AS I sat down to write this column, I found myself in the unusual predicament of not knowing what to say. There was of course a great deal that one could write about. In a sense, however, there was in fact too much that warranted comment. What was involved here was political and policy "overload". The political system seemed to be suffering from political indigestion. Quite frankly, I went politically dumb. I did not know what to say.
A healthy democratic society should attract a balance of "bad" and "good" media commentary. Too much positive comment and the society becomes smug and self satisfied. Too much bad commentary and the society begins to panic morally and to suffer what sociologists call "anomie normlessness", or "cognitive dissonance".
We were on the wrong end of the tipping point, or perhaps we had come to occupy that space. In our brief post-independence history we have had times when all seemed to be going wrong and that political failure was imminent. The late 1960s was such a time. Then we felt we were lurching from left to right and then rushing to the sea as did lemmings. To many, it seemed that we had had a false start on being granted Independence in 1962, and that we needed to start all over again. We opted for a comprehensive constitutional makeover under the tutelage of Sir Hugh Wooding.
We survived the sixties and early seventies, thanks to OPEC and the petro-dollar bonanza. The crisis, which had been postponed in 1974 and in the years following came back in 1986 with all and sundry singing from the "One Love" hymnbook. Many felt then that we had finally got the ethnic and the political balance right. How naive we were! Shortly after winning power, the NAR collapsed under pressure from the constituent elements of the society. Those who had just lost power, wanted it back. Those who never had power before, and who wished to gain some of it, made intemperate demands: those who had lost it prior to Independence sought to regain it. The system could not sustain the pressures which were being brought to bear on it by the clamant elites. The 1987-88 collapse was monumental, and the seismic vibrations are still being felt in 2012. Those vibrations help us understand what is taking place today.
The nineties were terrible years, which were worse than those of the seventies. Because we had spent imprudently, we were in deficit as we are now and thus had to deal with structural adjustment and the attempted take over of the polity by Abu Bakr and the Jamaat al Muslimeen. We also had to deal with the "crack" coke influx which in turn fed the turf wars between Christian and Muslim gangs, the kidnapping phenomenon etc.
The State and the society absorbed all those shocks, and for a while it seemed that we would indeed achieve "develop state" status after all, what ever that meant. In retrospect, we could say charitably of Manning that in his early years, we had established a tolerable balance between good and bad governance. We were "normal" as these things go.
As often occurs, however, political "success" went to the head that wore the crown Manning began to believe that he was not a mere politician, but a "Moses" who had been sent by God to save us from ourselves and our golden icons... History is however unforgiving as is its wont, and caught up with Manning and forced him to go.
Some of my friends and colleagues in the PNM have asked me whether I had any regrets about disengaging from Manning, now that we have seen what his successors have been doing or, not doing. Frankly, I have no such regrets. Manning had become a political embarrassment and Kamla seemed to have the right credentials to effect a neo-NAR restoration. She seemed sent by another clutch of gods to rescue us from Manning's prodigality. My view then, and my view now is that in 2010, Kamla seemed to many to have had the right mix of factors that the society was calling for. Her social credential were "right"- as was her gender, and she made good use of them. The big question now is whether she has made the best use of those resources so far. History is however never a tidy guest, and in this particular case, much detritus has been left strewn around to make one wonder if History should have been invited at all.
Kamla's political "errors" so far have been many and it started with Reshmi and Jack. Neither were inevitable. Her's however, is not a challenge of vision or political will. It seems that she is faced with too many tasks which cannot be undertaken simultaneously. Among them is the need to put together a team of players in and out of Parliament and inside who have the requisite competence and integrity, and who do not assume that they can do whatever they wish or feel to do with impunity.
The second task is related to the Constitution. Much has to be done here to get the balance between the various organs of the state right. What we see is that the Westminster model is under challenge and that the balance between ministerial and collective responsibility is not quite right.
The regime also has a problem of determining the right balance between boards and ministers. One gets the impression that a lot of inexperienced chairmen see their role as one of self-enrichment and group enhancement. Many are slurping greedily at the trough. The fact that the PNM had its greedy ones does not justify what seems to be going on The Public Service is also still in disarray, and many ministers put the blame of underperformance and non delivery on the public servant. We need to fix that soon.
Also problematic for Kamla is the Tobago imbroglio. Her problem here is to find the right balance between what is right and just in terms of self-government and what the unitary state requires in an environment that is highly changed and on the brink of elections.
Another imperative is to keep the coalition with COP and TOP alive, and as we see in UK and Germany, coalitions have to be managed almost on a continuing basis. This balancing act consumes time and political resources that are needed for other responsibilities. High on the list of things that need to be dealt with is the Hot Spot problem That is a very complex matter which can make or break any regime. The burning need here is to keep Jack on a leash.
One can continue to itemise the areas of stress that overwhelm the regime, but my own tentative judgment, is that what is most needed now is to keep grand corruption in check.
There is far too much of it. We saw it overwhelm the Manning regime, and we see that it has now become the norm rather than the exception. Kamla is presently presiding over a corrupt state, and if she fails to rein in her courtiers in fact and not merely in rhetoric, her administration would suffer the fate of the NAR.