Cheugy and the pork barrel

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By Tony Deyal

First thing this morning, an online US news source hit me with the word “twindemic” meaning not just the Delta and Omicron variants but COVID and flu spreading simultaneously. Yesterday, the same source published what is known as the WOTY for 2021. As a little boy with a lisp, I used to beg my mother for “woty”, meaning what people of Indian descent known as “roti” (flatbread), but this WOTY is the “Word Of The Year” and from what I have seen so far some of them are definitely un-woty.

Dictionary.com has chosen “allyship” as its word of the year. As a WOTY it comes from a worthy cause since, according to the Associated Press, following the summer of 2020 and the death of George Floyd, white allies and the word “allyship” proliferated as racial justice demonstrations spread. However, Merriam-Webster’s WOTY 2021 is “vaccine” with runners up “insurrection”, “cicada” and “perseverance”, something that I almost lost when I saw “vax” as the WOTY of the Oxford English Dictionary. The one that got me as the word of the year is something that many of us would not consider a word – “NFT”.

Anytime I see or hear an abbreviation with “F” in it I automatically think it is a way to incorporate a “cussword” but NFT means “non-fungible token”. An NFT (not to be confused with NFG) is a digital version of a collectable that can sell for millions. Examples include unique digital artworks, a one-of-a-kind sneaker in a limited-run fashion line, or even a ticket that gives you access to an event. This means that your ticket for next year’s Caribbean Premier League (CPL) will be an NFT.

One of the words that I like is “whataboutism” which is a technique that we have become extremely familiar within Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean. “Whataboutism” is the method or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter allegation. A claim that a minister profited or was seeking to make money from what his critics consider underhand or improper, is immediately and inevitably answered with, “You (or your party) did worse than that.” In fact, every parliamentary debate in any country of the region is an exercise in “whataboutism.”

Another political one I love is “astroturf” which deals with political efforts, campaigns or organisations that appear to be funded and run by ordinary people but are in fact not just backed by powerful groups but managed, designed and implemented by foreign “experts” in communications. There are also “blank check” companies and organisations, especially political ones, that give out “big” money just before an election. In fact, a recent election saw handouts aplenty days before the election. They were cheques that went totally unchecked.

This splurging, freeness, giveaways and inducements before elections have always been key features and factors in our regional elections. In Trinidad and Tobago it used to be “rum and roti” politics but now the menu and the “sweets” cost a lot more, most of them from the public coffers as the recent pre-election “windfalls” and “payouts” showed. I remember when political parties told their members, “Take whatever they give you- rum, roti, T-shirts, work, money and even women – but when the day come, vote for we!”

Many years ago, I was in a meeting of the General Council of the ruling party of the time. It had been in power for about 23 years and had just done very badly in a local government election. The “jefes” of the party were upset and spoke angrily about the people in the constituencies in which the Party had lost, deeming them “traitors”, “ungrateful” and even “nasty”. The talk was about “how much we give them and they still turn on we.” Several identified the largess, “We give dem road, we give them school, we give them water and put in pipes for them and they take all that we give them and didn’t vote for we!”

After several minutes of this tirade, I put my hand up and eventually the chairman allowed me to speak. I said respectfully that the old days of largesse, begging for favours and anatomy-kissing were finished. People no longer saw roads, schools, housing and water as gifts from a benevolent government but as rights that they worked for and deserved. I was shut down immediately with, “What kind of nonsense you talking? You against we or what?” and even, “Tony for an intelligent man you should know better. Politics is about pay-back.”

Now, 42years later the same party has done the same things almost the same way and lost eleven seats to one (14-1) in a pre-general election test in Tobago, the birthplace of the prime minister, chief justice and several other people who now have national power and status. The leader of the winning party who won the election is someone who is accused of several breaches of the law but this did not seem to matter despite all the warnings issued to the electorate by the party in power. In fact, the opposition leader advised the people, in what could be a tongue-in-cheek election quip, to vote for his party to win the local election because the ruling party will become so concerned about losing the general election that it would spend a lot more money on the people of Tobago over the next few years.

In political jargon, would the pork barrel be topped up even higher when the next election comes? Given that the government’s recent reduction of the value-added tax on pigtail did not make a difference in this election, one must wonder whether the government’s next step is to throw the whole hog in the ring. One thing they have to stay far from is what some Tobago people considered “hoggish” behaviour on the part of the government who, they claimed, treated them badly.

People in Trinidad now have to take a bird’s eye view of the Tobago results. They are already wondering whether the prime minister has been thrown to the birds or is now a lame duck. However, in the 2021 top new dictionary words, I have found one that is perfect to describe his situation. If we accept that a party which was in power for many years is now considered outdated and no longer regarded as cool, especially by the younger voters, it is “cheugy” (pronounced “choog-ee). Given that it was close to being a word-of-the-year all we can say is “Cheugy, cheugy come for WOTY” and hope all the WOTY is not done.

*Tony Deyal was last seen hoping that what happened in another community after an election will never happen in Tobago. When a candidate not only lost the election but found out he had only got one vote, he went home and beat his wife.

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