Saturday, December 16, 2017

In blessed T&T, ‘change’ gets a hard time

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Mark Fraser

For a 2014 Independence weekend rumination, anything resembling an endorsement of Prakash Ramadhar is certain to trigger fearsome volleys from that legion of haters rampaging in the badlands of the Internet. Masked and hooded like the Iraq/Syria jihadists, unidentified so-called bloggers  could, for all I know, be awaiting my unguarded passage in some darkened area.

 Such are the times.

 The weekend almost immediately follows passage of Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which, it has been  threatened, will go down as a political death warrant for Mr Ramadhar. 

He had chaired the Constitution Reform Commission whose work preceded the legislative amendments which stirred an “outcry” claimed to be “national” in scope. Having neither met the man nor favoured any version of his politics, I was nonetheless so taken by his comment reported three weeks ago as to write it down.

“Any change in the country,” he said, “is resisted, and we see it at all levels. Change: everybody talks about it, but nobody engages it.”

 Without endorsing the content of any “change” Mr Ramadhar was promoting, I found within myself instant sympathy for his observation. Inside this republic, prayerfully God-blessed this weekend, change aversion is an ever-reigning predisposition.

Out of the country, two Independence seasons ago, when the west Port of Spain traffic plan had been implemented, I had much looked forward to appraising how it worked.  Equally, I was alarmed by the hostility expressed to the changes, even when some aspects were clearly correctable along the way.

 I got to see only the traffic lights and white street markings hopefully put in place to enable better traffic flows. By my return, the Government had backed down from the plan, flinging Louis Lee Sing, a Port of Spain mayor ever willing to “try something”, into the bamboo of hard-case reaction, in reinforcement of the resilient confession that “we like it so”.

The rest is depressing T&T history and, for Woodbrook and St James, continuing hopelessness respecting progress toward better traffic flow, and indeed for traffic and other areas of management everywhere. Resistance to change, as a condition of T&T life, appears not to get the attention it deserves.

Livability is the most familiarly painful casualty of such resistance. It is? Murphy’s law that rules in this country, where people expect, as a norm, that everything that can go wrong will do so, and that nothing will work as it’s supposed to.

 It’s been more comforting to attribute that condition, that resignation, to “the politics”, or the way the politics has been conceived of and practised. My full-disclosure obligation entails identification with an upbringing in and around the Tapia House of the 1970s.

Maybe I’ve outgrown it all, or just become apostate. Thus, I no longer share the faith espoused by former Tapia colleague Michael Harris: “The people have imposed their own time limits on prime ministers and on parties in government, and…all the while they strove mightily to build the new politics.”

And even if so, then what?

It all sounds like a single-cause theory to explain the T&T condition: that things have gone wrong because the politics have not been made right. That URP contractors remain unpaid, that TSTT disconnects laptop-supplied schools for unpaid phone and wi-fi bills; and public procurement remains unfixed, because two race-based parties continue to define the political landscape?

Such conclusions, or admonitions devoted to getting the politics right, sound like advertisements for something, but for what exactly is never evident. The term “getting the politics right”, lately appropriated by Winston Dookeran and his version of the COP, has struck me as overly glib, for being traceably identified to no particular patterns of organisation or practice.

 By early 2010, after the UNC had lifted from itself the yoke of Basdeo Panday, the COP already appeared not to have retained for itself a reason for separate being. The People’s Partnership arrived in Fyzabad destined overnight to become the only show in town.

As the applause rose, it did so become. What, then, would determine the political wisdom of the ages to prevail in the way the Partnership organised itself for office over maybe six weeks?

From early, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, as CEO of the operation, urgently needed an empowered and detail-oriented general manager. The vacancy, if ever acknowledged, remained unfilled. Maybe T&T disposes of no such enabled capacity.

No general manager; no “court of policy”, as prescribed in premium Tapia teaching, to rule on differences among coalition partners. To this extent was the prospect of “change” foredoomed under the People’s Partnership.

 Still, it was the only show in town; and over four years, the only government in office. Like the Patrick Manning administration before, with its ambitious plans for 100-metre battleships; aluminum smelters; rapid rail; rapid ferries; and property taxes, it soon became the most inviting target in a country almost congenitally resistant to change.

Mr Ramadhar was undoubtedly partial to the three items cherry-picked by his government from a package of constitutional changes. They managed to advance on the basis of what’s called a “Hail Mary pass”, a last-minute stroke of luck, based on the grace of some willing God.