Sunday 25th February , 2007

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Rent-a-tile riddum of de Imbert road

While the many were wining up in a band or otherwise “movin’ to de riddum of de road,” the brave few who downstaged the Carnival proved to be nervous souls alternately biting their lips and praying.

In the end, the open mikes picked up deep sighs of relief, even as officials rushed to clap themselves on the back and fill the air with claims for the “best ever.”

A good time was had by all, or so the authorised version said.

Having played mas with Tribe, Finance Minister Conrad Enill gave a rave review of new Port-of-Spain arrangements.

“There were no delays, no waiting; just a smooth flow...It was a great Carnival, indeed.”

Machel Montano is a party man in the Carnival sense of that term, and his dazzling successes made it for him an unqualifiedly great Carnival.

But in his seventh year as a mas player, he reported a different experience with Island People:

“You still had to wait on Charlotte Street to cross the judging point...and in general being on the road, there was just not enough room to party.”

So there was an instant PNM party line being pushed about the Carnival. From radio talkers to ministers, PNM people showed desperate eagerness to find and proclaim some success.

Other people, with choices about following such opinion leadership, could take it or leave it.

For the Government and its people, it had been a Carnival of greater or lesser political risk. The greater political risk, they judged, was to return to the Savannah and crystallise a pre-election image of failure to leave any mark on the Carnival.

The lesser risk was to pretend the Grand Stand had fallen down, that the age of the “Big Yard” was over, that Carnival needed a new hook-line; and to try something else, somewhere else.

The something else needed a new name, eventually spun out in the copywriter’s soca lyric of “Movin’ to de riddum of de road.” Thus was created and marketed a new Carnival myth: that “de riddum of de road” was somehow an advance over the rhythm of the Savannah stage.

More lyrics and more renaming emerged in NCC chairman Keston Nancoo’s message. “Monday and Tuesday,” he wrote, “remain dedicated to street dancing.”

Here was a new name (“street dancing”) for what was always called playing mas or jumping up in the streets!

It’s politics that would rule this Carnival; forget the merry monarch. As PNM ranks closed, a disciplined sentiment took hold: what’s not to love about the new arrangements?

Though crime fear had all but befouled the atmosphere, the biggest anxiety in ruling circles was the danger of a grievous political demerit accruing in an election year.

Raw nerves showed when published reports claimed more than 50,000 were flying out to escape Carnival mayhem.

Such an unhappy reflection on the administration’s credibility on security provision stung a prompt response from the touchiest minister of all.

Colm Imbert at once protested that the airports falling under his portfolio simply couldn’t handle that level of traffic.

In the now familiar pattern of state officials’ echoing the political office-holders, Police Commissioner Trevor Paul said on Thursday the people leaving town might be sorry they had done so.

Eager to defend his government’s image, the Transport Minister, however, exposed a vulnerable flank of his own.

A Guardian cartoonist obligingly took aim in a panel depicting bumper-to-bumper T&T traffic.

In the punch-line balloon, one occupant of a vehicle said to another about the 50,000-plus Carnival refugees:

“Common sense would tell yuh dey couldn’t even get to de airport in dis kinda traffic.”

That kinda traffic is the dread fate to which those of us still here are condemned.

As a successful entrepreneur told me last weekend, crime fear would not impel him to migrate; more likely, it would be the traffic.

The special-event, Carnival police show of force had its effect. The police reported low-intensity crime.

Slightly more arrests were made in Central than in the capital-city area.

“We got a few knives, but nothing to talk about,” said Senior Supt Walrond, Port-of-Spain Division commander.

Still, to Mr Imbert’s chagrin, there’s traffic to talk about. Foreigners, who will have heard reports of two days’ trouble-free “street dancing,” may be reading, too, about the constant gridlock on the roads.

“Congestion has turned what was a 30-minute drive to the airport into a two-hour slog during rush hour,” the international news agency, Reuters, reported last week.

It’s no doubt regularly worse than what the Reuters correspondent experienced. The Government has itself called congestion “an ongoing and ever-increasing problem.”

But Mr Imbert’s highest-profile solution is a rapid rail system connecting Sangre Grande to Westmoorings and San Fernando to Grand Bazaar.

A hotly controversial $7 billion project, it has been damned by local engineers and contractors, blasted by the T&T Transparency Institute—but fiercely defended by the minister.

He even called the organisations opposing the project fast and out of place to make unsolicited recommendations to the Government.

Transparency has sounded alarms about both corruption and workability: “The project seems destined to be a waste of taxpayers’ money...without any reasonable assurance that it will solve our traffic problems.

“At worst, it has the potential to become another Piarco project—to be a ‘milch cow,’ and ‘feeding frenzy.’”

As traffic jams worsen, the rapid rail project, should it take off, will not help matters till about 2013.

The Transport Minister, who jumped into the Carnival bacchanal, remains the true owner of a traffic problem with no end in sight, and with elections looming.

Until another year, the Carnival is over. Meanwhile, as we’ll keep seeing on Mr Imbert’s choked and polluted roads, there’s no “movin’ to any riddum,” and less and less movement at all.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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