With the rapid pace of news events, the recent celebration put on by government at Mid-Centre Mall may seem as history, albeit recent history. Yet, ancient Roman history cast a long shadow on the occasion as it has done throughout the fifty years of our independence. Still, its vivid presence at that gathering was without precedent. And, even for the sympathetic on-looker, this meant coming to terms with the fact that the change hoped for was nothing but an illusion and the reality that all the confidence tricks stretching back over two thousand years are very much alive in the present.
As I watched this People’s Partnership Government mark its second anniversary in office with its well choreographed celebration, it was clear that this was no pedestrian ‘rum and roti’ affair to which we have grown so accustomed. This celebration, according to its spin doctors, was an occasion for the government to account for its stewardship thus far. Strangely though, they chose to do so, not in the forum of the parliament where they can be challenged but instead, at a venue and an occasion specially designed to allow them to speak ‘at’ the people without the humbug of any such challenge.
What we witnessed was nothing but a classic presentation of ‘bread and circuses’ or if you prefer, ‘bread and games’. Its objective meant to mollify the anxieties swelling up in the breast of citizens of all race and class, and especially in the breast of the PM’s adoring claque.
Indeed, one leading member of the governing coalition was so passionate about the event that he made a very forceful plea to have one such celebration staged every month. In so doing, he was merely confirming the jaundiced view that in order to keep the masses comforted all that was needed was government sponsoring fete after fete after fete. These events, of course, are to be held under the guise of ‘accounting to the people.’
Recall as well, the other member of the government’s front bench that is hell bent on imposing an additional carnival on the country, this time in Tobago but who seems unable to draw and apply the parallel of his sinking ship metaphor to the vessel on which he is currently sailing.
As the droning went on, the ancient Roman formula, of ‘bread and circuses’ for controlling the masses, kept persistently coming to mind with the pac pac response that was part of the chorus of Shadow’s calypso Pay de Devil. So, I decided to google it.
What I found on Wikipedia was informative and on point. Thus, I decided, dear reader, to share it with you in an abridged and, in the PM’s language, a ‘reconfigured’ version. This, I believe, will help us put that event in context and see it as nothing but the replicating of a plan devised and practiced by Roman politicians in 140 B.C. to win votes by giving out cheap food and entertainment, according to Juvenal, a satirical writer of that time. “Bread and circuses,” he informs us, was the most effective way to rise to power.
It is a metaphor used for a superficial means of appeasement and was the basic Roman formula for the well-being of the population, and hence a political strategy unto itself. And, parenthetically we might add for our context, a means apparently believed to be essential to holding on to that power.
Politically, the phrase is used to describe actions aimed at creating public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy but through diversion, distraction, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.
It also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concern of the common man. It connotes a supposed triviality and frivolity that characterized the Roman Republic prior to its decline into the autocracy that marked the later Roman Empire circa 44 B.C. In modern usage, the phrase is taken to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life.
In short, the phrase is meant to describe a situation in which in return for full bellies and entertainment, the people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power. At Mid-Centre on the night of the ‘celebration’, the past seemed so very much alive in the present. The Romans slid from ‘bread and circuses’ to autocracy, is this the fate that awaits us?
Or, can we escape from the long shadow of the politics of exploitation of the common man into the bright light of a new dispensation that uplifts him into full and responsible citizenship in a truly participatory democracy? The reward for doing so will be that all of us regardless of race, colour, creed, class or geography will be elevated. This is a major challenge that every citizen must face as we enter the threshold of second fifty years of our independence.
Written by Clarence Rambharat (T&T Express)
Do not believe that the Senior Counsel noise will easily lead to change. The Law Association was pushed here before and nothing came out of it. The AG may wish to provide the data to show whether taxpayers are the ones paying out the bulk of fees earned by senior counsel and their juniors. That may answer the question of why the legal profession has, despite many urgings and Commonwealth precedent, failed to resolve the antiquity of the appointment of silk and the political control of it. What we may find out is that it is not the Senior Counsel earning the oversized fees but the juniors whose selection is entirely a matter of politics.
The Senior Counsel issue jolted former chief justices and eminent seniors but found the Law Association asleep: at best the Association was scheduled to meet one week later in emergency session.
The Law Association’s flat-footedness on the senior counsel issue brought to mind then Chief Justice Sharma’s speech at the opening of the 2003 law term. Sharma cited the work of writer John Mortimer and “a general decrease in the awe and wonder with which the population looks at its established institutions”. If, as people believe, the country has been set upon by pessimists, cynics and doomsayers, many of them have just cause. When a country’s legal profession equivocates while the reasonable man takes the fight to the politicians, what else is left to fall apart?
An important question to be asked is whether clients should pay the increased fees senior counsel are allowed to charge and the two-thirds of seniors’ fees charged by the juniors they are required to use. At the heart of our problem may be that the antiquities of the Senior Counsel title have made litigation expensive and this is not an issue the Law Association wishes to address with any urgency.
The solution is not to fix the process of appointment but challenge the need to confer the title and fee-earning power in the first place. The State has generated the most involved and complex litigation and legal work in the past 25 years. While the pool of Senior Counsel has been small, the pool of juniors commanding high fees from the State has broadened to include a range of experience, quality and areas of specialty.
But invariably, selection of juniors from that pool is heavily political and changes in government have led to changes in the fortunes of juniors.
So while attention is fixed on the appointment of Senior Counsel, the real action is in the selection of juniors who work with “seniors” for the State and earn two-thirds of the seniors’ fee. The public debate must be widened to the combination of political control of litigation and legal work, political control of the appointment of Senior Counsel, political selection of juniors to work with senior counsel for the State and the payment of increased fees to both categories of lawyers.
In that speech at the opening of the 2003 law term, Sharma reopened the Senior Counsel debate in this way. The UK had just started its review of the process for the appointment of Queen’s Counsel. Sharma remarked that “ever since we can remember, the gift of Senior Counsel was always in the Executive. Whatever the reasons, they are not necessary to find out or to rehearse, for it is now clear that in modern constitutional thinking and jurisprudence there can be no justification for politicians making the appointments.”
Sharma then said, “the fact that such an appointment should reside in the hands of politicians can be disconcerting as even a beneficiary might not be sure whether his appointment as Senior Counsel was on the basis of political patronage or merit. I, therefore, invite the leaders of the various legal associations to join with me in seeking to have this anomaly put right. The independence of the bar and, in turn, the independence of the judiciary requires that no politician should be involved in the appointment of Senior Counsel.”
The Law Association, through its then-president Karl Hudson-Phillips QC, responded to Sharma’s comments but eight years later the Association has not resolved even the narrowest elements of the debate.
Now the Senior Counsel debate has turned into a re-enactment of old class, political and North-South disputes. And the Law Association has a responsibility to retreat from this debate and re-examine itself. It is remarkable that from the outset the Association’s name was shoved forward as having been consulted prior to the recent appointments. The Association took more than a week to deny such consultation.
Keep in mind that this is a society, grown distrustful, not by choice but through a barrage of letdowns by people and institutions it has granted high esteem. Public confidence has been weakened not by distrust; distrust has developed through a weakening of institutions and people. Too many exemplars equivocate and too many have become dependent on collateral matters of politics, ethnicity and position in order to formulate opinion.
It seems inevitable that as a self-regulated profession lawyers must resolve the matter and there must be a balance between the profession and the public interest. Matters of fees must be resolved by market forces and the other factors directly relevant to the case at hand. In 2003 Sharma concluded his reference to the appointment of “silk” by pointing out that in the UK “there was some strong criticism from both professionals and members of the public in England who criticised it as being archaic and outmoded and was really seen as ‘a licence to print money’”. No one should be handed a licence to charge for historical factors, irrelevant to the client and the matter of junior’s two-thirds appears to be more urgent than the recognition of eminence.
• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer
Written by Clarence Rambharat (T&T Express)
I am left with this question: did Nizam Mohammed expose the UNC or upset it? Nizam’s submission to Parliament on ethnic proportionality was not accidental. It was grounded in the work of the AG, developed as a newspaper columnist, blogger and lawyer. The public must pay careful attention to see if this work is dead or if it will continue in anonymity and silence, advancing the so-called cause of Indians in a less obvious way. Or is it meant to advance a personal political agenda?
The AG is a well-known advocate of ethnic proportionality. But what is less obvious is that in almost every case in which he has written or spoken about ethnic proportionality, he has done so in the context of the PNM and its political power. In essence, the theory is that the ethnic imbalance in the protective services and other parts of the state and society is central to the political strength of the PNM.
I would imagine that logically extended, the AG’s view would be that rebalancing the ethnicity of the protective services and other parts of the society is central to building the political strength and national influence of the UNC, the country’s politics being irretrievably tied to ethnicity.
Based on that line of thinking, the AG has in the past been able to write on all the areas in which Indians are under-represented. My view is that some of this writing was not for the sake of advancing ethnic proportionality but reducing the perceived political power of the PNM and, without saying so, advancing the political cause he may be supporting at the particular time.
Now let me make this clear: in every society, equity, ethnic proportionality and non-discrimination are fundamental. In our plural society they are more tenuous and if they are left to seethe, they will sizzle and destroy. Two weeks ago I did not question the importance of what Nizam was saying. I challenged the fact that he was reporting on the submission made by another person to another public body; he had no data to support the statements; he did not discuss the matter with the other Police Service commissioners and, in any event, he was seeking to take on a fight that was clearly outside the PSC’s remit.
The AG is no stranger to the issue of ethnic proportionality. He has touched on the subject in at least a quarter of his newspaper columns and in almost every case he included a reference to ethnic proportionality and PNM political strength. In 2007 — the election year in which he eventually lost Tabaquite to former AG Maharaj — he wrote that “our country has two major races almost equal in numbers. The majority of Africans vote PNM and the majority of Indians vote UNC. Ethnic voting is a fact. The hierarchy of the police service is almost 90 per cent African from the rank of corporal upwards. Based on our history of racial voting the perception (and reality) is that African police officers vote for and support the PNM.”
And as a columnist he has said that “there is a growing perception among UNC supporters (the majority of whom are Indians), that there is a tacit political alliance between the PNM and certain high-ranking powerful officers in the police service.”
In advancing the link between ethnic proportionality in the Police First Division and public trust in the service, Nizam was in fact adopting one of the AG’s causes. It was the issue on which Nizam unsurprisingly laboured and then got pummelled. It was an issue which Ramlogan said in 2007 was central to the development of trust in the police service.
As he put it “the ethnic composition of the police service is fertile ground for this growing perception. Should such an important institution and pillar of our democracy not reflect the racial composition of our society? The perception that we have a PNM-friendly police service because of the conspicuous absence of Indian officers is not going to go away. Fear and respect for the police might make people reluctant to voice this perception, but it is there. The professionalism and integrity of our present officers is no answer to this problem of perception — remember that all-white judge and jury trial — they were not racial. It is crucial that the police service reflect the ethnic composition of the society that it has to protect and serve’. Ethnic balance inspires confidence and public trust.”
Now with Nizam gone and Anand Ramesar going soon we are left with a few questions for the PM, the UNC and the COP.
The first question is if it is true that Nizam got the inspiration for his description of the link between ethnic proportionality and public trust from within the UNC government, then does Nizam’s firing really bleach the UNC government of the statements made by Nizam?
Even if Nizam’s statement is not bound up with the AG’s views as a newspaper columnist, in what way is the UNC tied to the well established opinions and theories of its AG? Then, with the Government distanced from Nizam, what does the PM plan to do with those within the UNC structure, who have expressed similar views? Devant Maharaj, the chairman of the PTSC and a man who is noticeably silent on a cause he once fronted, has, for example, said the same thing Ramesar, Ramlogan and Nizam have said on ethnic proportionality. And finally, if only Nizam is condemned can it be said that Nizam’s views were intolerable from a Muslim but tolerable from the Hindus in the UNC — Ramlogan, Maharaj, Moonilal and Sharma, amongst others?
These questions are important because opinions and theories on ethnic proportionality must be shared by other members of the UNC, some placed in positions of significant political and decision-making power. And these opinions are not directed to advancing the so-called cause of Indians, but diminishing what is perceived to be the political strength of the PNM and advancing personal politics.
This was good news in view of the recent sacking of popular TV talk show host Fazeer Mohammed from the early morning program First Up aired by the state owned television station CNMG.
In reaffirming her commitment to the Fourth Estate, the Prime Minister would have been mindful of the loud public outcry against her immediate predecessor for storming into a radio station to chastise the hosts of a similar program for speaking of him in a manner which he found offensive.
She is certain to be conscious of the period during her political career when J.A. Bain presided over state owned TTT and Radio Trinidad forerunners of today’s CNMG. This was a notorious period marked by very tight control of the airwaves with privileged treatment given to the voice of the ruling party and government to the virtual exclusion of all other political voices.
Now, while the media landscape is decidedly different today, the context in which Fazeer was fired raises the spectre that new CEO Ken Ali might be the present day reincarnation of J.A. Bain and intends to manage the station along the same lines as Bain did.
During the Bain era, what was celebrated as a gain for the ruling party inevitably led to a loss for democracy. But, hardly anyone noticed. However, with today’s much more diversified media environment underpinning our democracy, such as it is; Mr. Ali will not be allowed to function on behalf of the PP as Mr. Bain did for the PNM.
The PM seems to understand this by the restatement of her commitment to freedom of the press. The public is sure to be comforted by this reassurance but would be keenly observing whether her Fourth Estate incantation would effectively exorcise all anti-democratic ghosts from haunting the halls of CNMG.
The Prime Minister, however, must not be shielded from the unvarnished truth that the cost of cutting Fazeer far outweighs any cost saving that the management of CNMG might achieve. She must also know that the public at large remains sceptical of all explanations thus far used to justify his firing, and that it is her government that will carry the cost for that decision for some time to come.
Louis Lee Sing and Nafessa Mohammed, Mayor of Port of Spain and Chairman of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation respectively, are engaged in major public squabbles with Minister of Local Government Chandresh Sharma.
The bone of contention is money to conduct the affairs of the respective local government corporations. The mayor has loudly expressed his dissatisfaction with the allocation given by central government for the running of the city while the chairman and minister are locked in battle over the construction of a new market.
As unseemly as these quarrels have been, I believe they can be beneficial to the advancement of our democracy. For starters, the mayor and the chairman, now in opposition, belong to a party that has dominated central government for over forty years. Under their watch, local government was deliberately kept in an enfeebled position totally dependent on central government. The effect of this is most visible in the neglect of communities in which local government was controlled by the opposition.
Today, with the shoe on the other foot, these two public officials are experiencing what their party leaders made others experience. They are having a taste of their own unpalatable medicine.
If through this experience however they, and the country as a whole, come to appreciate the importance of having strong local government that’s not so totally dependent on central government financing to provide the services required of them, then this would be an important forward step on our democratic journey. But this is not a guaranteed outcome; there is a fly in the ointment.
The new administration is sending mixed signals in its approach to local government. There is no clear indication that it will eschew the past practice of using central government power to dominate local authority and instead seize the opportunity to embed local government as the foundation on which our republican democracy will be built. Indeed, there are contradictory omens.
In its local government manifesto (LGM), the political leader of the ruling party and Prime Minister had this to say to party followers. “All of our supporters need to understand what is at stake here now. If we don’t control local government how will we deliver results? If we don’t control local government, who will be responsible for ensuring that your communities are kept clean? Who will be responsible for ensuring that your neighbourhoods are safe? Who will be responsible for ensuring that your roads are well maintained? Who will be responsible for ensuring that there is a well functioning health centre in your community? Who will be responsible for education, water distribution, pavements, street lighting and a whole host of other issues affecting your communities?” (LGM pg.3).
Here, the political leader’s view of local government is unambiguously stated. According to this view however, in order to receive the services mentioned, local government corporations must be under the control of the same political party controlling central government. This perspective is at odds with other manifesto statements committing the new administration to a genuine participatory democracy and expressing a more progressive view on local government.
For example, on page six of the said manifesto is the following statement. “We will enhance democracy by embracing the philosophy of meaningful Local Government. We maintain that the people are sovereign and that government is the servant of the people. This requires that the people be engaged in discussions on issues that affect their needs as far as possible within the democratic representative system. To this end, we must strive towards a system that is free of any encumbrances that can limit, undermine or marginalise the spirit of total participation.”
These are two very different perspectives. One concentrates power in the hands of central government. It advances the notion that in order for local communities to receive proper services, then the same party must be in control of both central and local governments. This is the philosophy of the former regime.
The other point of view recognizes power as being concentrated in the hands of the people. The people are sovereign and government is the servant of the people. It follows therefore that for meaningful local government to be achieved, it must be empowered to exercise executive control over all matters within its jurisdiction.
Which of these two perspectives will emerge as the hallmark of Mr. Sharma’s tenure as minister of local government? Only time will tell. At this juncture however, there is no evidence to suggest that he is committed to a local government reform agenda that deepens our democracy by empowering people in their respective communities through the devolution of power from central to local government.
On the contrary, his actions to date is more in keeping with the past practice of central government domination rather than being transformational and giving identifiable recognition to the concept of government as servant of a sovereign people. This domination by central government is seen not only in his actions in respect of the market issue but also in the statements in support of his actions expressed by the area’s parliamentary representative. The clear signal here is that all power must reside at the level of central government.
The minister may well argue that his government is committed to the full implementation of the Municipal Corporation Act (1990) which will strengthen local government. We can take him at his word.
But here is the rub. Should the 1990 Act be implemented and local government given the constitutional protection it deserves, then the new administration would have succeeded in closing the circle of governance as expressed by the PM during the campaign. In other words, local government, albeit a somewhat more robust one, will be firmly under the boot of the central government.
Yet, this need not be the case. The administration must be aware that, if the promise of constitution reform to ensure participatory democracy and citizen empowerment is to be fulfilled, then this would require the creation of new institutions and processes that give meaning to these concepts.
Constitutions however, are not only reflected in written text. They are also about the civic norms, values and practices we observe. There is no requirement therefore to await new written text in order to demonstrate commitment to establishing the people empowering democracy repeatedly spoken of by the new administration. In this regard it missed an ideal opportunity to signal its adherence to this commitment when it appointed mayors and chairmen following the recent local government elections. Instead of breaking new ground by choosing these high public officials only from among elected members of the councils, it stuck with the old elitist formula, in the majority of instances, of selecting non-elected members to these offices.
Had it broken new ground, this gesture would have been tangible evidence, albeit a small step, towards recognizing the people as sovereign. Once more we see the interest of the party superseding that of the people, and the interest of central government that of local government. So far, nothing has changed and our democracy remains in an arrested state of development.
Nonetheless, the squabbles between the minister and the political heads of the local corporations, and the fact that the administration is in the early phase of its tenure, provide an opening for a comprehensive debate on a new system of local government.
This debate will have to consider questions such as: How should local government be financed? Should it be self-financing to the maximum degree possible? Should the number of regional corporations be increased? Should any responsibilities, now in the hands of central government, be transferred to the regional corporations? For example, the responsibility for community and/or health centres, to name just two.
What legislative and taxing power should be held by local government? Indeed, how much power should be devolved from central to local governments?
On the issue of enhancing democracy and empowering people, should mayors and chairmen be elected by area residents to their respective posts? Should both local and central governments, adopt participatory budgeting as the method by which each arrives at an annual budget?
For those unfamiliar with this method, it is one which directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending priorities for a defined public budget. It engages residents and community groups, representative of all parts of the community in discussing spending priorities, making spending proposals and voting on them.
In this approach to budget making the voice and priorities of the citizen are made clear and the authorities held accountable. Further, the involvement of the community in this manner has the additional benefits of strengthening democracy, the communities, the nurturing of responsible citizenship while at the same time promoting transparency.
As the government rolls out its constitutional reform agenda, it will have to face all these issues. It is only then we will be able to gauge its true commitment to advancing democracy by entrenching the citizen as sovereign and local government as the bedrock on which that democracy is built.
When Finance Minister Winston Dookeran delivers the People’s Partnership inaugural budget on 8 September, the public will be looking forward to a clear and definitive statement on the nation’s finances. To be sure, there is a leaner treasury and with the rate of global economic growth for 2011 projected to be at a low of 3.3 per cent and the national rate 1.7 percent, it would be prudent for the minister to dispassionately lay out the facts as they are without any attempt to pander to special interest or populist sentiment. There is certain to be a great deal of interest in his report on the state of the economy.
In addition, the public will be anxious to hear the new policy initiatives the minister intends to pursue to ignite the process of economic growth and transformation in the face of the prevailing slowdown of the local and global economy, especially in those countries historically our main trading partners. Right thinking people would concede that in this, his first budget, he would have limited room to manoeuvre away from the legacy of the previous administration but will nonetheless be looking for the signals that would indicate a new direction.
Perhaps, he may have found both inspiration and solace in the participatory budget making methodology he utilized to develop the 2011 budget. This exercise, limited as it was, afforded him the twin opportunities of fashioning measures more in line with citizens priorities while at the same time being able to explain the factors that limit his present options. It would be a welcome departure if he were to fully adopt participatory budgeting as the standard method for determining future budgets for both central and local government bodies. This method will not only encourage the development of responsibly citizenship but also greater transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.
Mr. Dookeran has to bite the bullet. There is no doubt that our immediate future will be marked by tougher economic times. Slow economic growth and rising unemployment seem unavoidable in the short run. When this is juxtaposed against existing widespread poverty, the recent unprecedented floods, the poor state of our infrastructure and public health services, one can appreciate the difficult policy choices confronting the finance minister.
Still, the public will want a clear statement on the way forward. For example, what action will be taken on such hot button topics as property tax, minimum/living wage, and inflation? On the fundamental issue of economic diversification what measures will be put in place to begin shifting away from our dependence on the vital but unsustainable energy sector. Here, there can be no assumption that this is an easy task. But equally, there can be no denial that sensible and far-sighted economic management demands that policies be put in place to effect a transition away from the energy economy and lay the foundation for a robust, sustainable and competitive onshore economy. This is an admittedly difficult but necessary task that must be a high priority for this administration.
I will be listening carefully to hear the minister’s policies on economic democracy, income inequality and on the green economy. I am anxious to hear how he will restore investor confidence and induce members of the local business community to unlock their purses and invest more in the domestic economy; to hear his statement on the impact of crime on the economy.
Whatever are the minister’s plans and policies for economic transformation however, I believe they can all be subverted if he fails to deal with the critical issue of increasing labour the productivity while simultaneously reducing the rate of inflation. At present, there is too great a divergence between the level of productivity and the cost of labour. This divergence is fuelled, in no small measure, by our rate of inflation which is simultaneously driving up the cost of living as well as the cost of production. Wage rates therefore, have become, not unreasonably, linked to the cost of living, hence the living wage that bears no real relationship to either productivity or skill. This situation has had a severe negative impact on agriculture and the small business sector of the economy. It must be addressed and redressed as part of any policy for economic revival. I await Mr. Dookeran’s budget.
The People’s Partnership is firmly in control of the political arm of the state. And, the exercise of governmental power is now its unambiguous prerogative having obtained decisive majorities at the polls for both the central and local levels of government.
This unprecedented power, and the still-present goodwill existing amongst the people at large, provides the new administration a golden opportunity for widening and deepening the country’s democracy. It has an exceptional opportunity to entrench meaningful citizen participation in the public affairs of the Republic.
If this power is used wisely, the administration will be able to transform the political and economic landscape in a direction that offers greater protection to the country’s evolving democracy and establishing institutions that promote greater economic and social justice.
Objectively, the only real political challenge to the new administration retaining this power, in the short to medium term, stems more from how it manages its internal tensions which are becoming more apparent, rather than from any external threat posed by the parliamentary opposition.
Retaining that power, and trust of the people, does require its leaders to understand that the Partnership represents a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Failure to comprehend this would be a colossal failure to discern the basis on which it was elected to office. No single part can effectively stand on its own, or be taken to represent the whole.
In these circumstances, the new administration will do well to meditate on Shakespeare’s advice that: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
The leaders of the PP will do well to be wary of becoming intoxicated by the degree of power they currently wield and instead should be humbled by the knowledge that there is a more vigilant population waiting, in hopeful expectation, to be reassured that its leaders would not miss the tide. Since if it is missed, not only would the population experience a great loss of optimism and hope for a better future, but its leaders would be certain to incur the people’s wrath. After all, a significant part of the support it received was given only conditionally.
Madam PM the fault lines are visible and impacting on your government’s ability to effectively take charge of governing the country. This situation imperils your government.
The present internal struggle for dominance within the PP appears to be identical to the one that took place within the NAR. I trust that the PP will not come to the same end; and that the wisdom of Shakespeare’s advice will be heeded.
Each July, I endure the anniversaries of two of the darkest days of my life. For me, these are days of great anguish. Not only over the deeds themselves, but also how, as a nation, we have treated with them.
The first of these is July 16, the date in 1996 on which my housekeeper/manager was murdered. This crime remains one in a long catalogue of unsolved murders in Trinidad and Tobago. Every Commissioner of Police over the fourteen year period has assured me that this case file remains open. Trouble is, no one seems to be reading it. The present CoP, one of the original investigators, is about to retire as have others who were involved in the case. And, while I can appreciate that the annual murder rate has escalated sharply since then, I am unaware of any action taken by the police that would suggest an on-going interest in this matter.
Having some knowledge of how things work in this country, I raised with both the former and present CoP, the idea of establishment of a Cold Crimes Unit to insure continuous investigations of cases such as this. Both men vigorously assured me that they were in the process of bringing on stream such a unit. Well, the file remains open on that one as well.
So I, no xenophobe, but finding this appointment hard to swallow, reluctantly await the new CoP with whom, notwithstanding the pressures he would be under, would raise this matter once again.
The second is July 27. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the 1990 attempted coup, one of the worst armed assaults against our country’s fledgling democracy. And, an event about which so little is known.
When I awoke that morning I could not have imagined that by dusk of that day the seat of government would be under violent siege; nor could I have imagined that in the dead of night I would be crawling stomach to the ground, together with Clive Pantin and other technical personnel—all under elite military escort — -up a mountainside to reach a television relay station in order to effect a broadcast to the nation in which, after introducing myself and the others present, announced to the nation that “the government has not fallen, I repeat the government has not fallen.”
That address was the first opportunity, in the six to eight hours since the assault began, to assure a very confused population that the attempted coup had failed. That the government had not fallen and was in control and functioning and citizens should remain calm.
Colonel Ralph Brown, commander of the military forces that subdued the rebellion, also addressed the nation confirming that the Army was not supporting the armed attempt to unseat the democratically elected government, as claimed the coup leader, and in fact the Army, by that time, had already established an ‘iron ring’ of control over the situation.
The public record of this event tells us that parliamentarians were held hostage in the Red House and journalists and other media personnel at Television House. That the then prime minister was shot and wounded, a parliamentarian was killed as was a staff member of parliament. So too the sentry at police headquarters along with a still unclear number of other fatal casualties. That there was looting, burning and destruction of Police Headquarters and several businesses in downtown Port- of- Spain by the time of the coup makers surrender on 01 August.
But there is much we do not know, and seem not to want to know about this event. Governments from then till now have steadfastly refused to investigate this sordid episode. The population knows nothing of what or who was responsible for the breach in the national security apparatus. The public has no definitive information on the social and political affiliations of the coup makers to other elements at home or abroad that made it possible for them to undertake this criminal adventure.
We do know however that the two most senior political leaders and members of parliament outside the government, Mr. Manning and Mr. Panday, refused to condemn the initial attack on the nation’s seat of government and democracy.
Mr. Manning did eventually issue an episodical statement well after the Army had established definitive control of the situation and after his initial statement was rejected as being too weak to be of any political value in the circumstances. Imagine my great surprise therefore, on hearing Mr. Manning’s robust condemnation of the recent coup in Honduras along with all his affirmations of the sanctity of democracy.
Such a statement on the events here at home in 1990 would have been most welcome. But perhaps his association (as well as Mr. Panday’s) with the leaders of the attempted coup, both before– and more particularly– after the event, precluded a similar statement being made. As for Mr. Panday, the nation still awaits his condemnation of what took place on that fateful day. The fact that these two men went on to become prime minister(s) of the country notwithstanding their behaviour during, and their peculiar relations with the leaders of the attempted coup following the event says much about the state of Trinidad and Tobago politics as about the men themselves.
If this nation is to grow in its appreciation of democracy; if it is be more at peace with itself, then this and future generations deserve to know all the facts that contributed to this event. It is mandatory therefore that a proper investigation be carried out. If there are any skeletons in the closet, then they must be fully exposed to the cleansing light of public scrutiny, letting the chips fall where they may.
For any nation to truly advance, it must have a deep understanding and appreciation of its past. Citizens of this country have a right to an accurate account of the various factors that led to this event. It must identify all the main players. Those that acted out the script as well as with those that wrote the script for the event. Such an account, I have no doubt, will assist us in having a better understanding of who we are, as a people and therefore contribute to our advancement as a nation. The new government must launch an independent enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup.
Dear Kamla: I address you as the next prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. I do so ever mindful that it is imprudent to count one’s chickens before they are hatched and certain, that as a seasoned campaigner, you are fully aware of the many vicissitudes that are possible between now and 24 May but especially on polling day.
I do so not simply because the leaders of the People’s Partnership refer to you as such; nor because it is currently fashionable among people from all strata, but because the matters of governance that I deem important to the advancement of democracy in Trinidad and Tobago are viewed with great hostility by your principal competitor and will therefore never be dispassionately discussed were he to be returned to office.
You, however, presently personify the spirit of change that many people seek. And, were you to be victorious on 24 May, I expect that you would be more amenable to carrying out some fundamental reforms that will decisively influence how our country is governed.
To your credit, you have already signalled the commitment of a People’s Partnership government to establish a fixed election timetable as well as a term limit for the head of government. These are small steps that are important and easily do-able. In our situation, these are absolutely necessary but not sufficient. We must also change our electoral system along the lines identified by your colleague Winston Dookeran when he referenced the Wooding Report.
It is imperative that we immediately take steps to deepen our democracy by establishing a form of proportional representation appropriate to our conditions. The first past the post electoral system has consistently subverted the will of the electorate, and therefore democracy, by giving parliamentary majority to a party that received no such majority from the number of votes cast. Too often, it deprives large segments of the electorate from having their interest represented in parliament. It is a relic of the past that we must consign to the dustbin of history.
Constitutional reform is also an imperative. In this regard, you can immediately provide the Constitutional Review Forum the legitimacy and resources to design a process that would deliver a draft constitution within a specific timeframe. Further, this draft, which must clearly entrench the citizen as sovereign and the fountainhead of all political power, must also be subject to a referendum thereby allowing citizens the opportunity to take ownership of the fundamental law by which they are to be governed.
I urge that you consider having this process completed in time to mark the country’s Golden Jubilee in 2012. This, I believe, would be a fitting tribute to a responsible people finally taking charge of their democracy and would initiate a new phase in the political evolution of the country. It would be the foundation for a new political order.
In closing, Madam Prime Minister (in waiting) I wish to point out that there are several other critical matters of concern that will be raised at a later date. Now however, I wish to raise one additional matter: the blurring of the lines between the Party and the State.
Currently we are witnessing the unabashed use of state resources in support of the ruling party’s bid to hold on to state power. Less visible is how the committees of parliament have been made subservient to the interest of the party. The current regime has all but obliterated this distinction. This is a dangerous trend which must be halted immediately. I urge you to resist any temptation to continue this practice.
In the meantime I, and my colleagues in OneAccord, look forward to the manifesto of the People’s Partnership. This document, along with the platform promises made, will be used to monitor whether or not your government is fulfilling the pledges made to the people of the country. You are cognisant, am sure, that there can be no breach of trust on your part. The population is coming of age and is less willing to be constrained by old allegiances.
May the victory you seek be achieved and may good fortune be always with you.
When Prime Minister Manning responded to Chaguanas West M.P. Jack Warner on the issue of the church being built in Guanapo Heights by Chinese labour, which as far as the public is aware, are here working on public projects being undertaken by Government, I was stunned. It was unbelievable to me that Mr. Manning would invoke religious persecution as an element in this already contentious matter. With his claque dutifully applauding and egging him on to gie dem talk, dey want talk, gie dem talk, so to speak.
Here was the Prime Minister, a politician of long standing, using religious persecution, one of the most divisive and despicable forms of human behaviour known to inflame murderous passions, as pretext to avoid having to be transparent and accountable to the citizens of this country in what appears to be highly questionable government involvement in this private project.
In the torrent of comments that followed, many responsible citizens sensing the danger inherent in his statement, condemned Mr. Manning’s contention of religious persecution. Much of the commentary, however, had gone precisely where Mr. Manning wanted it to go. So there is considerable discussion at present on his right to have a spiritual advisor of his choosing, which was never a consideration in the matters raised, with no distinction made between citizen Manning and Prime Minister Manning: one private the other public. And, so long as we remain mired in that discussion, we lose focus of the public’s right to hold its elected officials accountable and to insist on transparency in the conduct of public affairs.
But, we must not lose sight of the nasty bit of politics that he has played. The red herring of religious persecution was used very deliberately to divide; to create a sense of us against the rest; to encourage a fellow-feeling of victimhood and consequently to stand with the one seen defending us. It is an attempt to rally this group of religious adherents behind him, even if it means mis-representing the case. It is politics at its worst because Mr. Manning has shown that he is quite willing to light the flames of religious intolerance, where none existed before, in order to shore up his diminishing political fortunes.
The issues before the Prime Minister were quite straight forward. The first was, has this long mysterious spiritual advisor to the PM been unjustly afforded privileged access to the material resources of the state? The second issue called for a public statement by the PM that explains totally, completely, accurately and faithfully, exactly what is his involvement in this church construction project.
The long statement given by Mr. Manning thus far provides very few answers and exposes a huge credibility gap. The PM has acknowledged that: his spiritual advisor is the Head of the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ which owns the church; neither he nor any member of his government owns the building being constructed; state land had been granted for the purpose; he has visited said site; state funds are not being used to build said church; neither he nor any member of his government gave any instruction to UDeCOTT regarding the construction of the church. He has confirmed that occupiers of the land were paid to vacate the site but his explanation differs sharply with first hand media reports from the parties that were made to move.
Here is the rub. Despite all that has been said by the PM, no one knows who are the present officials of this church. No one knows the size of its congregation; no one knows the true cost of this building and who is paying for its construction; no one knows who instructed Shanghai Construction to build this church. If UDeCoTT did not instruct Shanghai to do so, then who issued those instructions? If state funds are not being used to construct this building, then who is paying? Who is paying for the paving of the roadway to the church and why is this of greater importance than the paving of access roads for farmers?
Where are the leaders (if any) of this church and why are they so silent on the controversy engulfing it. If all transactions are above board, they should have no fear of public scrutiny. By now they should know that Mr. Manning’s statement on this issue has not helped their cause and that the media will probe and audit every official statement on this matter, whether it comes from the government or the church itself. Thus far responsible opinion is that the PM’s statement lacks credibility and is to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Stakeholders in this matter must know that silence is not an option and that the mystery surrounding this project must and will be unraveled. To that end the public awaits a statement from the prime minister that reflects, to use his own words, totally, completely, accurately and faithfully, exactly what has been his involvement in this matter. Finally, as he prepares his next move, I invite the PM to recall the fate of Richard Nixon and remind that in the end, truth prevails.