Sunday 28th September, 2008

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Shadowy healers of T&T's sin-sick soul 

Dust stirred by the budget had hardly settled when a Jamaican filly called Pride ‘N’ Glory, ridden by a Venezuelan jockey, gloriously kicked up her heels to win the Royal Oak Rum Derby Stakes.

Santa Rosa Park in Arima was the setting for this Caribbean celebration of horse-race-gambling and rum-drinking, which counts as the only Republic Day tradition invented in Trinidad and Tobago.

Pride ‘N’ Glory’s  owner won a $500,000 “purse.”  Lesser stakeholders made Superfecta and Trifecta gains of $727.60 and $187.60.

When the Derby “duel in the sun” looked like a close finish, “the massive...crowd went into a frenzy,” Newsday’s Midas reported.

Cancelled by the Panday UNC, the public holiday was gratuitously reinstated in 2002 by the Manning PNM. As before, Republic Day remains without a significant agenda, official or other.

Trinis, however, need no invitation to embrace free-time opportunities to free up. The PNM’s Vision 2020—recognises T&T as a “fun-loving” society, while exhorting it also to become “disciplined” and “caring.”

PNM scripture may thus be quoted for devilishly irreverent purposes, such as taking a stand for an inalienable right to drink rum in the sun, and bet money on horses racing in the dust, or on Play Whe marks prompted by dreams. 

Rum, and fun, and the thrill of a flutter on a horse or a mark, or a spinning wheel, should be part of the official recognition of what the T&T experience is all about.

But no.

The amiable face of Karen Nunez-Tesheira, reading a budget for what she (inexplicably) called “the new PNM administration,” turns out to be a mask for Patrick Manning.

The Prime Minister’s born-again passion, infamously ministered to by pastors and prophetesses, translates into a healing mission for the sin-sick soul of T&T.

His passion and mission constitute a lively force armed with the power of the state.

Ms Nunez-Tesheira was really advancing Mr Manning’s iron-fisted view of the supposed evils of gambling.

A little noted coda near the end of her budget pronounces an unsupported assertion, like a curse, against “the negative societal impact that an unregulated casino gambling industry is having on certain segments of the population.”

Now, this is really an article of faith, lacking requirement of proof.

Nowhere, not in the 2007 PNM manifesto, nor in any public admonition or consultation, have the alleged social evils of gambling been identified and discussed.

The Manning anti-casino certainties, alarmingly given voice in 2006, were downplayed for the purposes of the 2007 election.

Arising from those certainties, the fatal dispositions for the gambling industry return now as revealed truth from a ministerial mouthpiece.

Faith-based policy requires the National Lotteries Control Board to pursue “the specific aim of eliminating all its games of chance within the short term.”

High-end gamers cruising the Woodbrook casino strip, and the little people lining up at NLCB kiosks across the country are equally targeted as alleged victims and vectors of vice.

The NLCB has been ordered to convert itself into a ticket agency for buses and ferries and water taxis.

Few people appear to be paying attention, and many of even those refuse to believe what they hear.

Meanwhile, the Manning administration marches on with its social (and cultural) engineering.

The sensational aim, the sleeper in the project, is to eliminate gambling from the “fun-loving” T&T character referred to by Vision 2020.

As yet, the Government has not taken aim at the horse-racing sport of kings and presidents, which is supported by Royal Oak, White Oak, Blu Vodka, 1824 and 1919 brands of Angostura rum.

To that extent, suppression of gambling implies a crackdown on liquor.

Sports Minister Gary Hunt’s terms and conditions this year sought to forbid liquor advertising at Hasely Crawford Stadium events. It was a shot across the bow for Carib and Red Stripe, two beer brands that have sponsored regional cricket and supported other sports.

The abolition of gambling never emerged as a plank of the 2007 campaign, which, as Ms Nunez-Tesheira claimed, delivered the PNM a “resounding mandate.”

Personal piety is elevated to public policy. The Government bids to steal a march on the rest of us.

We remain confounded by the obscurantist  judgment that seeks to criminalise the heretofore harmlessness of betting on a dream, or wagering a dollar to win a million.

Unclued about unintended consequences, the Manning administration, so far from eliminating people’s urge to gamble, will only push the practice underground.

The old, long-criminalised, Whe Whe, never entirely displaced by the legal Play Whe, is due for a flourishing revival.

Policy thus produces more work for the police, already over-extended and under-resourced, as murder and other crime proliferate.

An elite reserve army already exists for deployment as expeditionary force against vice.

It is Sautt, the Special Anti-Crime Unit. The well-resourced, high-tech, secret service, created by the Manning administration, has ominously figured in the front lines of raids on alleged sexy hot spots such as Villa Capri in San Fernando and Copa in Port-of-Spain.

Sautt, future gambling ban enforcers, were the only policing operation praised in the Manning-Nunez-Tesheira budget.

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