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A matter of trust

By Reginald Dumas

 Its many detractors notwithstanding, the Government has a number of achievements to its credit.  Suruj Rambachan seems to be making much progress in Works; Tim Gopeesingh’s weary task in Education has not gone unrewarded; Fazal Karim, Nizam Baksh—and, if Ancel Roget will pardon me, Errol McLeod too—go about their business quietly and efficiently; Rodger Samuel, Rupert Griffith and Winston Peters are at least quiet; Fuad Khan means well.

The Government is accused of ethnic preference and of favouring Trinidad south over the north. But let’s be honest: during the PNM decades, wasn’t there an unofficial bias towards people of African origin? I accept that two wrongs do not make a right, but we ignore history at our peril. As for the charge of concentration on areas south of the Caroni, I remember my own formative years in Chaguanas, where my mother was a nurse, and I was very familiar indeed with the developmental backwardness of the area as compared with the region in the foothills of the Northern Range. 

I am therefore unable to join in the rage I hear expressed in the East-West corridor against what is perceived to be, and perhaps is, a current Government focus on the socio-economic upliftment of hitherto neglected communities—“dem people”—in the centre and south. What I do worry about greatly is the apparent lack, or shortage, of rigorous planning. On what coherent bases, for instance, do you decide—at taxpayers’ expense—to place a hospital here or a law faculty there?

But the Government’s achievements are nearly all technical in nature; just listen to its cheerleaders recount them. Where the Government has fallen down is in the crucial and sensitive domain of trust. Reshmi Ramnarine has been followed by a series of negatives, each abrading further the already frayed confidence of a wide cross-section of the public in the political directorate: allegations of massive corruption; substantial monies paid for no work; Prisongate; falsification of professional credentials; obvious preference for certain contractors; Section 34 and proposals for humongous pension rises (both with Opposition support, though); and so on. And now, a Constitution (Amendment) Bill.

I agree with the term limit idea. Some say that a prime minister should be allowed to stay for as long as the people want him or her. I applaud the democratic sentiment therein implied, but we must not forget that office—what officeholders call “power”—distorts thinking and behaviour. The highest political office distorts even more; we have had examples in this country. Let’s not ignore history.

Where recall is concerned, my agreement is conditioned by what I see as the need to be very careful about the concomitant procedures. If we aren’t, opportunists, never in short supply, would have a field day. 

Term limits and recall were in the People’s Partnership’s 2010 manifesto and in the report of the Ramadhar Constitution Commission (CRC) presented last December; however, the run-off proposal which is causing such a ruckus wasn’t. What the report recommended was that MPs should “continue to be elected...by the first-past-the-post method.” That was all.

But now a CRC “addendum” to the report has surfaced within the last few days which the Government avers is part of the final report. Dated July 18, 2014, less than one month ago, the “addendum” says that the CRC discussed “comments sent by (it) to the (Commission Secretary) on April 30, 2014.” We are no doubt to assume that out of these discussions came the run-off proposal which has suddenly confronted us. The population was never consulted on the proposal, indeed knew nothing about it—commissioners have told me it never came up at all in their public meetings. So where did it come from? Why?

The CRC states in its “addendum” that “it is satisfied...it has discharged its duties... (and kept) its promise to the public that it would seek their feedback on its report...and transmit such feedback to the Government...” In the case of the run-off proposal, that claim is patently untrue: you cannot “transmit feedback” you never received.

“The people, the people, the people”! Where are they now, I wonder? Where is the trust?

 

—Gillian Lucky will return in next two weeks

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