Deeper than the theft of public money is the corruption that involves the trading of public institutions and office for personal and political benefit.
This is why the possibility of Section 34 being some diabolical plot and not just the result of ordinary incompetence has so rocked us to the core. The idea that the Cabinet, Parliament and the President’s Office might have all been compromised in some political quid pro quo deal terrifies us with its implications that the tentacles of corruption might have breached the inner sanctum of our institutions of democracy.
While Section 34 remains in the realm of speculation and investigation, the evidence of general institutional corruption is brazen and all around us. Its signature appears under the seal of the Prime Minister’s office through the wide distribution of public offices and positions to party hacks and favoured friends, unrelieved by evidence of competence. Diplomatic positions and state board appointments have been distributed as if the state itself were a bran tub. Reports now emerging from those who were once inside and are now out, as well as those still entrenched at the highest levels of the government, confirm our worst suspicions and fears about the vulnerability of the state apparatus to a marauding political class.
In the hands of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the prime ministership itself has become a bargaining chip, passed around from hand to hand, pre-empting a split here, buying support there, in a parody of power-sharing. In Parliament last week, as the PM and her cabinet CEO spilled the beans on CEPEP contracts to relatives of new arch nemesis Jack Warner, it became clear that, among those entrusted with the job of managing the country, there is no distinction between public and private and government and party when it comes to dishing out publicly-owned resources.
Perhaps, the unfettered haste with which party supporters are being rewarded with state possessions is a reflection of the insecurity of today’s politicians, afraid that they may never pass this way again. Unlike Eric Williams who could presume to win one election after another for 25 years years, notwithstanding the torrid opposition against him, today’s politicians do not have the luxury of pacing the process. Since the end of the PNM’s unbroken run in 1986, the politics has entered a different, more intense time zone in which instincts are more urgent as tomorrow becomes less certain.
For a monolithic party like the PNM, the consequences have been bad enough. Given two clear chances, Patrick Manning never seemed to believe that he had enough time for democratic government and the often torturously slow process by which a people might be persuaded to participate in their own change. Repeatedly, he chose the solo run, leaving the people out of the process while he and his hand-picked can-do team attempted to lift the country by its bootstraps to have them shanghaied to some future cast in concrete and glass. Eventually, when it decided it had had enough of being tugged this way and that, the country lifted its boots at him.
If recent PNM governments have been challenged by time, the other political parties who have arrived in office with minimal experience of government, have tackled the job with even less confidence in time being on their side. Unlike Patrick Manning, Basdeo Panday was no man with the certainty of a plan. But he, too, found it more expedient to cut corners and shortchange the political process, eventually ending up in the hands of deliverers, those people with the means to make things happen but who inevitably need prime ministerial cover to protect them from the people. Ultimately, he went into battle against his party’s executive and lost the war.
The greatest devastation, however, has come from those who have profited the most from having no time. No time to talk, no time to negotiate, no time to settle differences; no time for meaningful consensus. Only time enough for winning.
Thrown together at moments of historic opportunity, the NAR and the People’s Partnership raised the banner of “Vote Dem Out!”, kicking up enough dust to suffocate all doubt and bury the hard questions of power, politics and governance. That is, until they got into office and the dust began to settle, revealing them as strangers in one bed in the bright glare of daylight. The rest was not future but history, over before it had even begun.
Against the background of our latest political adventure, we should now know enough to admit the importance of time and process in our politics. Given all that we have been through, it would be sheer madness for us to keep buying cat in bag.
With every fibre of our being, we must resist the temptation to surrender our senses and be hustled into a side. To accept that we have no time to think, to weigh and to decide is to ensure that the future will be yet another dead-end.
The importance of insisting on our right to take our time to evaluate all options is becoming even more urgent in the context of this season of unending elections. For the government in particular, elections have become the better option-even with the odds against them. For, electioneering is so much easier than governing, especially when paid for by taxpayers’ money.