Monday, January 22, 2018

'Fog up' threat T&T must guard against


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The threat, or the carrying out, of disruptive protests to register dissatisfaction or to back community demands marks both an unwelcome trend and an unhappy sign of the times.

At least for now, sights familiar to media consumers of people taking to the streets mark not the eruption of any mass movement demanding sweeping change such as the end of dictatorship, and wider democracy. The "Arab Spring" events that changed the face of leadership in the Middle East have found no echo in T&T.

Here, people in protest are agitating narrower, more mundane causes. The histrionic level may appear the same, with a similar inclination to command undivided attention by any means necessary. In content, the demands, however, are particularised, and often unpredictable.

Last week, the leader of a plumbers' association was vowing to shut down the construction industry over new rules for licensing such tradesmen. The style of non-negotiable demands appears to have been appropriated to the end of signalling an expectation that the authorities or others to whom the demands are directed must eventually capitulate.

The plumbers' approach of going at once for the jugular appears typical of the troubled times. Shutting down the construction industry, or the threat of doing so, comes as a first-strike move in a dispute reaching the level of mortal conflict.

From Sea Lots last week came another threat to "fog up the place" if an overpass is not built within 40 days of the triple-tragedy accidents that took place there. Local-area agitators, politically charged on not, took up the justifiable cause of the accident victims, survivors and relatives.

The immediate impulse, however, was to stop traffic. The consequent disruption of normal life and business thus became the cost of accommodating Sea Lots sentiment.

Public sympathy, which naturally extended to the victims and the plight of residents, generally could not be expected to continue if persons entering and exiting the capital city were to be held hostage.

Fiery street protests, stopping traffic, playing havoc with normal free movement, work and business—all of this attracting splashy media coverage—appear preferred as a first resort. Unsurprisingly, the Sea Lots protest escalated into a conflict with police, resulting in the adoption of crowd-control measures as extreme as tear gas and the firing of rubber bullets. It could happen again.

Undoubtedly, trust in the authorities has declined. Across the range of areas including infrastructure and services, timely and sensitive actions and responses have been the exception rather than the norm, unduly stretching public patience.

Rushing to the barricades, however, vowing ominously to "fog up the place", can hardly be encouraged in any country which upholds a proper respect for law and order and due process. T&T is still one such country.