Monday, January 22, 2018

When PM fiat reduces us all to zero

It is impossible to contest Winford James' case against the claim that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her government are projecting a parliamentary session to debate and perhaps pass laws with momentous consequences (whether disagreeable or not) for Tobagonians 14 days prior to the holding of elections for the Tobago House of Assembly.

His case rests on the indecency of the haste that denies any real opportunity for discussion of the issues within the Parliament and among the public. James further suggests that the PM has a package of reforms that marks a significant change in the status quo for Tobago and Trinidad. To proceed before the elections is accordingly contemptuous to the public and to constituted authority expected to participate in the debates.

For all that seems to matter is what the executive wants and intends, not what the population thinks and is persuaded to initiate. Kamla Persad-Bissessar gets what Kamla Persad Bissessar wants.

The James insight confirms all we have experienced about the habits and behaviours of executive governance in the Caribbean. The issue represents yet another confirmation of the triumph of prime ministerial fiat.

Winford James' comments are thus par for the course. Try as hard as I might, I am too numb to feel the outrage.

What I feel we have to decipher is what it says about us and what it really means? "Us" here includes the representatives and the T&T public.

About that, my outrage is fathomless. Why is it that not one of her 29 MPs is unready to blow his or her top and break ranks against a move that treats even them with absolute contempt?

The answer is to be found in a mixed bag of weighted averages of input factors. These comprise the quality of mentorship in personal and professional development, the capacity for individual self-determination, the degree of personal commitment to public virtue, clarity on the definition and mission of civilised development, and the derived quality of manifest conscience.

Such factors trump seniority, academic degrees, extent of professional knowledge, political skill, prodigious ability and learning, age, and the absence or presence of any external institutional arrangement that specifies a need for a parliamentary intervention.

Further, it seems appropriate to expect a cautionary word from the voices of certain senior party members. Three names come to my mind. One is the deceptively politically modest Bhoendradatt Tewarie whose Tapia past suggests that he can pretend no innocence of the government's narrow electioneering press on constitutional reform for Tobago.

Dr Tewarie's assumption of responsibility for the Planning portfolio coincided with a new and noticeable stiffening of the Prime Minister's resolve to assert the primacy of the national government's powers over Tobagonians.

Another is the man who for 43 years has carried the venerable title of Chief Servant, renamed himself Makandal Daaga, and who led the 1970 movement that made the clenched fist and the slogan "Power to the People'' household symbols.

I wager that Chief Servant Daaga definitively retired his historic revolutionary credentials one Saturday before the elections of May 24, 2010. On that day in Aranjuez Savannah, he said Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the only contender for Prime Minister who promised: "If you vote for me, I will give you your freedom back.''

The third government politician who we should expect to urge caution is Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. Let all opponents suspend disbelief for a while, and set aside our knowledge that the government's constitutional reform Green paper proposals for Tobago came from his ministerial office.

Mr Ramlogan is not only the AG, but also a specialist professional who should give restraining advice to his Prime Minister. In addition, claims are bruited abroad that give this attorney super professional attributes. Wikipedia in an entry updated as late as January 3, 2013, says: "Anand Ramlogan (born 1972) is one of the Commonwealth's leading constitutional and human rights attorneys at law... Several of Ramlogan's cases have been the subject of articles in international law journals because of the landmark decisions they birthed.''

So on the basis of such claims, Trinidad and Tobago should expect a Green Paper with an authoritatively relevant articulation of the constitutional reform issues. As a professional with no statistically mean accomplishments, he ought to be a source of wise political counsel.

Many of us are habituated to an indolence that is old and cold. Where we may want to break out, we see little reason to incur the costs of standing up for a larger, more sophisticated, view of Trinidad and Tobago.

Accordingly we choose to go along to get along. The parliamentary agenda as of January 4, on the official website, shows only one sitting for January 7, 2013.

The Order paper has no Tobago item on the agenda. So far the idea of a debate on the January 16 might just be kite-flying to see which way the wind is blowing.

But the politics of executive fiat against the prospect of a serious response from Tobago is in the end an act of totally irresponsible behaviour. It is an act of self-injury.

We need men and women of conscience who can work to ensure that Kamla Persad-Bissessar's government gets the contempt it deserves.

Lloyd Taylor, a long-time Tapia House activist, writes from New York.