In the midst of last week's din, Larry Howai dropped a sparkler while addressing the Chamber of Commerce.
We should not expect miracles from his first budget, he warned. The best he's hoping for is to lay the groundwork to "unleash the creative energy and potential of the people".
What greater miracle could there be, Mr Howai?
Unleashing the creative energy and potential of our people is the very miracle we've been praying for in this desert land of mimicry where self-hate rises to the level of sickness.
Presumably, Minister Howai is asking us to judge him and his budget not by such mundane markers as the size of the deficit, the fiscal package, the Public Sector Investment Programme or other such things. No, he is to be judged by the extent to which, taken together, the measures contained in his 2012-13 budget might succeed in setting the stage for unleashing the "creative energy and potential" of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
In politics, such language is the stuff of populist cliché, but coming from a career banker from the indigenous sector, we are entitled to hope that it is an embryonic instinct towards the economic transformation so needed to spark the revolution for freeing us from the trap of history.
Admittedly, this is a big burden of hope to rest on Mr Howai's slender budget. By definition, a national budget is only a snapshot projection of a country's income and expenditure programme for managing its affairs over the year and for directing its development programme. But on the basis that every cent spent betrays the taste and values of the spender, Mr Howai will reveal himself, his values and what he thinks of us by the choices exercised in his budget.
As the manager of the largest budget in the country, with enough muscle to create and destroy markets, where will Mr Howai put his money? And how will he use it to pursue his goal of unleashing our "creative energy and potential"?
Will he set local content obligations on products and services funded by taxpayers' money?
Will he figure out how to match the liquidity-heavy banking sector with the investment-needy entrepreneurial sector?
Will he understand that access to markets and distribution is the single greatest impediment to transforming the fragmented, half-starved creative community into a creative industry?
In understanding this, will he bring an end to the waste of money and opportunity at CNMG, rationalise the State's multiple investments in the creative sector, and deploy state expenditure in advertising as stimulus for the creative industries?
Will he recognise the historical, environmental, cultural and intellectual heritage as valuable assets in economic diversification?
Will he see red over 'Colour Me Orange' and find his way to aligning State expenditure in make-work programmes to national goals in training, labour and enterprise development?
Will he find ways to pacify our historic anxiety over job security and give us the confidence to explore our gift for innovation and our yearning for financial freedom and personal independence?
In between tallying figures and identifying line items, will he be able to transform the historic bias against the products of our own imagination?
Ultimately, as pragmatic as a banker might fancy himself to be, Mr Howai will have to journey to the source of the challenge he has set himself.
In having assigned himself the task of unleashing a people's energy, he must now explore the sources of their leashing and inhibition.
There he will discover, if he hasn't already, the crippling impact of a history that has distorted our concept of power, including our sense of our own power and possibilities.
And so finally, we come to the source.
It is not only in the political arena that we suffer a distortion of power. In every aspect of our lives we see the consequences of our dysfunctional relationship with power, born out of the experience of our history.
Our very notion of power is that of a force that is at once oppressive and arbitrary: from man to woman, parent to child, manager to employee, teacher to student, priest to congregation, doctor to patient, government to governed.
In these former colonies of Europe in the Caribbean, the template of power is unquestionably authoritarian. It is the only face of power we know. History has taught us that this is how power is to be expressed and exercised: arbitrarily and oppressively.
We see it everyday with smart and reasonable people turning beast with the first taste of power. It is the source of the violence and injustice in our society, as well as our fear of independent thought and action. But while the idea of power as liberating and empowering is not within our experience, our future as a whole people in a wholesome society, depends on us building a new relationship with power.
Even if Mr Howai were to come to this insight, he might think that a budget has no place in healing the scars of history. He would be wrong. A budget that takes the country into its confidence, that respects the people's intelligence enough to present the challenge clearly and to articulate its proposals effectively, which eschews the easy recourse to mamaguy and dares to bring all interests into the equation, would be a radical break from the past.
In any case, history is beginning to leave him little choice.
All over the country, recognizing that the government is lost, people are mobilising to represent themselves. As it prepares to face off against the rising tide of the future, coming into a sense of its own power, the government has pushed Jack Warner forward as the extreme expression of the old politics of arbitrary power.
We may not yet be able to discern the outlines of the emerging landscape. But we do not need to know everything right now.
We are in the act of creation and prepared to design the future of our choice and to work hard in bringing it to life.
If Mr Howai could tap into this burgeoning energy, he might find the inspiration for using the simple tool of a budget to "unleash the creative energy and potential of the people".
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies