like every other government in the last 25 years, the People’s Partnership has hit that point of denial where public disenchantment must be rationalised as a problem of communication. The message of performance and achievement is just not getting through.
The government’s PR gurus are advising more visibility, more profile, more TV time, more advertising, more presence, more, more.
It is uncanny how unerringly reliable politicians can be in choosing propaganda where communication is needed.
Take the matter involving the Tacarigua Savannah where another confrontation between the people and the government is on the verge of exploding as the government attempts to railroad the community into accepting a multi-sport facility on a treasured ten acres of green.
For weeks, the people of Tacarigua have been trying to get the government’s attention without success. They have been on talk shows, given numerous news interviews, written columns, sent letters to the editors, met with the Minister of Sport and, every chance they’ve got, have raised their voices for all to hear.
Apart from their report of the minister’s intractable position behind closed doors, the swelling tide of outrage and opinion has elicited nothing but silence from a government too distracted by elections to organise even their thoughts much less to focus on the needs of the electorate.
The disdain for public opinion is inflaming the situation, bringing with it the potential for radicalising yet another reasonable, law-abiding community that is acting out of nothing but civic-mindedness and a sense of their own responsibility to each other and future generations.
The bullying that marked the People’s Partnership’s complete flip-flop on the Mon Desir to Debe leg of the Point Fortin Highway extension and its shameless betrayal of promises to its own supporters there is again rearing its head.
Unless pushed by protest, we can expect the government, the MP and Tacarigua’s local government representatives to keep coasting in silence around the issue in the hope that it will simply disappear.
If and when protest erupts, we can expect the knee-jerk party line response accusing the people of being against development, against progress and against the government.
Of course, this response will be delivered in full colour advertising, handsomely paid for by taxpayers including the very people trying to defend their open-air, open access and highly accessible green turf along the Orange Grove Road between the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and the Priority Bus Route next to the Eastern Main Road.
So deep in denial is the Persad-Bissessar administration that not even two rapid-fire electoral defeats have managed to dislodge its head from the political sand.
The Tacarigua issue is not just about a savannah; it is about a people’s right to participation in matters affecting them and to have their views represented in the corridors of power by those with the responsibility for acting in their name. What does the Prime Minister think her mantra of “serve the people, serve the people” means?
If the government could resist the temptation to cower in denial, it would recognise electoral defeats and community protests for what they really are: messages from the people in the absence of an effective political apparatus for continuous communication with their government.
Communication, as an indispensable requirement in the democratic process, has simply never existed in our politics. Parliamentary farce ensures that the top-down political culture has minimal feedback mechanism.
The British governor with his total power did not need it and we who inherited his crown under the masquerade of Westminster democracy seem only too happy to continue the old tradition of propaganda from the government and protest from the people. When propaganda fails to achieve the government’s objective, the diagnosis is invariably not enough communication, followed by a prescription to increase the dosage and give them more, give them more, give them more!
The strategy survives because the culture of disempowerment and its institutions are still alive even as we gradually awaken to a sense of our own power. Today, we understand enough to know that we must block maximum power from taking root even if we haven’t yet figured out how to construct a political system suited to the needs of a sovereign people. Until we figure that out, we will stick with protest, the old instrument of subversion.
In this twilight zone of politics, with the beating heart of a colony and the pretty face of a modern democracy, exercising the protest option can be a risky proposition. To the cool crowd, it can be an unsophisticated anachronism, located in the past and standing on the wrong side of progress.
For all the validity of its concerns, as echoed in the Armstrong Report, the Highway Re-Route Movement has not been able to dislodge this charge.
The young, urban face of the modern environmental movement has only partially connected to the cause of the rural Mon Desir-Debe community which has itself been the victim of a political sleight of hand by the UNC which first represented it, then misrepresented it and has now dis-represented it.
This may be the context in which Wayne Kublalsingh was prompted to relocate his protest to Port of Spain and publicly confront the People’s Partnership Government on the steps of the PM’s office.
It bought him time. How much else might very well depend on what happens next in Tacarigua.
Unlike Mon Desir-Debe, Tacarigua is urban, visible to the Port of Spain-centric eye, politically mixed and, in this climate of Local Government elections, politically charged.
On its own, Tacarigua has what it takes to take on the government on the issue of its Savannah. How the people of Mon Desir-Debe, with their own plea to be heard and to be taken into account, will be factored into this, might yet be seen.