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The Fire Next Time

By Sunity Maharaj

 When the time comes, let us remember that it was in the week of May 18 - 24, 2014 that we sealed the fate of our country and our future.

This was the moment when, faced with the terror mushrooming around the corner, we chose to lower our eyes, turn our heads and duck into the grimy alleyway to Room 201, there to hide our inadequacy and bury our fear under a mirthless uproar of scandal and laughter. 

What serious people could allow themselves to be distracted by the indiscretions and possible misdemeanours of Anil Roberts while giving him a pass on the dangerous developments being fuelled through his Ministry’s funding of the Carapo Jamaat via the LifeSport programme? Distracted from Anil by Anil. How much cuter can we get?

If we knew we would be passing this way again, and so soon, we could have saved ourselves the millions spent on the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup. For, once again, we are in the privileged position of seeing just how a country, its government, its forces of law and order, and its people of every class, willingly and with their eyes wide shut, put themselves on a path to suicide, celebrants at their own funeral—until the first shot is fired. Then the complicit conga line scatters, each man, woman and child for themselves, rushing behind burglar-proof bars to pump up the music and drown out their guilt, while out on the street the blood flows along the path to someplace forgotten.

It has taken us less than 25 years to work our way right back to the massive loss of political legitimacy which opens the way for the entry of illegitimate forces of power, armed with their own ideas of law and order.

If there were one responsible person in the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago, they would step forward today and demand that the LifeSport programme be immediately shut down, audited and investigated, with appropriate action taken to establish accountability of people and process. Expenditure figures alone tell us that the government has lost control of LifeSport and is now flirting dangerously with those in control. But who among them has the courage to bell this cat? Which one has the impulse to put country before personal ambition or to recognise when they’re being hoisted on their own petard?

Imam Hassan Ali of the Carapo Jamaat needs to sit down and have a chat with his fellow Imam Abu Bakr.  Perhaps, like Bakr of the 1980s, he sees himself as a man on a mission to clean up the rot of this republic by creating his own state of discipline within the indisciplined state of Trinidad and Tobago. 

For the young and lost who find their way to him, he and his mosque probably offer the leadership so lacking on the outside, a means to a better living and the family so sadly absent from their lives. History should tell him, however, that no good will come from putting them into the hands of desperate politicians and their power brokers, no matter the price they’re willing to pay. 

The hand of history continues to write the stories of our lives as a people so disempowered that not even having our own hand on the instruments of state and power can convince us that we are now responsible and in charge. But we are. And  ultimately, the future will demand answers and accountability of each one of us. We were here; what did we do? Well, we mostly lied to ourselves, and fooled each other, hiding the self-interest of wallet and back-pocket behind the veil of party, ethnic and group loyalty.

As the Head of the Public Service, the public interest requires that Reynold Cooper evacuate his comfort zone at the Prime Minister’s Office and deal with the situation at the Ministry of Sport. 

It is his responsibility, not just the media’s, to investigate the report that permanent secretary Ashwin Creed had to flee the country on information that a hit had been put on his life. 

What else might be going on with the public servants at the ministry? Next comes the Opposition Leader to say that a senior member of the Carapo Jamaat signed and submitted a financial document in the name of Mr Creed. Has Larry Howai so lost his moorings since becoming Minister of Finance that such allegations can occur under his watch without the most serious of interventions from him?

And now along comes the acting Commissioner of Police to pour fuel on the fire that is already threatening the life of journalist Mark Bassant. By recklessly blaming the victim, Stephen Williams has now emboldened the hand of anyone with a vendetta against Mark Bassant. Given his expressed opinion of the TV6 journalist’s reporting, his vow to “vigorously” pursue the case must be taken with a pinch of salt. Whether Mark Bassant’s reporting was irresponsible or not should be of no relevance to Mr Williams and the investigation.

If, at the highest levels of public office such unprofessionalism could exist, what is to be expected of the rest of us? Well, a lot actually. With the gatekeepers having abandoned the job, it is now left to us to man and woman the ramparts. 

Prepare to stand up. It could be the start of something really good.

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