Mon | Sep 21, 2020

Tony Deyal | Taking it light

Published:Saturday | October 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Normally, in the cut and thrust of Caribbean politics, any proposal by a government, especially in its annual budget, tends to generate more heat than light. However, this week in Trinidad, the light overtook the heat not by joules, not by amps, but by meters.

The minister of finance, Colm Imbert, while not perceived by many as the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, introduced among his many other financial measures before the next elections (local and national) a proposal to replace all incandescent bulbs with those that use light-emitting diodes, and not just LED the way but showed that his was truly the party in power. In other words, according to one of his detractors, he came up with the first really bright idea he ever had and made a switch.

The scheme (as some people call it), especially the statement that the government will provide the bulbs free, sparked a lot of debate not just in Parliament, but in social media, bars, and buses. Some citizens were quite shocked, including the leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who commented, “People want JOBS, not bulbs! And that was probably their brightest idea in the budget!”

Others lit up the social landscape by pointing out that the word ‘free’ was not appropriate because the money came from the public purse. One of my friends was concerned about the disposal of the old bulbs and the overall cost of the total project, which he estimated at TT$100 million.

“The man was mis-LED,” he quipped. There is still some hot LED to come since during Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s tenure as prime minister, the Ministry of Energy had done exactly what the present ­government plans to do and had gone around the country exchanging LED for incandescent bulbs.

Fortunately, having lived and worked in other Caribbean countries, I know watts watt. The LED project in Trinidad and Tobago is not new. The United Nations Development Project (UNDP), in conjunction with CARICOM, the UWI, private-sector groups, including the Trinidad company, HADCO, and the governments of the Eastern Caribbean, started the Energy Efficient Caribbean Lighting Project (CEELP) in 2014 “to catalyse the transition to low-carbon economies and sustainable energy sectors through the provision of energy-efficient lighting to communities” in that region. I was living in Antigua at the time and was happy that the street lights would be changed to LED. Even before the lights came and driving on the highway became easier, my eyes lit up.

As did many other Trinidad eyes that gleefully welcomed the announcement by the Illuminati, as the Government was now known, and the Illuminator, a nickname for the finance minister to add to his many others. One particularly bad comment, based on the commonly held view that the minister is vertically challenged, was that his proposal came up short.

To shed some light on what Trinis call ‘Old Talk’ and other Caribbean people know as ‘Chat’, The Illuminati were, and are, secret groups that are supposedly conspiring to control world affairs by masterminding events, and The Illuminator is an Art Collective that writes a couple of lines about any event and casts them in light on prominent buildings in cities around the world. One of their biggies that came up Trumps was “There’s a rapist in the White House.” I suppose if they were to post anything on walls in Trinidad and Tobago, it would be the question, “How many Trinidad politicians does it take to change a light bulb?” and provide the answers.

In wondering what The Illuminator would put on the walls, perhaps of the Parliament building, the Ministry of Finance, or even Whitehall, the office of the prime minister, I came up with a few that could be considered. However, what I regretted most was that all my research and ideas about politicians and light bulbs would have been unnecessary in a previous time when parliamentarians did not need outside assistance to verbally destroy their opponents.

Lacking that ability, some members of the present Parliament resort to childishness (“Shut your stink mouth!”) or accusations about impropriety that they cannot make outside the protection of the House.

One episode from the present Parliament typifies the lack of finesse. The prime minister, misunderstanding what a member of the Opposition said, angrily challenged him to meet “outside on the pavement” which, uncharacteristically, was not flooded at the time. Clearly, they need some illumination.

So how many Trinidad politicians does it take to change a light bulb? Here are some of the answers I have got from many different sources, including social media. How many? “None. They’ve already screwed up everything.” “None. They only screw up the poor.” “None. They will never allow change, even if it makes Trinidad and Tobago a brighter place.” “None. All they ever do is talk about it instead of actually changing it.” In fact, one person said, “They won’t change the light bulb because if people saw the light, they wouldn’t give politicians so much power.”

The best one was, “None. They will just sit back and do nothing for long enough and they will convince the bulb to screw itself.”

Then the numbers increased. How many? “Two. One to promise a brighter future and the other to screw it up.” In terms of Caribbean politics and what happens when one party replaces the other, the answer to ‘How many ...’ is ‘Two’ – one to change it and another to change it back again.”

Another is ‘Four’ – one to change it and the other three to deny it. The best answer I got was it would take three Trinidad ­politicians to screw in the LED bulb. Colm Imbert would stand on a ladder, holding the bulb under a socket. Another would call the nearby fire brigade to rotate the ladder with Imbert on it until the bulb was firmly attached. The third would summon the media, urging them to hurry so they could take pictures of the minister screwing in a light bulb to signal a brighter future for all.

Tony Deyal was last seen answering the question, “How many Trinidad politicians does it take to screw in a light bulb.” He replied, “Two. But don’t ask me how they got in there.”