By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ
(http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
On July 4, the Daily Express reported that Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi, expressed concern about the high levels of poverty still existing in Trinidad and Tobago. He said: “San Fernando West, for those of you who don’t know, has some areas of poverty that would shock the living soul out of your body. You cannot imagine how much poverty exists in our country.
“The AG said this poverty is driven mainly by the failure of social services delivery, which has been ‘centralised for far too long. So Self Help (Commission) or the Ministry of Social Development or food cards…we don’t actually hit the targets in as timely a way as they ought to, with a degree of equity as they ought to, because the centralised officer sitting in Abercromby Street or St Vincent Street in Port of Spain does not know where Theresa Street in Marabella is, or some other place in Trinidad is.’ He said local government reform and the devolution of functions through the local government entities would solve this equity gap.”
I am sure that the AG is aware that there is also a need to evaluate the effects of all Government policies on poverty – particularly in light of our economic downturn. More than three billion people in the world live in poverty. In T&T, while we do not have up-to-date figures, it is estimated that more than 21 per cent of our population live below the poverty line, i.e. one adult living on less than around TT$1,230 per month.
Poverty strips human beings of their innate dignity. We have sufficient resources and must speed up the process of creating conditions that will enable all our people to live in dignity. We have a moral imperative to act. And let us remember that human development demands more than simply getting people out of the poverty trap.
This year our Church is observing the 50th Anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On the Development of Peoples. Paragraph 21 outlines clearly what Catholics consider to be human conditions. He said: “What are less than human conditions? The material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love; oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power, from the exploitation of the worker or unjust transactions.
“What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life’s necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go on to acquire a growing awareness of other people’s dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself, their author and end. Finally and above all, there is faith — God’s gift to men of good will — and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.”
Recently Pope Francis reminded us that “The goods that God the Creator has entrusted to us are meant for all… the intention to provide everyone with his or her daily bread is not enough. Rather, there is a need to recognise that all have a right to it and they must therefore benefit from it.”
Be viewing CCSJ’s ‘Ask Why’ TV programme on TCN/Channel 10 on Tuesday July 25 (8–9 p.m.) on the theme: Hearing the cry of the Poor. Use CCSJ’s prayer below and work to promote human conditions for all:
Creator God, you have given us, your children on earth, abundant gifts and resources which you want us to share equitably with all peoples.
Our Scriptures remind us in Matthew 25:31- 46, that on the Day of Judgement, you will judge us by the way in which we treated the least among us.
God of justice, open our eyes to see Your face in the poor, the marginalised, and those who live on the margins of society.
Soften our hearts so that we will demonstrate compassion and love for the poor and make a difference to their lives.
Give us courage to challenge structural injustice that denies the poor their right at the table of life.
Inspire us to devise strategies that will promote the dignity of each person, made in Your image and likeness.
We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.