Saturday, December 16, 2017

August reflections

 The time around Emancipation Day presents me with an annual dilemma. On the one hand I need to reconnect with Mayaro at least for part of the August holiday season and to read some books, which I have put aside. On the other hand, there are so many rich cultural events around that time.

This year, 2014, I chose Mayaro and sadly missed the Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation’s annual pan parade on the Eastern Main Road and the concert entitled Pan On A Higher Note under the distinguished baton of Jessel Murray.

Mayaro beach is as beautiful as ever. Sunday last was a blue-sky day. On such days, the sunlight changes during the course of the day from silvery tones in the morning to golden tones in the afternoon, as sunset approaches. Standing on the waters edge looking up into the sky there is an illusion of being in a vast natural superdome. The ocean does not tumble with a boom. It has an insistent breathy murmur. As far as the eye can see, family and friends are clustered around their coolers and the wind ball games.

In response to enquiries why I write little on Mayaro these days, I explained that it is so painful to see the destruction of the coconut trees in the Point Radix area and several of the large estates on both sides of the village.  

Other than the continued invasion of the dreadful and dangerous all terrain vehicles, which anti-social persons drive on the beach, Mayaro is a tableau of the Trinidad and Tobago that we are continually fighting to save from the political predators.

Peaceful August reflections have been interrupted by the sudden arrival of the Constitution Amendment Bill (2014) about which I commented last week.

As I have made clear, I am in agreement that a special majority vote is not required for the passage of amendments to provide for term limits for a prime minister, petitions to recall members of the House of Representatives, or indeed for run-off elections.

It also cannot be disputed that the Prime Minister was very clear from the outset that her Government intended to make provisions for prime ministerial term limits and for the recall of Members of the House of Representatives and is entitled to seek to make good on her promise.

My reservations are about the haste of the debate and run-off provisions. Primarily I do not believe that the renewal of the country’s Government should be held in abeyance for any period subsequent to a General Election. We have enough elements of instability with which to contend.

As already indicated, this amendment proposed to the constitutionally mandated first past the post system has the potential to capsize continuity and a smooth, prompt transfer of power. It requires considered thought and meaningful consultation on how the power, which will remain with the incumbents, will be exercised while we await the declared results of supplementary polls. Similarly, contingencies and possible manipulation surrounding supplementary polls must be carefully considered.

The intervention of Merle Hodge is cogent evidence that the concept of run-off provisions is a partisan device, not put before a wider audience until now. 

It seems that the PNM was caught on the back-foot and ironically its siege was somewhat relieved by the opinions of broader based commentators to whom, like the current Minister of National Security, some PNM members can be quite insulting. 

For my August vacation reading I am deep into a book entitled Gandhi Before India. In his early years, Gandhi spent a long time in South Africa practising law and engaged in the struggle against discrimination by white South Africans against Indians. At that time, the early 1900s, Johannesburg was growing materially. 

Descriptions of Johannesburg were not flattering. Because it was a city whose populations were drawn from so many different origins, social arrangements were reportedly very fluid and based on convenient alliances as its residents sought to grab the best for themselves. 

One observer described Johannesburg as, “a city on trial, sensitive, ambitious, profoundly ignorant of her own mind”. This observer asked whether Johannesburg “would go the way of many colonial cities and remain consistently material in her outlook and narrow with the intense narrowness of those to whom politics mean local interests spiced with rhetoric”.

As the rhetoric flies back and forth over the proposed amendments to the Constitution and other issues, it struck me that the descriptions of Johannesburg might aptly describe our political world and other aspects of post-colonial life in our Republic.

Even in a matter as fundamental as Constitutional amendments, our politicians on both sides do not seem able to rise above the narrowest of interests and personal spite. 

It might be helpful if we could redirect some cooling Mayaro breeze into the proceedings in the Parliament Chamber.