Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hope is sickness


Mark Fraser

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


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


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


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