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Hope is sickness

By Ralph Maraj

MANY citizens have
been moved to rhapsody
over the new President.
Some have scaled
hyperbolic heights, seeing a “new
dawn”, feeling a “fresh breeze”.
They are calling on “our Thomas
Aquinas” to set the country right;
to straighten out the errant Prime
Minister and her rampant cabinet.
It is all so absurd. The new
President, worthy man, cannot
satisfy this naive hope. He has no
power. Can he, for example, have
Jack Warner fired for the Flying
Squad fiasco; or demand that
the Prime Minister focus on the
economy rather than the latest
fashion; or question Kamla’s talk
about an “Atlantic Wall” to fight
the drug trade after she cancelled
the Off-Shore Patrol Vessels. As I
said before, the office of the President
is hollow, the occupant a large
cardboard figure masquerading
as head of the national family.
But with pomp and ceremony, we
celebrate this illusion in the 21st
century! The President has neither
mandate nor independence
except with a handful of appointments;
and here conservatism is
the entrenched norm. So whether
it is Ramona or Carmona, nothing
revitalising could flower from
this “freshness”. Indeed if our esteemed
former judge steps out of
his crease to satisfy the great expectations,
he could be impeached.
The man is “cabined, cribbed and
confined”, prisoner of a fundamentally
meaningless post.
But the really troubling question
is this: why does a 50-yearold
nation raise its hopes on such
flimsiness as the renewal of a powerless
presidency. It reveals a political
childishness, increasingly
pathetic as we age. We still lack
the courage for the “hard wuk”
that seeds transformation. There
is a glaring spiritual emptiness in
our public commitment. We are
not moved enough to demolish
the effete structures that impede
our development and mock our
independence. We seem afraid to
govern ourselves; so we are ruled
by politicians, with hope our main
effort to avoid the approaching
precipice.
Growing old, we still dabble, accepting
ceremony as substance; so
many statements and speeches of
reverential welcome for the new
appointment as though the Lord
himself has returned. Everybody
is “so happy” because the choice
satisfies some nebulous notion of
what the President should be: a
harmless decent elder, pottering
around in our decaying constitutional
grounds.
Our response reveals the
absence of a rigorous national
mind; the laziness
of the “validating elites”.
We so quickly descend into this
habit of vaporous hope, like children
delighting in floating, disappearing
soap bubbles, creating
this annoying excitement about
an appointment that can eventually
do little more than look good.
This plague of mere hope permeates
our public life. Take economic
diversification, indispensable
for our future. For 50 years the
idea is warmed up by the punditry
at budget time, but goes into cold
storage thereafter. We have been
cursed into laziness by our petro
dollars. So today, with the global
oil and gas glut and our declining
production, we are in trouble, borrowing
for the past four years to
sustain the façade of a humming
economy. But since his budget, the
highly heralded Minister has remained
a mere face. And nobody’s
complaining; everybody’s hoping
for the deus ex machina, to prevent
the cardboard crumbling. This is
sickness. Today we hope for salvation
from Kamla’s administration.
Tomorrow it will be from Rowley
as it was from Williams, Chambers,
Robinson, Panday and Manning.
All our prime ministers and
their cabinets eventually turned
off the population. Because they
ruled like colonial overlords and
neither President nor population
could do anything. Survey the history
of the past 50 years, the promises
and betrayals, expectations
and disappointments, development
and decline; the discontent
always simmering beneath the
surface, erupting periodically, and
now rumbling ominously again.
Beyond demonstration and vocalisation,
what have the people
done? We have been mainly passengers,
imprisoned, with our
President, in an ageing omnibus,
hoping we are going in the right
direction with drivers of questionable
skill.
Therefore the President is not
the only prisoner. The population
is shackled by a constitution that
perpetuates the colonial condition
and engenders the unresponsibility
that has prevented us from
capitalising on the opportunity of
Independence. The youth had better
listen; if they still have ears.
Our system of governance has
made us our own worst enemy.
It keeps us a nation of hopers,
untutored in civic responsibility,
lacking that sense of society
fundamental to participation and
self-determination. Absorbed in
our private goals, we keep hoping
that public affairs will eventually
sort themselves out, not appreciating
the symbiosis in our two lives
that makes them one. For without
public consciousness there is
no enduring private fulfillment,
without social organisation there
is no security, without a constitution
that ensures public accountability
and responsibility and participation
by the citizenry, there is
no nation; just a country where it
is every man for himself and devil
and children take the hindmost.
Time to stop hoping and
start driving the bus. We
must govern ourselves.
Those who serve the people
should either love them or fear
them. Our leaders are our servants;
they cannot ignore us. So
we need a new constitution that
puts an end to colonial governorship
by politicians in 21st century
Trinidad and Tobago. The constitution
must make the people supreme.
The present pushes us out
of the mainstream, makes us mere
tools in the electoral process. That
is the most critical matter in this
country today. We need meaningful
representation of the people in
the Parliament; their strong influence
in the decision-making process.
We need politicians to feel
the punitive power of the people,
not only at general election, but
throughout any five-year term. In
that new state, we shall find deliverance
in ourselves and stop making
hope a sickness.
•Ralph Maraj is a former
government minister
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