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A snapshot of our time

By Michael Harris

As we read of those events which occur day after day in our country our tendency is to become involved in the details of each event, the people involved and the rights and the wrongs. Thus preoccupied, we tend to lose track of their cumulative impact, the picture they paint and the story which they tell when taken altogether. But it may well be that it is at this level that the real story lies.

I therefore invite you to consider a quick and summary recounting of the events and developments which have taken place in our country over the past two weeks alone.

We have had one of the constituent members of the People's Partnership, the MSJ, give an ultimatum to the Partnership Government that it must address the issues considered important by the MSJ in two months time or else.

We have had the PNM members of the Port of Spain city council come out in open revolt against the PNM Mayor, complaining publicly about his management style. And although the political leader of the party intervened to quiet the matter, the Mayor subsequently stated he had no idea what the other council members meant when they complained about his management style.

We have seen the Deputy Chairman of the Integrity Commission bring a lawsuit against the President and the other members of the commission, after the President had summoned a tribunal to investigate that member's performance.

We witnessed the spectacle of the Deputy Commissioner of Police publicly accusing the Police Service Commission of bias and incompetence after refusing to sign his performance evaluation and to top that the Commissioner of Police made it known that he had retained counsel to defend himself against the PSC.

We have seen members of a police investigative team, set up by the Commissioner of Police to investigate a report of police using excessive force, tussle in public with members of the Police Complaints Authority who were investigating the very same allegation.

The subject of both investigations was an allegation that a contingent of police stormed the headquarters of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union, after breaking down the door to the union with sledgehammers in order, ostensibly, to serve a warrant on a night watchman employed by the union.

And during the period we have seen an almost uninterrupted string of protests by ordinary citizens. In Tabaquite and Rio Claro, in Barrackpore and Moruga residents came out to protest the state of their roads, the state of schools and the general neglect visited upon them over the last 35 years. In La Brea unemployed youth staged their umpteenth protest demanding work.

We saw residents of Penal, Debe and Mon Desir march to Port of Spain to take their protest to the Prime Minister's office. They were demanding that the new highway to Point Fortin be rerouted away from their homes and villages. Meanwhile, there was also a protest against the citing of a Carisal Unlimited chemical manufacturing plant in Point Lisas.

And as if all this sound and fury were not enough we learned that the National Quarries Company was bulldozing and blasting its way into the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre, as it sought to find construction material for the new highway.

If I have excluded from this list any development which you consider to be particularly newsworthy I do apologise. But the point I am making is simple. All these events occurred in this country in the space of two weeks, the proverbial blink of an eye, and without commenting on any one event in particular, I think the recitation of all these events occurring almost simultaneously speaks volumes.

Readers of this column would be familiar with my thesis that our country is in the midst of a crucible of chaos consequent upon the progressive disintegration and collapse of the institutional structures of the state. And it takes no great deal of insight to state that the confluence of the events which I have just recounted point to the fact that the process of disintegration is gathering speed and momentum.

Note, if you will, that these events embrace every part of the country, straddle every social class and category, and affect our politics, our institutions, our environment and our social fabric. The chaos is now total. But there is more.

Each of the events recounted above occupied our attention for a moment before we turned to deal with the next event. But what if we could make a composite snapshot all these events and hold it up for inspection, how would we describe such a scene? What story would that picture tell us about the place and time that was being depicted?

Years ago one of the daily papers (I can't remember now which) ran a competition called "The Missing Ball". They would publish a snapshot of a moment in a football match, remove the ball from the picture, and invite their readers to place an "X" where the ball should be.

What I remember from those pictures is that with the ball missing, the gyrations, contortions and expressions of the players involved most often seemed to make no sense. The tableau depicted by the picture would often appear to be ridiculous; a frenzied dance of madmen, without rhyme or reason. Once the ball was reinserted however, the picture made sense.

It was the ball which gave purpose, meaning and coherence to the picture and to the otherwise meaningless and surreal posturing of the players. So as we contemplate the kaleidoscope of events taking place in our country maybe our time would be better spent trying to determine what is the ball and where it is located.

Assuming, that is, that there is a ball at all.

• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on

politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean. He is a

long-standing member of the Tapia House Group and works as a human resource executive

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