Sunday, February 25, 2018

This endangered place

Ralph Maraj

 We are in danger, without the politics to save ourselves. The people have never been in charge here. The alarming murder rate and the shameful inadequacy in dealing with the oil spill are symptoms of that 50-year deficiency at the heart of our country. 

Less than a decade into Independence, the people took to the streets calling for their power, but never got it. 

The 1970 eruption brought only symbolic change and the absence of the people’s influence on national determination worsened over the ensuing four decades, producing a pervasive social and cultural decay, complete corruption of national life, political stagnation and levels of lawlessness and violence for which the nation has no answer in its present endangered state. 

The one factor which eventually saves a society, that awakened public consciousness and strong public opinion, the high politics, does not exist in T&T. It has been suffocated by a diseased tribalism. Almost half the population tolerates the corruption and incompetence of this Government; and the other half, to a lesser extent, will demand no accountability when the PNM rules the roost.

The majority of people apparently love their political parties more than their children. This is the depth of corruption and irresponsibility that has led to this entire society being engulfed by the spreading swampland that I warned about two years ago. We remain a nation in name only, with no society whatsoever, an endangered place.

You get alarmed when you think deeply about this country. It is now utterly leaderless, with dysfunctional institutions, a retarded constitution, antiquated governance, and an economy no longer generating the wealth to sustain our lifestyle. There is no security here. No one is in charge; the nation is a ship adrift on the high seas. 

Indeed our economic flagship, the energy sector, is the very symbol of national nonchalance. For 100 years we have been an oil producer but never developed the capacity to deal with industry disasters. 

Worse, the present oil spill is not due to accident but maintenance absent for almost 20 years, implicating both major political parties. Rusting pipelines beneath the ground serve as symbol of a country rotting beneath the surface, whilst we again get ready to trivialise ourselves with a decadent, meaningless Carnival, a country “wining and jamming” to the precipice. 

There is a clear danger to the economy, but no public to speak of it. People are lulled by business activity, consumerism and ostentation, forgetting it will all vanish like soap bubbles with the threat to our energy revenues. The Government speaks of economic growth, quoting figures that reveal stagnation but very few ask questions, including the Opposition, that epitome of intellectual laziness. 

There’s no public to chastise their incompetence either. We were never called to responsibility for our society, never had the power that should have come with Independence, and so looseness, lethargy and mindlessness reign here, making this place easy prey for the unscrupulous and unworthy who abound  in the politics of the country. Only politicians and their friends have a field day in this endangered place. 

After 50 years of Independence, oil and gas booms, our governance is shambolic and our major institutions disarrayed or dysfunctional. The most shameful is our Parliament through which we should have felt the people’s power in national decision making. Our Parliament should have been that arena for fierce supervision of the Cabinet, for negotiation and collaboration between governors and governed like in the US congress, for example. But our house of the people has facilitated national degradation for 50 years. 

Instead of an instrument of the people’s power, it is a place of ritual and “grand-charge”, elementary in representation and laughable with its imitation grandeur. 

The Treasury is being raided every day before its eyes but it cannot protect the people’s patrimony.  What then is its use?  Why do we waste hundreds of millions of dollars every year on this impotence?  Did it prevent the gas station racket, Lock Joint, the Caroni Racing Complex, the Piarco Airport scandal and money laundering, the desalination plant, the Tarouba sporting complex?

Instead it voted unanimously three times for the treasonous Section 34. Will it do anything about the recent Auditor General’s report pointing to millions of dollars wasted in the Public Service? Will it investigate reports that the raiding of the Treasury is now more frenetic than ever with certain ministers now reputed billionaires from corrupt earnings?  All it can produce are cosmetic recommendations of a Standing Orders Committee chaired by the Speaker and leading lights from our two intellectually moribund parties. 

And more “mamaguy” is coming with the Government’s proposals for constitution reform. How will term limits stop the domination of the Parliament by the Prime Minister and bring the people into the decision-making process? How will a fixed date for general elections empower our parliament with the resources and authority to summon public officials to investigative committee hearings which could lead to corruption charges against public officials? 

Will our new constitution continue to split the annual budget for national security between a police service we need to be strong and an army we never needed at all?  Will we at last have one strong, adequately resourced security system under one central command?  Isn’t this country too small for an elaborate system of army, police and coast guard, each inadequate, whilst the police cannot meet the demands of modern-day law and order? 

Our worthless political class will never summon the courage to face the tough questions of governance, security and our stagnating economy. With fourth standard politicians, ageing juveniles in Cabinet and parliament, and no power of the people, we will remain an endangered state until the implosion.


• Ralph Maraj is a former 

government minister