Sunday, February 18, 2018

ready for the road?

Keith Subero logo45

Mark Fraser

From today the PNM will begin its “Long March”. At the time of writing, the voting has not even begun; the results of the internal elections are unknown.

Opinion polls, which in a few instances have got results spectacularly wrong, have predicted that Team Rowley will demolish the Beckles-Robinson slate, with no room for even seasoned stalwarts who contested as independents.

Given the state of T&T all this means is that whoever comprises the new PNM executive must be prepared from today for a torturous “Long March”—a term China’s Chairman Mao Zedong once used as he demonstrated that such journeys must be strategically planned so that one’s “opponents will be unable to judge or intercept”.

As I have written previously, there appears to be a sense of generalised dread in the land. The challenge as such is amorphous, yet not unique; throughout history leaders have confronted various social configurations and challenges.

The difference here has been the rapidity and confluence of events within recent times. The question for a new PNM executive, even though recharged, may be where does it begin its journey. One suggestion is that it should pay attention to the anger that is growing in the streets.

The rumours on Friday of a coup mirrored the growing sense of foreboding that many citizens have, their feeling that the country is marching eerily towards a state of total breakdown.

The immediate challenge, therefore, has to be a strategy for the transformation of feelings of disenchantment, discontent, woundedness, marginalisation and fear into feelings of safety, aliveness, wholeness and hope.

As an aside, the superstitious among us have been saying much. They interpret, inter alia, both the “cobos” falling from the sky and the dead fish in the Chaguaramas area, a beach of hatching turtles being bulldozed reportedly in error, and the large dolphins being washed ashore at Vessigny as “signs”.

It is definitely a stretch—but some others see our society as reverting to what one of the most significant political theorists, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) described as “Man in a State of Nature” in which there is “a war of all against all”. Or, as we say: “Man eating man.”

Hobbes’ classic, “Leviathan” is a long read, but it contains some of the most memorable lines in political theory. He describes the State of Nature as a condition in which there is no organised society, knowledge, no account of time, art, letters, and “worst of all, continual fear, a danger of violent death, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

I distance myself from such bleak visions of my country, just as I had when VS Naipaul dismissed us in the Caribbean as dependent people, who occupy half-made societies in the Third World’s Third World.

But T&T placed under the microscope does reveal some unsavoury truths. The Economist magazine, observing the assassination of former Law Association president Dana Seetahal, wrote that T&T has a “creaky, ex-colonial judicial system” which is unable to cope with the flood of drug and gang-related crime, complex fraud and money-laundering.

Those truths could possibly be transformed into questions for the Attorney General’s Office, where payments of $53 million were made to a few selected lawyers.

They should be extended to State agencies: Petrotrin, which Express investigative reporter Camini Marajh wrote operates under “a culture of short cuts and complacency”; the Securities and Exchange Commission, which reported that in 18 years it had prosecuted no incidents of insider trading; T&TEC, which is compelled to pay a $69 million monthly bill under a useless “take-or-pay” contract, and is now facing bankruptcy; TSTT, where employees are blamed for the decline in profits from $349 million in 2009 to $49 million in 2013; and the Public Service which has abandoned the words, “public accountability”.

A people in despair will hitch their hopes to any wagon. A PNM executive, if it is to be taken seriously as presiding over a Government-in-waiting, must state clearly what it sees at its mandate and objectives.

Above all, it must be sensitive and reassuring. It must say to the country, “these are our intended performance standards….”.

And to obtain credibility, it must demonstrate that it has a disciplined approach, so that constituents—across T&T—would be aware of those objectives that its decisions are aimed at achieving.

To many this may not be the most appropriate example, but still I recall the communication techniques the Maurice Bishop government used to inform citizens in Grenada. They had been so effective that an airport taxi driver was able to recite to visitors the national figures for patient admissions and teeth extractions.

Above all, legislative oversight over the Cabinet must be a firm commitment, because today the latter has been replaced by a “Midnight Cabal” which awards billion-dollar contracts almost daily, for the benefit of family and co-ethnics.

Ultimately, there will be two “Trinidads”—some observers say —the East-West Corridor/parts of San Fernando and Point Fortin; and the other comprising Central and the Siparia/Debe catchment.

Years ago kaisonian Explainer sang: “Lord, we can’t go on dis way…give us deliverance today.”

A new PNM executive? The “Long March” is its test.

* Keith Subero, a former

Express news editor, has since followed a career in

communication and management.