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From Johnny to Jack: swampland politics

By Ralph Maraj

John O’Halloran was an infamous wheeler and dealer whilst a senior member of Eric Williams’ Cabinets for about 15 years. He was a close confidante of his Prime Minister and enjoyed immunity until the Black Power revolution purged him from government. Twenty years later he was found guilty of having stolen hundreds of millions with which he had built skyscrapers in Toronto.
O’Halloran is one of many untouchables, in and out of cabinet, who have prowled our corridors of power since independence. Williams repeatedly ignored warnings about this dubious cock-fighter, leaving many to wonder why.
Today, we have Jack Warner over whom clouds hang heavy enough to flood the nation and sink its reputation. But he refuses to step down until his name is cleared whilst another Prime Minister is deaf to all advice. Bill had his Johnny, Manning his Calder, Panday his Ish/ Steve and now Kamla has her Jack. And, as usual, to hell with everybody else, particularly ‘rogues’ in the media.
And later Rowley will have his whoever. For, it will continue, unless our politics emerges from the swampland where it has stagnated since independence, festering scum, large and small, who, depending on their jaws, gobble or nibble in cannibalistic delight as they eat the nation and the children’s future.
This is the pit, not politics. True politics means public consciousness and sustained social activism. It means a nation protected by a state of awareness and willingness to act. With a largely independent media, we have strong public opinion, but it never translates into deep and sustained mobilisation towards corrective action. We make noise but always end up passive and powerless.
For we are divided and weak; and politicians know it. They know they will always escape, no matter what sins they commit. Their worst, Section 34, has left them all intact except disposable Volney. What should have exploded, unearthed and drained the swamp, exposing the slimiest crawling and wriggling things, merely fizzed because there was no wrathful politics seeking retribution. Most of the anger was artificial, wishing only to bring down the Government for ‘we own’ to get back; almost half the population accepted the travesty because is ‘we own’ doing it; and so many looked on as though it had nothing to do with them: everyone in their own darkness amidst brilliant sunshine! This is what our swampland politics does; it keeps you trapped, making you believe your prison is where you belong.
Our two main political parties and their tribal supporters are responsible. That’s almost the entire population. The whole country must therefore look in the mirror. Let us see ourselves and our cherished PNM and UNC and see whether it is worth being either ‘till ah dead’. And this is not a plug for the infant MSJ, lost in the wilderness, or for the hollowed out COP, totally incapable of being what it promised. This is a call for rigorous self examination so we could begin to practice the politics of revitalisation. You could even end up helping your beloved PNM or UNC. But see them first. They never built on their proud beginnings. They should have become forces for the stimulation and sustenance of social consciousness to engender civic responsibility, public participation, accountability, and engagement of the young in shaping the nation’s future. They should have made us a nation and a society. Instead they kept us tribes. For office was all their goal and so they became mere election outfits, bereft of driving vision or philosophy except tired talk about the just society. But they could not lead us even near the promised land, for they lacked the largeness to unite this country for its march out of the wilderness. No wonder, like the present, they always “collapsed in office”, leaving the nation adrift. No wonder the increasing floating vote had them regularly ejected since 1986.
These two parties continue to prevent the development of our politics. They have no structures or culture to hold leadership accountable; fora for genuine analysis and fearless selfexamination; intellectual rigour to banish blindness; curriculum for a depth and nobility in the politics; syllabus for selflessness in leadership. How can courage surface to question anything when you are branded ‘neemakakharam’ and traitor to the tribe? The parties offer no meaningful politics and so even their own enlightened avoid direct engagement, treating them like a shameful past. The political swampland therefore denies the country the participation of its best.

Tragically, the parties hurt those who still love them most. Last year, I lamented : “ poor people and their PNM and UNC: forever ‘young ambition’s ladder’, ‘the base degrees’ by which politicians, friends and family ascend to feast and fatten; and sometimes scatter, from on high, crumbs to the gaping multitudes below. Our political parties have been derailed by their leaders. After noble birth, they became mere machines, revved up for elections, but ‘morgues’ afterwards, footstools of maximum leadership, with no independence; never able to cry halt to 50 years of glaring corruption from Lock Joint to Piarco Airport; or prevent Section 34, or hold accountable, even now, those responsible for its passage and proclamation. Didn’t Kamla and Keith agree to set the accused free? And have we heard a peep from either PNM or UNC? No wonder Balisier House stands sepulchral and Reinzi Complex still has a squatter.” UNC still does not have a home, remember.
So in addition to constitutional reform, we need transformation of our parties. And here too, tinkering will not do. Reformation is the requirement of our time. If not, this society will remain stagnating in its political swampland where it will decay to death whilst scum prevail.
Ralph Maraj is a playwright and
former cabinet minister.
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