Our population has little trust in most of our high public officials. This malaise affects public attitudes as it increases feelings of insecurity making self-preservation the major motivating force for people. The situation renders national cohesion almost impossible for, as individualism increases, the sense of community becomes thinner all the time. After 50 years of Independence, the feeling of being part of a national society is almost completely absent in Trinidad and Tobago. This is the extent of the darkness here.
Our leaders are mainly to blame. The people find little light in them. They see those at the top living in ostentatious lavishness and instinctively know that most are selfish, uncaring individuals, with neither willingness nor capacity for sacrifice. None demonstrates even the slightest potential of coming anywhere near a Gandhi, Mandela or Aung san suu kyi.
The people have also seen billions spent every year for decades with little improvement in their lives. Crime grows horrendously, road conditions worsen, and preventable flooding persists along with endemic problems in education, health and water supply. Only corruption thrives and triumphs.
The population knows that, in the main, our leaders always put self before country. This will be on vulgar display over the next three years, as we move to the next general elections. Notwithstanding our worsening economic situation, this administration will be obsessed primarily with winning, mainly to continue enjoying power, privilege and prestige. They are like most of our politicians in this regard.
We will therefore see increased spending, not for developmental purposes, but to create the mirage of progress and a fleeting feel-good atmosphere by encouraging consumption. One newspaper editorial is predicting the highest ever National Budget for 2013. It will be massive borrowing and spending, solely to retain power, completely disregarding the national debt increasing to alarming levels.
They will, therefore, land the country at the door of the IMF which will impose painful adjustment measures on a population totally unprepared for them. Conditions would then emerge for the kind of social tensions that culminated in July 27, 1990. "Politics will trump economics'', as the administration spends primarily and irresponsibly in its own interest.
Indeed politics trumps everything here, including truth, integrity, merit, priorities and all that constitute the good governance of society. It is most despairing.
But not completely so. There are a few rays of light among our high public officials. As always, the Independent Senate bench stands out, providing sensible, objective argument in contributions to parliamentary debate. Senator Ramkhelawan could also have spoken for his colleagues recently, when, responding to some provocation in the Senate, he retorted, "I am not speaking for the Government or for the Opposition. I am speaking for the country. That is the only thing I am concerned about. Who runs the country is of little consequence. It is how they run it." Rare and refreshing.
Then there is our Director of Public Prosecutions, Roger Gaspard, who stands tall among our high public officials. He engenders trust. He holds "no brief for any individual, political party or politician". Fairly judged, he has lived up to his words.
His appointment as DPP was twice vetoed by former prime minister Patrick Manning, but Gaspard remained self-assured and unintimidated, with no politician, however powerful, being able to manipulate him. He was memorable in preventing injustice under the State of Emergency when thousands of mainly young black males were arbitrarily arrested, herded like animals on open tray trucks and carted off to prison. They could have still been there, had it not been for the DPP who went to court himself to make the case of insufficient evidence to lay any charges. Most of the arrested were freed. Thankfully our DPP is no sycophant, kowtowing to the political directorate.
So we do have some light at the top. We need much more to banish the deepening darkness. This requires the strong intervention of the population, the source of political power.
So listen people. Ensure that your democracy works for you. Whilst it remains the best form of governance, democracy also presents certain risks. You can elect dedicated, competent, selfless individuals, but you can also allow the selfish and power- hungry, the greedy and the corrupt, shallow social climbers and the decadent, even thieves and hoodlums, to enter the portals of power. An alert, probing, independent media, supported by a discerning population, is the only way to save a nation from this danger. Even the most developed country will land in deep trouble without strong public opinion. Every citizen therefore has a responsibility. You cannot keep complaining about poor governance, incompetence and corruption, but when the time comes to choose your leaders, race trumps credentials and character.
Thankfully there is some light here as well. We have an independent, growing minority, individuals free from tribal allegiance and politically unaligned, reducing the influence of race on our politics. This middle, politically mobile sector has impacted election results since the 80s, contributing significantly to six different results in seven general elections over the last 16 years, preventing our politics from being completely ossified by race. They are our best hope since Independence.
With their light in the middle and below, and some light at the top, we can still save ourselves. One deya or candle aflame can light a million others, illuminating the entire place. So come on people. Get involved. Speak out. Forget party loyalty for the next three years. Demand performance and accountability from all politicians. You are the boss. They are your hired servants. Let them know that henceforth, you are looking for quality, not race. You will see the difference the next time they come for your vote. So, more light, please.
• Ralph Maraj is a former