We don’t all like it then


These Books Are Not For Reading was the name of the program I created as the centerpiece for an early career BBC producer training course. He won me plaudits for his technical skill, but more importantly was the novelty of the subject.

I had been to the annual antiquarian book fair in London and had come across exquisitely designed books with carved covers, extremely valuable books with gilt spines and exotic calligraphy, very old texts from centuries past and around the world, some in languages ​​hardly spoken today. What they all had in common was that their rarity value meant they weren’t meant to be touched or read, but to be owned, collected, and put on stylish shelves, behind glass doors in expensive homes and libraries in Dubai, London. , Berlin, Tehran, Paris or New York, or to be negotiated by old booksellers.

I was reminded of this creative little gem when I read a report last week on the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

The title was Memphis grabs a cocaine cookbook from Trinidad and Tobago.

It is well known that marijuana is served in many imaginative culinary ways, but I had no idea cocaine was so versatile. That may be the case, but that was not the story and there were no such recipes in the highly admired and widely used “Updated and Revised Edition” of Multicultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago & The Caribbean: The Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook, which was intercepted by CPB officials in Memphis, Tennessee in February.

Officers had opened a package described as a high school textbook and found that many of the 500 recipes and 32 color photographs were partially missing. The center of the book had been peeled off to hold a rectangular package of cocaine weighing 147.6 grams. He was from TT and headed to an address in New York.

The port’s regional manager had a sense of humor, asking rhetorically, “How did the recipient intend to cook his traditional callaloo, with all the pages cut out and replaced with cocaine?”

Good question. This was another case of a book not intended for reading.

My own sense of humor is always put to the test when the NGO that I chair, which develops and promotes Caribbean writers, books and literature, opens the majority of packages of books and large envelopes, and depending on the state of mind of the customs officer on the day, he would impose a huge tax or handling fee or seemingly arbitrary fee.

Some packages sent by promising writers submitting their new books for one of our prizes could cost our cash-strapped NGO three times the resale value of the book to receive it. Fees would include “online ordering” fees, VAT, handling fees, etc. None of this has anything to do with us, since we don’t necessarily order books or even expect them. We certainly don’t sell the books; instead, we donate them to the many entities that are short of books, including our national library service, which faces financial difficulties in purchasing books.

So customs might be looking for illegal imports, but the random charges make me suspicious.

Being suspicious, however, leads to paranoia. For example, to add another signer to our NGO account, our bank requires 12 items, including the last three years of audited accounts, a company utility bill, two pieces of ID for each signer, etc. . to avoid fraud. And yet, TT is still an above-average corrupt country, according to the Transparency Institute of TT (0 equals low, and we rank 41 out of 100).

Our former attorney general was right that streamlining processes increases efficiency and reduces corruption, but there is a deep-seated reluctance to regularize anything, according to a very senior public figure, because corruption thrives in cracks: hence the expression “we like it that way”. ”

It’s a cynical view, but the extreme measures imposed by the bank, stemming in part, I suspect, from the Nonprofits Act, and which the ex-AG called “necessary tools to root out embezzlement”, do not help in the ease of doing business or even effectively curb corruption. Therefore, these may not be the right tools – hammers for cracking nuts. Many good NGOs cannot meet these criteria, and this country badly needs their contribution to civil society.

So how do you strike a balance? Legislation sets standards and thereby changes society, but Justice Ulric Cross has always said that unenforceable laws are bad laws and have a counter-effect.

Let’s see what series of laws our newly appointed AG introduces. We are going through tough times, and putting grindstones around innovative necks is not the answer.

Public trust is also an issue. Our former AG believed that “what will take us from a score of 40 to 100 will be to see the judiciary render judgments on the thousands of cases that the police have brought to light”. Well, there’s nothing wrong with hoping.

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