Any Time is Trinidad Time

By Morgan Ramkallawan

Informal institutions shape formal institutions in ways such as creating or strengthening incentives to comply with formal rules. Helmke defines informal institutions as socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels. There are four types of informal institutions; the focus in this blog post will be on competing informal institutions. This occurs when informal institutions coexist with ineffective formal institutions: in such cases, the fact that the formal rules and procedures are not enforced permits actors to disregard them. Informal institutions can promote this behaviour.

An example of this is the concept of Trinidad time, culturally and even globally known as the inability of Trinbagonians to be punctual in almost every circumstance. Although Helmke distinguishes that informal institutions are not culture, “Trini time” is far more than culture, in certain situations arriving on time can lead to social exclusion. It is so heavily indoctrinated within the society, in almost every situation individuals are late and are expected to be late; for parliament, court cases, and even informal social gatherings. This is because, although the formal institutions are formed which include punishments for violations, i.e. code of conduct and therefore warnings for tardiness, it is hardly ever enforced. Specifically, with employers and employees recognizing that individuals would not arrive on time, there is an inadequacy of punishments for those who do not comply with these formal institutions, which has affected the productive capabilities of the twin island nation.

Projects end up taking a much longer period of construction given that deadlines cannot be met on time, thereby transaction costs rise, or in some circumstances, due to the competing informal institutions, some projects are outsourced to foreign labourers. Similar to a cycle, the absence of enforcement promotes the informal institution, the acceptance of tardiness overall preserves an ineffective formal institution. As the famous Lord Kitchener sang, “they tell you eight…they come half past late”.