Agents of the State

Two encounters in the past few weeks have had me considering the kinds of people that we have as “agents of the State.”

Scenario 1

As is typical of Trinidad and Tobago, the inefficiencies in our various public utilities may result in the occasional day where (although your bills are up-to-date) you may be without both water and electricity. That is what happened in G****** a few weekends ago.

No big Trini Sunday lunch for us.

Pappy and I had to “hot foot” it to St. James, “the place that never sleeps,” in search of something to eat. We settled on a particular sandwich establishment because it was not very crowded and we had hoped to get through quickly with our order.

I have written at length about the many ways that Trinis can “buss” a business and operating on Sundays with the minimal complement of unenergetic staff members is yet another that I can add to the list. Needless to say, we had a long wait.

Two army officers joined the line behind me. One proceeded to talk loudly on his cell phone, employing the use of a number of expletives. I am no prude, but somehow I expected more from a man in uniform (but then again, our police officers usually do not conduct themselves any better).

What also bothered me was the fact that was when I finally got out of the restaurant, there was a big regiment bus parked up, evidently waiting for those two officers (I had overheard the same loud-talking officer telling the bus driver not to leave without them). What a waste of taxpayers’ money. Using the State’s resources to pick up your lunch (they were not ordering for an entire unit), using a diesel-guzzling fifteen+ seater vehicle to transport just three people.

The role of the army in Trinidad and Tobago really puzzles me. Its activities during 1990 attempted coup were in a protective/defensive capacity, something that I could reconcile with, but what about the intervening years? When do we see the army?: parades for commemorative days (Memorial, Independence and Republic Days), organized team sports (football, hockey), training people for march pasts (a terrible colonial practice), and of course, when the Ministry of National Security “ketches a vaps” and decides that the presence of heavily armed regiment officers on our streets would be reassuring to the public.

I am sure that there are officers with specialized knowledge (International Relations, Medicine, Engineering and the like) and technical expertise (firearms, computers), but those are not the faces that members of the public usually see.

We do not have a visible engineering corp (conducting necessary repairs on bridges, roads etc.), but we have athletic officers.

We do not have an army who takes umbrage to the fact that one hundred plus citizens have lost their lives to the criminal element this year, but we have a faction who was spurred enough by the loss of one of their own to resort to occupying a suburb.

We have Cuss-bud Officer in a sandwich shop.

Are the days of the educated, skilled and authoritative army man (or woman) whose names we knew, whom we held in high esteem, long gone?

Scenario 2

I was in the reception area of a particular Ministry department (do not ask why) when a messenger entered the room. The dialogue that followed had me totally appalled.

Messenger: I have a package for Name, Chief of… (name and post wrongly pronounced).

Is that you? (looking at the receptionist, dangling the package in her direction so that the address could be read)

Receptionist: No, I am not, but I can give it to her. (extending her hand out to take the package)

Messenger: Actually, I hadda wait for a response. (snatching back the package)

Is that the Chief’s office? (looking towards the suite of offices on the other side of the reception area)

Because I can just take it. (starting to walk around the receptionist, towards the offices)

Receptionist: (firmly) No, if you would just wait here, I will give it to her.

I thought they might tussle…

Messenger grudgingly gives over package.

Receptionist walks towards the offices, but stops when she sees a well-dressed lady walking towards her.

Messenger: (loudly) Is that her?!

Psst! Psst! (sooting the lady)

Lady determinedly continues to walk across the reception area, does not look up.

Messenger: (loudly) But ay ay! Look at her nah! Pretending she deaf when she well hear meh. And de ting is dat she have ears and a va**** (anatomical reference) like de rest of us!

GASP!

Sometimes you have wonder at the people who are employed in some capacity (whether as an army officer or an office messenger) as agents, representatives of the State. Have race, class, political considerations overtaken the need to attract the most suitable candidates? Or are the persons selected for such positions, just the best out of a bad bunch?

Mango





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~ by mangoandmosquitoblog on June 22, 2008.

6 Responses to “Agents of the State”

  1. Same ting I complain about all the time.

  2. my sister is always complaining about this…
    In Florida strangely its not as bad as it used to be,..
    The issue now is that you go to an establishment ..like the post office and the attendant speaks little or NO English..and rolls their eyes in disgust when you do not [or sometimes just choose to] respond in Spanish. This happens in the grocery store, book store, movie theatre..DOCTOR’S OFFICE…sigh…

  3. You have to remember that people who work as low-level functionaries in the State machinery usually don’t lose their jobs when government changes hands.

    Being employed by the state then, is not a real or true reflection of the person’s political affiliation, simply because they were probably doing the very same thing for the very same ministry when another Government was in power.

    Following my last point, you also really can’t say that the person who works as a messenger got the job because of their race… and the class thing is obvious. How many Westmoorings residents do you know who work as messengers and couriers in the Government service?

    That person’s behaviour is a reflection of him and him alone.

    Remember that the next time you run into someone behaving uncouthly.

  4. Oh… my mouse slipped.

    Great blog, btw. You sisters write really well.

    Check me out at http://boboleechronicles.wordpress.com if you can.

    I’m always looking for comments, tips and critique from good writers like yourselves…

  5. Thanks to my fellow bloggers for all of the responses. I gather that we have some peeves in common…

    anonyjw: I am prone to making sweeping generalizations! Call it creative license if you will.

    You are right. I have worked as a State employee and I can say with confidence that political affiliation had nothing to do with my appointment.

    During my tenure at one government office, we had a perpetually tardy telephone operator who could not speak well (speech impediment) and a driver who could not drive well (license had just settled into his wallet). My superiors at the time did not see it fit to cut short the contracts of those individuals. To my knowledge, they simply opted not to renew their contracts, without complaint to the Service Commission (or even without tactfully suggesting the need for further training). At least one of the two have gone on to work in a similar position at another State institution.

    To my knowledge, Service Commission makes little inquiries / conducts few investigations about applicants.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, government workers, regardless of skill, have amazing job security. Once you are in the system, very few acts on your part can precipitate your exit. No one cares enough to complain about ineptitude, no one cares enough to act on such complaints. And so continues the issue of poor quality staffing in State offices.

    Mango

  6. Oh geed, you mean you don’t “support the troops”? I have just finished having my head banged into the wall with the repetition of support the troops, support the troops. No seriously now, I am glad to see someone who will not be dissuaded by the propaganda and write a critical reflection such as yours. Nice to “meet” you blog by the way.

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