Small states like ours cannot depend on law alone for the maintenance of order. We are greatly dependent on the civic consciousness and goodwill of each citizen. Anyone so minded can make the news tomorrow by single-handedly doing something untoward today. One of our national sayings is, “we go mash up de place”. This is a saying that precedes Machel by decades. Another is, “I go make noise”. People used to mash up fete, mash up bazaar, mash up sports. A man might go to a bank and maybe he perceived a slight by the teller. The bank has 100 people in it, standing in lines. His recourse is noise. Shouting at the top of his voice, he eh leaving till he see de manager. This is a T&T ting. It is one way in which villages humiliate their representatives. Throw garbage, burn tyres, mash up de place. Make noise.
I want to focus on three recent examples of our disorderliness (which clearly is in full season now): the recent action of Nelson Street residents in confronting the police as the TV cameras rolled, the return of Dr Wayne Kublalsingh to the pavement, and the announcement by Louis Lee Sing that he wants to be head of the PNM. These three seemingly independent events are in fact linked by the common thread of lawlessness, part of a relentless onslaught on our psyches, as we are lurched from one bacchanal to the next.
Representative Marlene McDonald got on the TV recently to explain why it was that a large number of residents from “the plannings” on Nelson Street in Port of Spain had confronted a contingent of armed policemen, stopping in their tracks only when the officers were forced to fire warning bullets. This is something we saw on TV; young men and women right up on these armed policemen, who had arrested one of their members and were attempting to take him away.
The man’s colleagues were holding on to him, physically trying to pull him away from the cops. The scene was frightening. People were screaming and shouting at the police, who I thought showed restraint. MP McDonald explained that what caused the melee was that these residents were in part CEPEP contractors and workers, who had gone to the CEPEP office in search of employment. It is said that one of the police officers went to the same office, seeking to place his name on a list, saying he had to “eat ah food” too. And the actions of this policeman angered the more legitimate contract aspirants.
Whatever may have occurred in that office, we in this country simply cannot have citizens pulling people who are under arrest away from the police.
Dr Kublalsingh did not go to the polls and was not elected by anybody. He has arrogated unto himself the leadership of the highway re-route group that is bent on forcing the Government to stop the project. For a significant period within the past year Dr Kublalsingh engaged in a very public fast on the sidewalk, saying he would not end it until the Prime Minister (not just some ordinary minister) came down and spoke with him.
He derisively dismissed the efforts of a minister to speak with him, and refused to use a state ambulance, indicating that his family had the means to take care of such matters. A procession of well-meaning and very important peacemakers in the country, such as Fr Clyde Harvey and Verna St Rose Greaves joined him on the sidewalk and pleaded with him that his point had been made and that he risked death from starvation.
Well, he is back. And this time the Prime Minister wasted no time. She granted him an audience. He did not have his way, and came away saying that the Prime Minister had not seen things his way, and that he wanted her to conform to the dictates of a report she had commissioned. So now he is really angry, and will be back on the sidewalk, with ominous warnings that this time would be different. Do we need this? In my view on this question, Dr Kublalsingh is no more sympathetic to the cause of the people in question than is the Prime Minister. This is politics again, not concern for the people. Dr Kublalsingh has lost in his bid, and in civil society he has to concede. Every time a government makes a major domain decision there is a loser. Dr Kublalsingh is a spoiled brat. I am certain that there is politics behind this. He is running for something.
Then there is Louis Lee Sing. I like the mayor, and thought he emerged from his tenure as one of our most gifted civic leaders. He showed real guts in serving in a situation where he is not a member of the Government but of the PNM. He had ideas and imagination. He showed vision. I liked his work on tackling the homeless problem in the city, his traffic re-routing ideas, and his attempts to stem rampant commercialisation of Woodbrook, and all of the attendant traffic and liming problems that come with that. So with his tenure as mayor at an end what does he do? Well, completely against the run of play, and absent any groundswell from below, he is calling for leadership change in the party, he announces his intent to contest the post of leader of the PNM.
I see in this action a kind of disruptive arrogance. The mayor is putting himself ahead of his party. Franklin Khan, the PNM’s chairman, has written a calm response to this, pointing out the practical problem of timing, and the fact that the climate in the country really makes the announcement unfortunate. Dr Rowley is doing a splendid job as Leader of the Opposition, showing continuing intellectual interest in the job in the face of great hostility on the part of the Government, including being sued once per month, it seems, by the Attorney General. The mayor is wrong on this. He is selfish. How does this stupid announcement help his party?
The three cases I have identified here are each examples of disorder. Whether from the mayor’s office, the ivory tower, or the ’hood, the effect is the same. The country cannot settle down.
* Theodore Lewis is a
Professor of Education
at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine.