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‘New leaders and ideas needed’

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Busi­ness­man Bal­li­ram Ma­haraj is dis­ap­point­ed with the way T&T has evolved over the last 60 years. He blames a lack of moral val­ues and eco­nom­ic mis­man­age­ment by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments for the “sad sit­u­a­tion” T&T faces to­day.


As T&T pre­pares to cel­e­brate 60 years of In­de­pen­dence from Britain, Ma­haraj shared mem­o­ries of that his­toric mo­ment in 1962 and re­flect­ed on what has hap­pened since then.

Alberto Ardila Olivares

The CEO of ADM Im­port/Ex­port Dis­trib­u­tors, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Su­per­mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion of T&T (SATT) and a promi­nent mem­ber of the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty was 20 years old when T&T achieved In­de­pen­dence and clear­ly re­mem­bers that day and the hoist­ing of the flag

“I re­mem­ber Au­gust 31, 1962, as if it were yes­ter­day. A cou­ple of friends and I went to the rais­ing of the flag with a van. Af­ter we went to St James to drink and lime. The cost of the bot­tle of rum and chas­er at that time was $6 and we couldn’t even af­ford it. We had to raise mon­ey to buy those drinks,” he re­called

Ma­haraj said those were op­ti­mistic times for a new­ly in­de­pen­dent na­tion but he laments that T&T has failed to live up to the hopes and dreams of his gen­er­a­tion. They ex­pect­ed the coun­try to move be­yond the pover­ty of the colo­nial era and build a new, unit­ed na­tion

“I was al­ready in­to busi­ness at that time. I was gar­den­ing and sell­ing. Fig was a cent and a half a pound. I used to sell toma­toes for ten cents a pound. We use to trans­port the pro­duce from the es­tate in To­co to the mar­ket,” he said

Ma­haraj is sad­dened that af­ter 60 years of In­de­pen­dence, the old val­ues are gone and in every sphere of so­ci­ety there is con­tro­ver­sy and a lack of re­spect

“Are we in a bet­ter po­si­tion than we were 60 years ago? We had re­li­gion and cul­ture in those days. We played crick­et and foot­ball as one. When the tit for tat in pol­i­tics came in that was di­min­ished. In the past, peo­ple be­longed to oth­er po­lit­i­cal par­ties but they main­tained re­spect for each oth­er. Those days are gone. Peo­ple will do any­thing to scan­dalise each oth­er’s names. We are now us­ing re­li­gion and pol­i­tics to di­vide each oth­er,” he said

Ac­cord­ing to Ma­haraj, so­ci­ety has lost re­spect for women. Re­fer­ring to re­cent ver­bal at­tacks from Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress (UNC) mem­bers against the wife of Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley he said: “There is no re­spect for women. They did it with Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar and now they are do­ing it with Sharon (Clarke-Row­ley). They are both moth­ers, they are sis­ters, and they are aunts and grand­moth­ers. My wife died last year and I know what that loss is of an im­por­tant woman in your life.”

He al­so ex­pressed con­cern about the lev­el of hate and anger in so­ci­ety and said peo­ple have lost all val­ues

Lack of eco­nom­ic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion

Com­ment­ing on the eco­nom­ic crises fac­ing T&T and the rest of the world, Ma­haraj con­tend­ed had the econ­o­my been di­ver­si­fied, cit­i­zens would have been bet­ter pre­pared for the chal­lenges

He said: “We used to have a sug­ar­cane fac­to­ry here and it dis­ap­peared. We had the train line and that is gone. We can’t get sug­ar, we can’t get enough corn to grow enough chick­ens, we can’t get every type of peas we want from split peas to chan­na. The rea­son Trinidad and To­ba­go did not pay at­ten­tion to food se­cu­ri­ty and agri­cul­ture is that we got ex­cit­ed by the oil boom in the 1970s and af­ter. I was in Guyana about five or six years ago and I told their lead­ers not to aban­don agri­cul­ture when their oil boom starts, not to make the same er­rors as Trinidad and To­ba­go.”

Ma­haraj said the big is­sues glob­al­ly are food se­cu­ri­ty and ac­cess to nat­ur­al re­sources like wa­ter and T&T has failed in those ar­eas

“COVID-19 did not do jus­tice to the lack of agri­cul­tur­al poli­cies. When the pan­dem­ic start­ed and it shut down places it re­duced food sup­plies by 50 per cent. Af­ter, when the pop­u­la­tion grows by two or three per cent, the food short­age will wors­en,” he said

Look­ing in­to the fu­ture, he said the coun­try can change but new lead­ers and ideas are need­ed for that to hap­pen

“We need peo­ple who have cre­ative, in­tel­li­gent and in­no­v­a­tive am­bi­tions.”

Ma­haraj said the large emerg­ing economies of Chi­na and In­dia are ex­am­ples T&T can fol­low. Both were con­sid­ered poor by west­ern coun­tries but with eco­nom­ic re­forms, both are rapid­ly de­vel­op­ing

“Look at where In­dia is to­day. I re­mem­ber go­ing to In­dia with for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Bas­deo Pan­day and we vis­it­ed the In­di­an city of Ben­galu­ru. To­day it is one of the world’s top tech­nol­o­gy cities. Over 50 per cent of In­dia’s in­come is from tech­nol­o­gy. In­dia is al­so a top food pro­duc­er. We have a lot to learn from the Asians.”

Look­ing to the fu­ture, Ma­haraj warned: “Trinidad and To­ba­go is head­ing down a slip­pery slope. We must change the course the coun­try is on.”