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A case of skewed priorities

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Several years ago I was commissioned as part of a two-person team to research and write a history of the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society (TTCS). During the latter half of 2007, my colleague and I combed through documents and conducted interviews, constructing a narrative on the origins, as well as the ups and downs of this seldom-praised NGO.

Admittedly, this was not an easy task. A lot of the organisation’s records were lost, having relocated its office several times; and many of its founding members had moved abroad, passed on, or simply couldn’t remember. After many months of work, the final result was a book titled, Recapturing Memories of Yesteryear.

Looking back on it, I wonder if that tome will be all that’s left of TTCS. The organisation, like the patients it serves, struggles to survive against difficult odds.

Last week Monday, the T&T Guardian published a story featuring Dr George Laquis, the Society’s current president, who revealed that the organisation had not received its annual subvention from the government for the past three years. Altogether, it is owed a total of $6 million.

In the interview, he presented the juxtaposition that financial resources were being applied to entertainment ventures (he cited the Chutney Soca Monarch competition, alluding to the fiasco surrounding it) and not on one that’s dedicated to bettering the health of the population.

And as if to add insult to injury, on the day after, CNC3 reported that the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as part of the national development strategy project, spent $7.6 million on upgrading the pool and deck of the Hilton Trinidad.

Despite the claim of exercising frugality, the powers-that-be seem capable of doling out money when it needs to.

But if the before-mentioned instances are an indication of their priorities, then perhaps they have lost sight of what’s in the nation’s best interest.

At the risk of sounding facetious, if there’s one upside to this economic downturn, it’s the torrent of exposure that’s been given to our culture of fiscal irresponsibility.

Perhaps we have the omnipresence of both news and social media to thank for that; after all, nothing grabs attention like scandals and bad decisions.

But put aside the fact that we’re in the midst of a recession, as well as the knowledge that corruption is a pervasive problem, and what we are left with is the bitter truth that we seldom get our monies’ worth.

Consider that the civil sectors that receive the largest budgetary allocations—national security, education, and healthcare—are the ones with the poorest performance and have shown the least improvement over the years. It’s quite the contradiction and should be taken as proof that simply throwing money at a problem isn’t going to solve it.

This is made even worse by our government’s penchant for initiating expensive programmes and building projects. Millions, if not billions of dollars, have been wasted and there is little to show for it.

That’s why NGOs, like the TTCS, are much-needed alternatives for the national community. Beyond the bureaucracy and the pettiness of politics, they are able to provide essential social services to needy citizens. When interviewing Dr Laquis for the history book, he described the role of the Society as part of the “overall mosaic of dealing with cancer.”

And since its founding in May 1970, the organisation has worked tirelessly to educate, treat and comfort those who are afflicted with this terrible disease. One of its crowning achievements being the opening of the Vitas House Hospice; a project conceived by Dr Laquis and carried to fruition by Dr Jaqueline Pereira-Sabga.

There’s no disputing that times are hard and expenditure needs to be cut.

But this is not one of them. It is my hope that the government fulfils its end of the agreement and continues to provide the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society with the subvention as well as all monies owed.

Otherwise, it too will end up becoming nothing more than a “memory of yesteryear.”

Ryan Hadeed


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