Saturday, February 24, 2018

Alarming nothingness!

Keith Rowley’s e-mails have revealed a most disconcerting inadequacy in Trinidad and Tobago. Here we have the most damning allegations in our history against a government, suggesting criminal offences including bribery, conspiracy to harm a journalist, illegally intercept communications of the Director of Public Prosecutions and interfere with the administration of justice. If they are true, we have sunk to the murkiest depths in our politics. If false, the Leader of the Opposition has been dangerously reckless, seeking political survival through scandal and sensation rather than substance. But there is no clear position on the right body to investigate the truth. The institutional inadequacy in this country after 50 years of independence is more alarming than the e-mails themselves.  

Hear the noise. The Government says the police should investigate, but the DPP says they need foreign forensic experts. The Opposition wants the Integrity Commission (IC); some legal experts say yes but are not quite sure. Others say the IC lacks the authority and the chairman himself says he does not know. Meanwhile the Integrity Commission has neither board nor resources. Some commentators are calling for an independent body, others are wondering about its legality. Some even want the FBI and others call for Scotland Yard. 

 It’s a wonder nobody has suggested going to the obeah man, white fowl cock in hand. Worse still, the Acting Commissioner of Police now says the investigation could collapse because “ when you are dealing with people in high office” these people could say, “I am not giving you any information”  and the police can do nothing about it. 

My God! Fifty years after independence and this is what we are, a backward little village, full of blowhards and rum shop talk that lead us nowhere? Such nothingness?!   No clear, strong authority to investigate an enormity that points to rottenness at the top, either in the Government or the Opposition? And we call ourselves a nation? Are we really building society here? Or is this just a country which the powerful can plunder with impunity as long as the masses have cable TV, Carnival and chutney? Where is the social consciousness, for heaven’s sake?

Our leaders are the sinners. History will spare none. All our prime ministers, presidents, opposition leaders, chief justices, commissioners of police, heads of commissions, chairmen of the Integrity Commission and civil society loudmouths should hang their heads in shame. Had they cared and understood our history, they would have ensured we had the institutions to protect the citizenry from misbehaviour at all levels, including high office. But our politicians never strengthened institutions. It would have meant diminishing their power. And nobody, including priests and pundits, demanded otherwise. Prime ministers were allowed to entrench the cult of the “great leader and deliverer” who could do anything including walk on water. Thus we never had constitution reform in this country. Which prime minister would willingly reduce his power for the people’s benefit unless you are of the ilk of the great transformational figures of history? 

So the great enduring plague of Trinidad and Tobago is that we have never had outstanding leadership at any level in this place. None, including Eric Williams, will go down in history as “great”. Had the Father of the Nation not perpetuated colonial governorship through an excessively powerful executive that to this day emasculates the Parliament and stunts representation, he would have been dear to all the people and cherished by all generations.

But even our best didn’t have the largeness a nation needs, especially at the start, to establish those solid foundations for constructing society and civilisation. Think of Lincoln, Gandhi, or Mandela and what each means to America, India and South Africa, respectively. We have never had any such universally beloved, unassailable figure in Trinidad and Tobago. Most have been paltry by comparison, as leadership got progressively worse with each succeeding decade. Look at the upper echelons of this society today and see reason for great alarm. Behold the nothingness at the top.

 And still, after the frightening void of 50 years, this nation keeps looking to individuals, failing to recognise that without institutions there is no society. 

The primitive cultural condition prevents us from understanding why all prime ministers and cabinets fail. It produces the silly euphoria and vacuous hope on the election of a new president whose hollow office can do nothing to improve Trinidad and Tobago. It is the reason why we fail to reform our two most critical national institutions, the PNM and the UNC which continue to shackle the nation’s strength. 

Once they were deliverers, now they constitute a sickness which the e-mail episode will confirm. For, will Kamla or Keith face party sanctions if the investigations do not end in either’s favour? 

In any decent democracy, a guilty government would resign and the ruling party experience automatic leadership change. But in our tribal politics there is no such civilised seamlessness. And if Rowley is guilty of destructive mischief, what will the PNM do?

Will they see he has slowed growth in the wider acceptance the party needs; that he has let the Government escape, driving all their inadequacies from public glare, that he will give Kamla the chance to portray herself as the falsely accused, galvanising the UNC base for local government elections, destroying the PNM’s momentum after a historic earlier win in Tobago? And will the party deal with him for that squandering?

Sadly neither the PNM nor the UNC has developed the capacity for profound clinical introspection. Sycophancy reigns in both. Their leaders have never nurtured their party’s institutions, fearing the development of independent thought.  Organs of the parties remain mere tools for mass mobilisation. Both confirm the alarming nothingness in Trinidad and Tobago.

• Ralph Maraj is a playwright and former government minister