For 30 years we had the same party in government. When we eventually realised the futility, we took a huge step in 1986 and have been changing governments regularly since. But whichever party ruled, the staleness remained, hanging heavily in our hearts, generating increasing despair as we saw our chances and resources frittered away by every administration.
We have had virtually the same government in power since Independence. Different parties but same government, same policies, same mismanagement and corruption, same inability to summon the inner power of this nation. And every election we engage in massive self-deception that we are voting for something new.
The staleness has been emphatically underscored in local government elections just concluded and will be slapped across every banner and on every platform in St Joseph. After the great many recent speeches by many different speakers, what new has been said? What new vision or direction outlined? It is the same as 30, 40 years ago. We have seen this movie so many times before and seem condemned to see it again and again.
So many millions of dollars and public meetings, so much promotion and paraphernalia, so much razzmatazz and rabble-rousing, and all we have are new faces, soon to be jaded by an effete system that condemns local government to inefficiencies and paltry preoccupations, when it ought to be the major instrument for delivering development to the communities and for strengthening the democracy in this country. And be wary of anyone who talks of local government reform without modernisation of the larger system of political governance in Trinidad and Tobago.
One does not work without the other. Both constitute the entire package badly needed for delivery, representation, transparency and accountability.
You cannot elevate local government to a higher plane of authority and responsibility without raising Parliament even further. One must deal with development, security and people’s participation in the communities; the other with national policies, budgets, legislation and protection of the public purse instead of being the dysfunctional, anachronistic rubber stamp of the Cabinet that it now is.
Local government reform must be an inevitable part of the process to the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature which does not currently exist. It is a terrible flaw in our governance that has facilitated the massive thievery of the treasury since Independence.
But did you hear anything of this during the election campaign? Nothing credible, for our leaders were either unenlightened or dishonest. If uneducated they could still learn. But if dishonest they are extremely dangerous, like any seasoned politician who suggests that it is human evolution rather than constitution reform that will solve our problems, revealing a suspicious distaste for reduction of the power of the Prime Minister and Cabinet should their party capture office.
No party or political leader has spoken of constitution reform in any profound way. They haven’t, because it would require strong positions on the way forward for Trinidad and Tobago. They clearly lack the courage and conviction for it.
If, in a desperate attempt to save the UNC from further shrinkage, the Prime Minister keeps a recent promise to table proportional representation in Parliament, we might learn where others stand on this issue; whether Rowley and the PNM still see it as a dagger aimed at their hearts; and whether the leader-obsessed ILP has given it any thought at all.
Will Rowley or Warner, as prime minister, be willing to live with a Parliament of full time members, acting as a “fierce watchdog” on the cabinet and state enterprises and with the power and authority to summon any public official for investigations into misconduct in public affairs? Any party with a positive answer to that question could get my support in 2015.
And though the opportunity is ripe for it, you will hear nothing of this issue as we engage in another massive masquerade in the St. Joseph by-election. Terrence Deyalsingh will say nothing lest he runs afoul of the PNM; Om Lalla is struggling to find his footing in a party of more airiness than substance; and Ian Alleyne will continue to be the clown, further diminishing the UNC. The huge, hollow, party platforms will invade the constituency, driven by the desire for power, and polluting the place with stale speeches from the local government campaign, full of platitudes, vitriol, slander, and talk of potholes and box-drains.
Watch for the circus wagons rolling to St Joseph. We have the unique opportunity of immediately seeing how campaigns for local government and a parliamentary by-election are the same, and of recognising the absurdity of political governance in Trinidad and Tobago.
I challenge any political party in this by-election to say how it is going to ensure true representation in Parliament, moving it away from specific constituency requirements, properly the domain of reformed local government, to the larger concerns of national direction and good governance in this country.
None will take up the challenge and this is ironic, because it is certainty and clarity on this issue that could tip the balance in favour of the party tackling it. For St Joseph is a marginal constituency with independent, floating voters, waiting to be persuaded by seriousness, rationality and a grasp of the fundamental issues facing the society. If no real quality surfaces, this vote will park and the fight will be between the two traditional bases, with the ILP pulling from both.
Someone or some party with courage, could win convincingly if they point the way to prevent the past constantly recurring, forever crippling the present and making the future more and more uncertain in this country. But the bet is for staleness and self-deception to prevail.
• Ralph Maraj is a former