivity in the different sectors of the society and value for money. In all the conversations I had so far with people on all sides of the political divide these are the key themes that resonates.
There is a misconception about the role of government. Social safety nets are important in any country but given the fact that we always in election and partisan modes despite how far away elections are, the social safety nets have become a form of dependency. Social safety nets are meant to protect the vulnerable such as children and the elderly, hence the reason for programs such as pensions and school feeding, but when young people are trapped into the dependency syndrome of the social safety net there is something wrong. It becomes more than an individual problem to the collective societal problem that require immediate attention.
“They haven’t taught us to dream,” was one the best lines I heard from close friend of mine on the night I arrived in Tobago a few days ago. We cannot write off an entire segment of the population and dangle the measly carrots in front of them out of fear of losing the little income they have. We must want for the children of others as much as want for our own and while socialist policies will not work, the children of the “have-nots” will engage in activities to get by some means even if it means engaging in criminal activities, petty and otherwise.
Human capital development is critical for Tobago at this current juncture in the development journey. When individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s are engaged in CEPEP and URP work, what kind of example this is setting for their children, what will be their aspirations? There are systematic failures in the education system that has failed these individuals and from a young age children are written off as societal baggage. When their children enter primary school, a stigma is already attached because of that their parents have not accomplished. Social reproduction is now extended to another generation and unless opportunities are provided, the cycle continues and development is stunted.
Even when opportunities are present, some people are intimated to engage the system for access. In the rural areas I was able to observe this problem first hand and people out of embarrassment will not make the moves to advance themselves. This is not a personal problem it is a literacy problem. No one wants to unnecessary stigma and the dreams, goals and aspirations they may have had would die with them.
The Tobagonian value of hard work has almost disappeared. Yes, there are individuals who still work hard, but as a collective people we are too comfortable with getting without the required effort. The society is quickly transforming and influences from all over the world affects us but our response to these changes is not as fast to catch up with the ever-changing world.
To be continued