Friday, December 15, 2017

Adding voices

 The comment of retired Major General Ralph Brown on the continuing de facto martial law situation in Laventille was most welcome. Predictably the Minister of National Security responded to Mr Brown with belligerence and included a personal attack.

In these troubling times there is an urgent need for persons like Mr Brown to speak up and give us the benefit of their experience. Very many have for so long been silent when they should have been speaking up or at least adding their voices to those who take the lead risk of doing so.

Belated though it is, the statement of the Law Association regarding the line of demarcation between the duties of the police and the Defence Force respectively is also welcome.

What public discourse there is has become so savage that in a recent letter to the editor Mr Noble Phillip posed the question whether the unbridled exchanges in the Senate about Senator Faris Al-Rawi’s claimed origins were any different in principle from armed street warfare among “young inarticulate men who pick up guns rather than live peaceably with each other”? 

I noted as well that one newspaper reported that, in the course of a spat between persons who have held the office of mayor of Arima, a former People’s National Movement (PNM) mayor had responded to another office holder of middle eastern descent in that borough by reference to a period when that person “was learning to speak English”. When is the PNM finally going to purge itself of ancient and wholly inappropriate sentiments?

Of course, as long as so called civil society wants the benefit of the respect but evades the burden of adding voices in condemnation of dysfunctional behaviour, except when it suits their pockets, things will only get worse.

Meanwhile, in this climate, the media will have to heed the words of those who have been warning against the media being used to further vicious personal attacks.

I raise these issues because with general elections as many as eight months away what will the political temperature become if it is already so searing?  Sowing seeds of searing discord is a dangerous game.

There are countries in the region that are in the sorry state of having undercurrents of legacy hatred arising from prior violent incidents permanently coursing through society long after the political violence has ceased.  We should not be striving to join them in such a state.

Looking beyond the region, I often wonder whether our high and mighty do not watch television or scan the social media. If they did, how could they avoid resolving to be fairer and kinder when earth-shattering events like the shooting down of a planeload of ordinary human beings just like us occurs over Ukraine?

These large scale disasters and the attendant life stories and grief—80 children dead in the downed plane and that same figure or more dying per week in the war zones in the Middle East—should tell us that life is too fragile to waste any of it the pursuit of personal attacks and hatred.

A fight over the Red Steel name for use in limited over cricket is peewat business by comparison to such callous loss of life, but sadly it has become another vivid example of coarseness in public discourse.

It is not only war and violent crime that produce death on a horrific scale. Bombast and insult in public discourse are by-products of a society in which might is frequently right and the interests of the wider public are compromised.  

Some compromises with the public interest lead to fatalities. I would like to reference another recent incident abroad— the South Korea ferry disaster in April this year—to demonstrate what a society may suffer even as it prospers materially but is careless about good governance and regulatory enforcement or fails to build a balanced civilisation.

In South Korea, executive power is vested in the President. The Prime Minister is a largely ceremonial figure. It was the ceremonial figure that took the fall for the disaster in which close to 300 persons, mostly school children, died when the ferry capsized due to massive overloading, in particular a mass of untethered vehicles.

In a BBC interview the Prime Minister, Mr Chun Hong Won observed after his resignation: “Any country pursuing rapid economic growth becomes vulnerable. Pursuit of economic growth has produced backwardness. Practical issues, legal responsibility and professionalism are compromised.”

We are in the midst of a serious public debate about the use of soldiers in a so-called crime hot spot. Inconsistent statements regarding who sent the soldiers out are compromising the practical issue of the lack of powers in a soldier to search, seize or arrest and the legal responsibility if a soldier exercises powers he does not have

Never mind,there are always the distractions of fete after fete, freeness and unearned status to encourage the keeping of still voices.