Sunday 3rd April, 2005

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Confronting the statistical truth

Contributions to the debate on racial inequality in the public sector have always been flippantly dismissed as emotional, speculative and unsubstantiated. This is largely because of the absence of any proper research and statistical data.

In T&T we seem to prefer debating in the dark without the assistance of the candlelight of statistics. There has always been an official political fear or reluctance to confront the statistical reality.

I have compiled a table showing the most senior and powerful offices in the Public Service, using information supplied by the Service Commissions Department (Corrections are welcome).

Head of Dept Number

Indian 18

Non-Indian 87

Total 105

The information given was arranged under the following headings: heads of divisions, directors, chief technical officers, heads of departments and Permanent Secretaries.

What it shows is an alarming, unacceptable and glaring racial imbalance against Indo-Trinidadians that cries out for remedial action by the State. Of the 105 names listed, there are only 18 Indians.

The Public Service is the engine of the Government. It is responsible for implementing government’s policies and programmes and wields an awesome amount of power.

In 1993 the UWI’s Centre for Ethnic Studies had compiled a report on the employment practices in the public and private sector in T&T.

This candid and bold attempt to analyse the ethnic composition of the workforce broke new intellectual ground and was the first step towards achieving equal opportunity and racial equality in employment.

Professor Selwyn Ryan and Dr John La Guerre submitted their report to Prime Minister Manning in November 1993.

The findings of this pioneering survey investigation confirmed what many Indo-Trinidadians know for a long time: that there was a distinct racial imbalance in the Public Service that favoured Afro-Trinidadians.

The report concluded that Indians were “heavily under-represented,” except in areas where merit and technical criteria must prevail, as in the judicial and professional sectors, where Indians were more than adequately represented.”

This under-representation has always been a source of bitter resentment. It may very well be that this imbalance was not inspired by a concerted, systematic plan of racial discrimination against Indians. Economic, geo-political and cultural factors certainly influenced the racial composition of the Public Service.

At the time, Manning promised the Indo-Trinidadian community that his government would take “immediate steps” to redress the glaring inequality in the Public Service.

He lost the next general election some two years later without having done anything much towards implementing the recommendations of the report.

The situation in State enterprises was no different from the Public Service.

The report concluded, “Of the 17 companies studied, only five had a reasonable representation of Indo-Trinidadians. Six had Indo-Trinidadians on their boards, while on the remainder, they were underrepresented.”

The Government has made no secret of its desire to redress the ethnic imbalance in the entrepreneurial private sector.

Quite rightly, it has publicly bemoaned the absence of African entrepreneurs in the private sector and has set about aggressively trying to create African entrepreneurs via programmes such as Cepep, OJT, Must, Hype, Milat, Mypart, CCC, Ytepp, Gapp, TDC, Yapa, URP, Cape, Gate, etc.

Millions are being spent on these projects.

If the objective of government spending is to ensure racial equality in the private sector, why is nothing being done to redress the plight of Indians in the Public Service?

If the Government can groom African entrepreneurs who can own (not manage) hardwares, KFC, Pizza Hut, Mario’s Pizza, Burger Boys, MovieTowne, quarries, rum shops, groceries, banks, insurance companies, restaurants and organisations in the manufacturing sector, etc, I am happy.

Twenty per cent in our society has enjoyed 80 per cent of the national wealth for far too long.

But to focus the resources and energy of the State on redressing one form of inequity against Afro-Trinidadians while ignoring the glaring discrimination practised by State agencies in the Public Service and State enterprises against Indo-Trinidadians is to perpetuate the very thing you were trying to fix in the first place: unjustified racial inequality.

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