Friday, January 19, 2018

Political audits often needed


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Friday's historic demonstration made it clear to all doubters that notwithstanding their legendary relaxed temperament, Trinidadians could rise from their political torpor when they have to. In this case, they  let it be known that the "fat lady"  had not yet sung , and as such, they were not ready to "move on".

The event was peaceful and serious and both civil society groups and  government spokesmen (Jack Warner aside) handled the confrontation very maturely. There was no drinking, and no partying. Bells were rung and of course the placards were in abundance. Some of the latter were racy and provocative. In sum, it was a mature event which made one proud to be a Trini, whatever the ethnicity of the respective demonstrators.

Many Government supporters have said  that these frequent motions of "no confidence," whether triggered by the Government or by the Opposition,  are a waste of precious political and parliamentary time since the Government has a solid majority in Parliament and is unlikely to be overthrown. My own view is that the events are not a waste of scarce time, and that like the Auditor General who assesses and reports on our fiscal health, the motions are an essential aspect of our democratic governance process. It is important for the community to undertake due diligence exercises from time to time to determine whether there are any capital reserves left or whether we have exhausted what was there and are in deficit.

I also believe that representatives of civic society should periodically pause to satisfy themselves that the wheels of state have not run off the rails. Some such event could serve as  functional equivalent to a  commission of enquiry, a town hall debate, or a referendum as the Swiss do. Since Governments must be allowed to govern, the outcomes of these exercises will not be binding on the executive, which will however ignore the outcome at its peril. Curiously, this is yet another way of implementing Lloyd Best's quixotic  "macco senate" idea which had as its inspiration the notion that citizens or their representatives should  be continuously involved in their own governance. We dismissed the idea then as a "harebrained" scheme, but suitably reconstructed, it may serve to keep us in the democracy column. There are many ways to subvert democracy.

Studies have shown that whether people believe that a particular policy or course of action is good or not depends heavily on which party or grouping they belong to. Objectivity normally gives way to partisan  affiliation. For example, perceptions of  corruption  often depend on which side of the ethnic aisle one happens to be sitting on. Corruption likewise appears more pernicious depending on whether the corrupt person belongs to your party or grouping. In short, there are no such things as the "unvarnished truth" or the " incontrovertible fact." Truth comes in many shades and many versions might be correct.

By the same token,  assessments as to whether Friday's demonstration was big, small, or midsized depends largely on one's partisan affiliation, assuming that there is no physical count. I did not take part in the march on Friday. I chose instead to observe it while standing on sidewalks,the aim being to get a better sense about what messages and energies were being sent. What I saw were people joining or leaving the march at different times, depending on their circumstances. I am no good at judging crowds, but I would guess that 20,000 would be a fair estimate of the numbers who supported the event in one way or another.  However one did the calculation, it was a big crowd not to be dismissed as Jack sought to do. Jack's view that it was uni-ethnic is true, but not surprising. There has been some talk about the event being "wrong." Who  was "wrong," in this equation, the Afros who went out to march whether they were PNM supporters or not, or the Indians who stayed home whatever the merits of the issue? Do all Indians believe that the AG or the People Partnership handled the matter as they should have? Does wearing a red shirt make one a PNM supporter? Is red not a national colour as well? The matter is complex, and Jack would be well advised to avoid arousing passions. He does not help the People Partnership by his remarks which injure the country as a whole. Indeed, Jack is largely responsible for the consolidation of black support behind the PNM. He is in fact worth more to the PNM than Ramlogan who is careful about what he says.

It would be a gross untruth to say that most  people saw the demonstration as a racial event and joined it for that reason. To insist that this was so merely provides an excuse for the Government to dismiss the event as routine politics which it clearly was not. The PM would be well advised to ignore Jack's rant. While she might still have cross ethnic support, her Government has just about lost the mandate of heaven, even though there is no danger of it being overthrown. Ironically, Ish and Steve helped to put Panday in office. It seems that they might help to remove  his successors from the same office.

On this particular matter of Sections 34, I still believe that everything has not been put on the table of history. I am still waiting for the magician to play his/her last card trick which will show the audience how inattentive they were since the answer was obvious all along.

All I can say for now is that as a result of all that has happened, the People Partnership has lost much  of its legitimacy. We are in an era of doubt and disillusionment. We will however have to let the matter rest for the time being,  knowing for sure that the ghosts are not fully exorcised, and that their spectres would return to haunt us when they are least welcome.