We have been this way before and know only too well the road that leads from here to nowhere.
The Government is wounded and thrashing about in panic, people are on the street searching for deliverance. Both inside and outside government, the temperature is rising. The heat is on.
Our crisis resides squarely in the fact that the Constitution and the system it upholds offer no defences against a political culture in cahoots with central power.
As the drama of our own lives unfold without us, we, the alienated masses, are pushed onto the sidelines of our own story. From there we offer picong and commentary, like calypsonians, speaking about ourselves in the third person, telling the stories of our lives as though they belonged to someone else and laughing at ourselves as though we were somebody else.
These days, the full depth of our alienation has been revealed with the parting of the curtains by two commissions of enquiry that have opened up rare views into the goings-on in high places, among high people.The lid has been blown off Pandora's box revealing, in one fell swoop, the rotten state of the political, business and professional elite of Trinidad and Tobago.
In the process, notions of ambition, upward mobility and success have given way to images of an overfed class,gorging on the fat of the land, obsessed with the ordinary, tacky pursuit of mere money and oblivious to the notion of responsibility for country. Gangsterism, dressed up in jacket and tie, and high heels with lipstick, is the culture of a leadership class committed to the ideology of self above all else.
When did we become so greedy as to imperil the very nation to which our fortunes are tied?
The culture of greed is now so all-pervasive, in both public and private life, that corruption has lost its sting. As the standard to which we aspire, corruption has been redefined and laundered to incorporate such concepts as redistribution of wealth and return on political investment. Indeed, the smarter money is on political stocks where the return on investment is beyond comparison with the modest and moribund market in stocks and shares.
While the politicians are most boldly in our sights as easy targets for punishment, we should temper our anger with the reminder that they do not constitute a class of their own. They are drawn, as any one of us might be, from the social pool of values which shape the political culture to which we all belong.
The pendulum politics that we have practised since 1986 should be evidence enough that no mere change of personalities or party can succeed in breaking us free from the political inheritance of centralised power with its corollary of weak institutions and poor representation. Experience tells us that the real challenge we are up against is a defiant, change-resistant political culture that has us by the throat. At first, we kick and we scream; then, having come to terms with our impotence, we surrender and settle for the rewards of corruption as a substitute for power. Unable to beat them, we join them.
How today's political parties engage the challenge of political transformation will determine their relevance to our future.
The centerpiece of such transformation must surely be the architecture which, like the farmer's bamboo jhaaki, might shape the weak sapling of our decayed political system into a strong upright tree, buttressed by effective representation and institutions.
These days, the consequences of a weak institutional environment are plain for all to see as the political administration tramples across one boundary after another, almost at will.
It says something about the dysfunctional nature of our institutions that politicians can so easily co-opt the preserve of law, order and due process at the expense of justice and the public interest.
In the prevailing environment of 24/7 campaigning, the air hangs thick with exposé and counter-expose. Everything is grist for the politician's mill as it shreds facts and minces truth on the altar of political expediency.
There may be no irony at all to the fact that politician-lawyers are the key offenders in exploiting the political platform as a court of summary judgment.
We are in dangerous waters when the character of no one is safe from abuse by those blessed with the power of high office, parliamentary privilege and platform freedom. Equally, we are in grave danger when the power of high office, parliamentary privilege and platform freedom combine to set the accused free, whether by deliberate design or reckless expediency.
In this climate of free-for-all, with the society in free fall, everyone is at risk- including the perpetrators. The poison of innuendo is creating a dangerous cloud that is choking us all, crippling us with the fear of unknown outcomes,and killing the public spirit.
It is simply wrong, injurious and counter-productive for politicians to assume personal possession of matters that should properly be laid in the hands of institutions and agencies with the responsibility for investigation and action.
Perhaps, after all, there is some poetic justice in the fact that lawyers are among the most recent victims of the virus of injustice and character assassination. In a certain world, it might be viewed as a spirit lash for the sins of a professional culture that prizes ambition above justice.
As it stands, we are laying traps from which the future might never escape, condemning ourselves to a succession of governments that mine the past instead of building the future. Unequipped for the task at hand, they opt for the distraction of the backward glance, obsessing endlessly about past wrong doing and parlaying the past as the present.
Political expediency is the inevitable resort of panicked ineptitude. Its danger lies in the innocence of its motives as it carries us to the point of no return.
Jamal Mohammed is only the latest example in yet another government that is bungling its way into disaster and taking us along for the ride. Weak and as yet unformed, our institutions will bear the brunt of the panicked response by government boots.
Over and over, we will be called to protect our institutions, deformed and disturbing as so many admittedly are.
In the evolving scenario, neither silence nor fear can be an option.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies