By Sunity Maharaj
Compulsive PR will be the death of us. Somewhere out there is a real country called Trinidad and Tobago, going about its business, living, working, loving, scheming. And then there’s an alternate universe, a concocted reality where the idiom of communication is the neutered cliché, and the image of progress is struck with a pose.
The question is: why? What lies behind this obsession for marketing and self-promotion?
Insecurity? The fear of what a ripped veneer might reveal? Nobody could be that bad to require that much marketing.
There are people in the Government who used to be good. What, then, could have so rattled their self-confidence as to have reduced them to such daily pappyshow?
Regrettably, the answer seems to be “Government”.
The unpreparedness for office has pushed the administration into make-as-if mode with its premium on high decibel volume, exaggeration, melodrama and repetition. In this make-believe world of make-as-if, myth makers rule supreme. But in the land of Carnival, where playing mas is a way of life and subversion with a smile is an artform, which myth maker could be brave enough to plot the orchestration of a nation? The inevitable result is delusion inside and ole mas outside.
Which brings us to the BP One Billion.
Collected by the direct hand of the Prime Minister during a lingering in London, we’re told this was money that had slipped through what was euphemistically described as a tax loophole. (No mention of how big a loophole is needed for a billion to pass.) The money which, one imagines should have been paid directly to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, is put into the hands of the Prime Minister during a photo-op as she bearded the multi-national in his den before returning home, cheque in hand.
Whatever the design behind the image, its reduction to a photo op in BP’s offices denied the Government a chance to address the real issues arising from the BP payment.
• What exactly was this tax loophole?
• What was the Government’s claim and what was the payment? What, if any, was the size of the gap between them?
• If so, was there a negotiated settlement? In whose favour?
• Were there penalties for late payment, or was the cancellation of penalties part of a “negotiated settlement”—assuming such?
• Do other oil company have outstanding tax payments? If so, what is the figure outstanding or claimed by the Government?
• In the period of negotiation with BP, what price was used to value the crude in calculating the tax?
• Has any oil company’s tax audits fallen so far behind that the statute of limitations has elapsed resulting in a shutdown of the State’s claim?
• How has the paralysis of the legally empowered Permanent Pricing Committee over the past ten years affected the taxation process?
• What is the pace of work at the BIR Oil Audit/Large Taxpayer Unit that it is only now resolving 2001 tax issues.
• What is the current level of expertise in energy taxation in the Government and what is the level of responsiveness of the taxation legislation?
These issues, and not the Prime Minister’s personal act of retrieval, are the substantive matters of public importance arising out of the BP tax payment. Yet again, in the obsession to make-as-if, the Government has disconnected itself from the real world of real preoccupations.
Which brings us now to Banwari, the Mother of Caribbean Civilisation (originally and predictably recorded as Banwari Man by the group of male archaeologists who found the skeleton in 1971.) Forty years later, the finding that threw the archaeological world into a tizzy, remains largely ignored and unknown in its own home. It is still rare to find a national who has even heard about Banwari. Last week at UWI, a group of students from the Department of Creative and Festival Arts were personally outraged at having been kept in the dark about their heritage. Sad but inspiring—because they really want to claim it.
It’s taken about six thousand years but the Ghost of Banwari is preparing to rise to reclaim her space in this land.
In the zoology Museum at the Sty Augustine campus of UWI, the skeletal remains of the person recogised as the oldest occupant of this land, rests in her burial site that has been transplanted fom Banwarie Trace in Penal, the constituency of the Prime Minister. For every one of us who later came here and now lay claim to this land, whether from Africa, India, Europe, the Middle East or wherever, this is where the Caribbean part of our ancestry begins. We may have travelled to the Caribbean on different ships but once we joined the stream of Caribbean history we became united in Banwari. She is the Caribbean ancestor of the Caribbean people.
As a people in search of a basis for nationhood, Banwari offers a point of unity from which to begin the journey to a common Caribbean homeland. Which is why it is such a scandal that this ancestor, discovered lying crouched on the left-side a mere 20 centimetres beneath the surface since 1971, remains unknown and ignored in her own homeland.
The generations of students passing in and out of UWI have no idea of this priceless archaeological and spiritual treasure lying in a bed of dirt under glass in the Zoology Museum. It is possible that not even Ministers of Education and Culture have known about her either. Nor might they have cared had they been informed.
The story is told about one government minister in another administration who, in response to a demand for a meeting by a group from the Amerindian community, asked intemperately: “Allyuh still around?” True, almost extinct, but hanging in there, they might have replied.
(See Page 8, The Warao Case).
For lack of a suitable space, archaeologist Peter Harris and his team brought Banwari Woman to UWI from her burial site in Banwari Trace, San Francique in Penal. It is a community in the Siparia constituency represented by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the past 16 years. Lucky for us, Mother Banwari has a champion living not too far from her home. Trinidad survives because of extraordinary people like Angelo Bissessarsingh. At age 28, Bissessarsingh has lived an entire career in history and archaeology, never mind that his day job is as a planner in Local Government. His infective passion is beginning to bear fruit. He has succeeded in convincing the Government to put some money into securing the Banwari site and building a research centre at the location which is an archaeologically fragile area that needs much protection. It is a start but nothing close to approximating the real value of Banwari Woman, as national treasure and archaeological wonder.
The earnings potential alone for a historical figure, dating back 6,000 years, and recognised as the first to set foot in a land to become the Mother of a civilisation is probably astronomical. But that would be nothing compared to the value of her potential for bringing all her children together, like the classic West Indian mother, willing to open her home and her heart to all who land on her doorstep. For us, people born of division and strife, it could be the start of something good and healing. For this, however, we need, not a CEPEP response to Mother Banwari but a project to launch a civilization. Something real, not mere PR. In this, BP’s One Billion, siphoned over time from Banwari’s ground, could be a a good way to start. Poetic justice, if you will.