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Raffique Shah


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Work, don't scratch

By Raffique Shah
January 31, 2017

I suppose I have become a cantankerous old geezer as I approach 71, and it shows in my intolerance for what I see as damn foolishness while other folks, many as mature as I am, see nothing wrong with things that irritate me.

Case in point is a National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) advertisement that depicts an unhappy-looking female clerical worker sitting at her desk watching work pile up, scowling but doing nothing.

Then comes the voice-over: Work is hard! Just scratch and win big! The sourpuss, lazy clerk morphs into a very happy woman clutching a fistful of dollars.

This ad appears many times a day on television, and, I imagine, on radio and in the print media. I find it offensive in the extreme, much like another NLCB promotion in which Santana advises Narine or some such friend to solve his financial woes by playing "fast cash" and win "every three minutes".

I need note here that the above are just two of NLCB's many games of chance that punters can play every day, several times a day. There are now four daily draws in Play Whe, Pick Two and Pick Four, one for Cash Pot, and a bi-weekly Lotto.

But the beckoning call, "Work is hard...just scratch and win" takes the cake. It's not-so-subliminal message to the average Trini is powerful and powerfully stupid. In a country where the work ethic is abysmally poor and productivity poorer, here's a State agency encouraging people to work even less, to "scratch" rather than produce—that when all Trinis revel in "sweet scratch". Ah lie?

What I find even more disturbing is that not one of the business chambers, which forever moan over low productivity, has voiced concern over the "scratch" advertisement. In fact, no one in Government has noted this flagrant assault on the already poor work ethic, far less ordered NLCB chairman Marvin Johncilla and his fellow directors to cease and desist from destroying what little work takes place to keep the economy barely afloat.

By their collective and deafening silence, I can assume that they all "like it so".

This must be the only country in the world where workers take time-off, several times a day, to "play ah mark". From what I know, even the bosses gamble, giving the "Play Whe crews" their numbers and money.

Now, people will say that gambling is a universal vice, common to all countries and cultures, and trying to curb it will only drive it underground, where it becomes more harmful. I accept this. Hell, most religions forbid gambling, but most religious persons, even clerics, try their luck, especially when the Lotto jackpot grows huge. I certainly did, two "quick picks", not expecting to win anything—and I never did.

My fulmination is not about gambling per se, but about gambling during working hours, about the impact it has on national productivity, and about insensitive NLCB bosses who promote "scratching" as the preferred option over working.

In the current extended economic crisis, if there is one switch that can turn around our fortunes, it is productivity. We have no control over oil and other commodity prices. We can improve oil and gas production, but not instantly. We cannot magically increase food production to meet even half our needs. And similar options in manufacturing, technology, will take time to yield benefits.

Productivity, however, lies in our hands, quite literally. From managers to menial labourers, if we decide that from tomorrow we turn on the productivity switch, we deliver 75 per cent of our ability, up from 25 per cent, we can turn around the flagging economy almost magically.

Public sector workers, who absorb at least $10 billion of Government's annual expenditure, could, if they improve delivery of services and efficiency in revenue-collection, justify their wages, salaries and perks, even earn bonuses. In industry, similar improvements would yield substantially more benefits to all stakeholders. The same would hold good for manufacturing, commerce, food production, hospitality, and so on.

In other words, if the NLCB were to reverse its stupid ad and make a clarion call to citizens to "work, don't scratch", and if leaders in the country could do likewise by inspiring people to give fully of their collective ability in return for the State meeting at least their basic needs, then we may well find a formula to curb crime and set the economy on a growth-path.

I have always been a dreamer, so maybe I'm just dreaming away—a luxury that is gifted to little children and old geezers.

But I'd rather dream than scratch. Scratching the NLCB way will leave me sore and minus many dollars, such is my luck, as are the odds in all gambling.

Productivity, in contrast, can be measured mathematically, bring tangible benefits to the country, and with a re-engineered social contract, deliver dollars to those who work, not those who scratch.

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