Monday, February 19, 2018

Ethnic stocking

Until I heard the term from a WinTV reporter, I had never heard "ethnic stocking'' before. The reporter called to find out what I thought about the Jamaica Observer's observation in its editorial of December 11, that ethnic stocking was a very serious issue in Trinidad and Tobago and that, worse, it was a "centripetal'' force "tearing the increasingly fragile political coalition that constitutes the Government of Trinidad and Tobago'' and "(o)ne of the egregious aspects of corruption''.

So what is "ethnic stocking''? Let's go to the Observer editorial for an answer: "the appointment to public office, including overseas posts, on the basis of ethnicity to ensure ethnic monopoly of political power.'' In other words, where this government is concerned, it is the appointment of Indos simply because they are Indos so that the government can achieve political control over public offices and institutions.

The editorial goes on to develop its viewpoint by charging that the current Government "has systematically practised ethnic stocking: rewarding individuals with positions even though they (are) not qualified, either by professional training or by pertinent transferable work experience.'' It states that the instances of local ethnic appointments are "too numerous to discuss'' and that there is an embarrassment associated with overseas appointees that "poses reputational damage.'' In regard to the latter, it reminds us that Therese Baptiste-Cornelis was fired from her job as ambassador to the United Nations for making inappropriate remarks—(she resigned in disgrace, didn't she?).

It proposes that "many people in Trinidad and Tobago do not want to tackle ethnic stocking because persons who raise the issue are accused of being racist in a society guilty of self-delusion about racial harmony'' and it closes by recommending a parliamentary review of appointees to local and overseas posts "to ensure that they possess the necessary qualifications and years of pertinent experience, and establish a transparent selection process free of ethnic bias.''

If you want to read the entire editorial, go the following webpage:

Now, assuming the editorial writer lives outside of Trinidad and Tobago, probably in Jamaica, we can agree quite easily that we, living here in this blighted country know far more about the matter than he or she. We know that in the vast majority of cases the appointees to the headships and memberships of state boards and committees are Indos, with a smattering of Afros and others as mostly convenient tokens of ethnic diversity. It's in our faces every living day!

The question is, How can we change to a situation of appointment by merit and ethnic evenhandedness?

The editorial suggests a parliamentary review, which I think is a good starting point. While allowing that, given the Government's majority in Parliament, the ethnic disproportion is unlikely to change in a hurry, what the review would do is

i) focus political attention on the issue and ease the reticence in most people about publicly debating what quite clearly is a very sensitive issue;

ii) force the consciousness of the people more in the direction of a constitutional reform that subjects certain appointments to oversight by a meaningfully constituted senate—in brief, a senate not dominated by the Government.

The value of such reform is that it would impose on the Government an attitude of carefulness in its appointment of people to manage the business of our public offices and institutions. It would restrain the ethnic impulse to both make reckless and scandalous appointments such as that of Reshmi Ramnarine and to make appointments that are preponderantly and disproportionately Indo or Afro.

If there's one thing that our political experience should have taught us over the years, it is that, if we want good governance, we need to constrain the selfish and tribal biases of our executives through the establishment and exercise of effective governance structures—like the People's House or Senate that I have been talking about in this space for some time now.

Ethnic stocking has never done us any good as different peoples seeking to build one society out of our diversity. It did us no good under the PNM, and it isn't doing us any good under this UNC Government masquerading as a People's Partnership.

Only noise and the worst vibes from the excluded can come from such a ruse.

• Winford James is a UWI lecturer and a political analyst