Trinidad and Tobago has many worthy features. However, Mr Panday was right.
There is a relatively small group of people who run the country, and this underside can, through its machinations, twist the fragile intent of our young republic to make it something more, say, banana. I do not here refer to a club, cabal, or an ethnic association. Rather, its distinctions are most clearly seen or felt in the realm of class, and it is here that Trinidad and Tobago may have its problem.
What is essentially a class problem has been dressed up as race, ethnicity, gender, geography, education. These have a complex relationship with class, but are as much result as cause. Class distinctions therefore demand attention if we are to have a just society. A parasitic Oligarchy stands in the way of this.
As a class, the oligarchy superimposes itself on the natural social and economic order of development to achieve for itself fabulous wealth and tremendous power. As its modus operandi filters down, it becomes less a display of power and more a demonstration of arrogance. But at the highest level, it is thoughtful, calculating, deliberate and extremely dangerous. It is not to be trifled with. Even criminals leave them alone.
It has the power to shape law, to change regulations, determine the effectiveness of law enforcement, direct the audit capability of the State, and even to take life.
Our Oligarchy has a hierarchy of three. The Aspirant is an Associate Member, and like most wannabees, flaunt wealth and contacts in order to gain acceptance to the Oligarchy, to be a Parasite. These are most prone to naked and vulgar expressions of wealth. They are educated professionals or uneducated tenderpreneurs, with a galloping ambition that would make Shakespeare’s Macbeth proud. They don’t understand that a Parasite should be quiet, so they draw attention to themselves by their crass superficiality. They like expensive cars and talking down to people, drunk on power.
Then there are Basic Members, who don’t know they are oligarchs at all. They see themselves as individual or small group actors, without general power but perhaps with some specific influence. This is having ‘contacts’, knowing powerful people who can get things done. They act in a scandalously self serving way, unaware or unwilling to be aware that their actions cast a cancerous pall over the prospects of our future. They are middle and upper income.
If the social fabric tears, they have the most to lose because they cannot succeed somewhere else where their mastery of chicanery will be of little use. Thus they are often privately outspoken, yet say little publicly, fearful of loss.
The Senior Oligarch is most dangerous, self serving and rare. This is the individual or family who by virtue of their class achieve a level of wealth and influence of which most citizens are completely unaware. They stay in the background. Unlike Basics, Seniors are fully aware of their position, and keep a very low profile. The puppets they manipulate are often politicians and people in the public sector, people eager for money and proximity. They don’t like tax.
The Senior Member has much to lose if things turn ugly here, but is well insulated by virtue of assets and holdings held abroad. This makes them free to step into the arena every so often, and then retreat again. It is little more than sport, and they can live without their local roles if they had to.
Senior Members govern from the shadows; Basic Members by positioning themselves in key sectors. Aspirant Members know little of these things, so confine themselves to the little rule-bendings which are individually innocent but collectively catastrophic to the ambitions of a just society. Most of the leadership of this society in politics, academia and business falls into one of these categories. These are the old plastic bottles that pollute our prospects.
Where will we find Parasites? Well, the oligarchy is in the very bedrock of the society, and the further in you go, the more apparent the benefits of membership becomes. This gives rise to two peculiar features not found in nature.
The first is Silence. There is a conspiracy of silence where leaders do not challenge each other and at no time hold fellow members to account. This is why the Integrity Commission cannot function, and when it decides to investigate allegations of corruption, its focus is on the Minister of the People since he is an Aspirant at best and therefore expendable. There are far more credible allegations about senior politicians, but as Basics sponsored by Seniors, they are untouchable. Thus the leadership of the police declares innocence in Section 34 and Emailgate before investigations are completed. No police officer is going to lock up an Oligarch and have a career afterward.
The second feature is sycophancy. The bigger the Parasite the more compliments they get. The Basic and Aspirant Members, to be found in politics, academia and charitable ‘clubs’, which are often associations to advance the personal interests of their membership, use blunt positives to get their point across. This is why we have such nauseating affirmations of our failed political leaders by brown-nosing followers.
However, the absence of meaningless platitudes is also keenly felt. The COP leader, about whom no superlatives are spoken, is therefore reduced to having a fake old lady singing his praises on TV. The COP is now using State funds to shore up public opinion about its leaders, Aspirants all. Animal Farm indeed.
Politicians and businessmen post-Clico have lost much of their credibility. Civil society leaders have been targeted and bought, leaving our fate in the unlikely hands of two sectors- Labour and Religion. Sadly, the labour movement is wandering, failing to recognise that today’s challenge overshadows even that of Butler’s time. It must get modern. It cannot be a force for unproductive pursuits any longer.
Religion must halt its retreat in the face of ignorant secular logic. The Oligarchs are the greatest contributors to religion, and can be influenced by the faithful. Leaders of the great religions must do more than retreat into their sacred houses.
The currency of the Oligarchy is, well, currency. Its powers must be fettered if we are to be free, for the very fabric of our democracy is threatened. If this society destabilises, it will be in no small part due to the Oligarchy. We need leaders who are non-members, or the society will throw up some, by force.