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God Help Those…
Saturday, 9 May, 2020 Filed in: TGIF
EVEN BY TRINIDADIAN standards, which always manage to slip smoothly below the limbo bar, no matter how low you drop it, People’s National Movement Minister of Social Development Camille Robinson-Regis excavated a new low this week.
Indeed, even by PNM standards, that most moronic of oxymorons, her suggestion that religious groups set to receive $30m of public money to “feed the needy” would be kept in check only by “Almighty God” beggared belief. It was not the Fraud Squad, it would seem, but the God Squad that had the power. Almighty God, the minister said, was the “ultimate guardian against abusing funds.”
So much for Parliament. The Finance Minister short-changed.
Newsday’s Sean Douglas reported on Monday that 14 religious groupings would receive $10m each month over the next three months, for “food support to citizens and permanent residents adversely affected by covid19”, including migrants (for which read, “Venes").
The groups included Anglicans, Islam, Hindus, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Bahai, Orishas, Presbyterians, Catholics (still apparently recognised as “Roman” by the state), Rastafarians and “Evangelical” — a group allotted nearly $2m for themselves alone, but who, unaccountably, perhaps miraculously, had not collected their cheque up to presstime. (Pentecostals are not praised to the Heavens and celebrated on Earth for their aversion to accepting free money; indeed, most pastors require one-tenth of their congregants’ pretax earnings, handed over upfront, no receipt, as the price of admission to church services and/or redemption/heaven.)
Sub-groups within denominational headings received funds specifically for themselves alone, for distribution to the hungry and needy of all faiths. All Mansions of Rastafari, eg, got $69K. The Hindu Maha Sabha got a healthy half-million while the Muslim ASJA had to get by on a mere $200K.
The cheque written to the Jamaat al Muslimeen was, Sean reported, “unstated/uncollected”; Sean does not say whether the cheque remained uncollected because the Muslimeen felt it wasn’t high enough or whether the sum was unstated because citizens might question any sum at all being handed over to a religious group best known for their work with 114 needy young men in the bloody attempted coup in 1990.
Asked if the religious bodies might be dishonest, the minister replied, “I believe in God’s grace. I assume religious organisations are deeper in faith than I am” and would do “what is right, as God is watching them.”
Sean’s story does not mention whether the pastor who sought to exchange $29m in old $100 bills last year was, in the minister’s view, being watched by God sufficiently closely as to render any police investigation otiose.
If the religious bodies misbehaved, the minister said, the only consequence would be that they would “have to account to their God, and no other funding will be given.”
The only two consequences, then (a la Monty Python), would appear to be (1) holy roller fraudsters would have to answer, in this single state-subsidised instance, to the same God who authorised them to collect cold hard cash on His behalf every day of life and (2) they would have to be satisfied with only one state cheque, perhaps for an amount as trifling as the $2,574,257 the (Roman) Catholics got or the $1,980,198 pocketed, namaste, by the Hindus.
Even by Trinidad’s picking-topitamboo-with-a-pole standards, which have allowed to go unquestioned such bizarre statements as former Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s explanation that devastating flooding in Port of Spain was caused by rain falling in places it had not previously fallen before, Minister Robinson-Regis’s statement raised eyebrows en masse.
In all of Trinidad, only one person may have been thrilled: National Security Minister Stuart Young. Young Stuartie had attention shift away from him as class clown/Cabinet bobolee for the first time since he created, singlehandedly, a gratuitous conflict with Barbados in general and Market Vendor, the Bajan-dialect humorist commentator, in particular.
Perhaps Minister Robinson-Regis wished to imply a threat: “God help you, if you do the wrong thing.”
In the rest of the world, the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves”.
But, in Trinidad, the saying is really: “God helps those who help themselves to state cash.”
And the PNM helps those who help themselves by requiring them to account only to God.
BC Pires is starting the Church of the Latter Pay Day Saints. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at www.BCPires.com