Updating Williams' message from 1962
Of the three guiding principles—Discipline, Tolerance and Production—to which the country dedicated itself on the proposal of first Prime Minister Eric Eustace Williams, the first appears to be the criterion according to which most Trinidad and Tobago's failures are recognised.
Over 50 years, little resistance has arisen to continued acceptance, at least in theory, of the Eric Williams slogans. Nobody has had a better idea that the country has known of, and the consensus has been to leave well alone.
By comparison with many troubled places around the world, tolerance has largely prevailed in T&T. People of different races have continued to live in peace if not always in harmony. Political competition has persisted on the basis of parties largely identified with the two major ethnic groups.
Still, entrenched polarisation on the basis of race has not been the T&T experience. At least not by comparison with, for example, Caricom partner Guyana where racial divisions as between Indians and Africans have found expression in violence and deep-seated bitterness.
Diverse political causes find their place under the T&T sun. At least for some decades, advocacy of secession of Tobago was openly advertised. In the marketplace of ideas, the share enjoyed by the secessionists diminished, or was overtaken by less potentially disruptive and more persuasive arguments in favour of internal self-government for the island.
In the 1970s, and in 1990, bloody-minded armed revolution was promoted, and unsuccessfully carried into action by its proponents. The record shows, however, that tolerance extended even to those actively committed to smashing the State as this country has known it.
Assorted religions are freely practised, their key holy days celebrated as national events. And even militant atheism finds a voice in the national mix.
The evident expansion of the T&T economy—its impressive manufacturing, commercial and financial sectors, all based eventually on energy income—testify to the successful pursuit of the goals of production. If T&T looks and feels like a much different place than the 1962 birthplace of a nation, it has to be credited to the account of production, reflected as well in expanded infrastructure.
It is discipline, which remains the national bugbear. The lack of discipline is reflected in driving patterns, and lackadaisical law enforcement.
Other evidence of indiscipline proclaims itself in the littering of roads, waterways, beaches, empty lots and wherever possible. Add to this the ear-splitting noises that inescapably disturb the peace, in defiance of rules and regulations not effectively enforced, or not enforced at all.
These are just some of what signal large deficits on the discipline account. T&T has come a long way, but yet has a long way to go. A 2012 updating of the Williams 1962 message would bluntly urge: Tighten up, smarten up; get with it, T&T.