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Citizens must not be passive

Sunity Maharaj on major issues:

By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

TRINIDAD and Tobago needs more informed citizens in order to become a more responsible society, said Sunity Maharaj, Sunday Express columnist and director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies.

Speaking on a panel at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) forum on the San Fernando-to-Point Fortin Highway at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, yesterday, Maharaj said it is time for the people of this country to shake off their history of being "passive observers" and become part of the process.

She said citizens must seek to know what issues are affecting them and become a part of the process.

"Where exactly do you stand in relation to the outsourcing of health care... it does not matter if you don't support it, but where do you stand about how much aggregate is being taken from the Northern Range. But the important thing about knowing where you stand is that you have to have information because you don't just say 'I stand here'. It is the beginning of creating a responsible citizen.

"Because when you realise that you don't have the information, you ask why don't you have it. Then you make a demand on the media or your representative or the information agencies. An informed citizen becomes an informed member of a community, an informed member of a region, an informed member of a country; and when you are informed, you will not get to the point that (leader of the Highway Re-Route Movement) Dr (Wayne) Kublalsingh has had to take us for us to pay attention to the single most largest infrastructural development," said Maharaj, referring to the Point Fortin highway.

She added that his country has had three choices after having elected a government—protest, the court or wait until elections.

"And that is because the transformation that has been required moving from the colony to the independent nation has remained incomplete. And so we still have weak institutions and it is moments like this we can talk about weak institutions. We can see clearly now when people say we do not have institutions to support democracy. Elections are simply not enough."

Maharaj said a draft constitution paper will soon be made available and if anything is being learnt from the issue of the Point Fortin highway, "It is to recognise the absence of avenues for a population, for an electorate, for a people to take control of the process of governance, as opposed to saying the government is the X number of people who sit there.

"The national physical development plan, the draft that has gone to Cabinet... to ensure orderly and sustainable development, I want to encourage this country to seize hold of that discussion and incorporate the experts at The University of the West Indies, because that is the framework within which a society can agree this is the spaces for industrialisation, for agriculture, for recreation and so on."

Maharaj said the people of this country will be tested again when it next goes to the polls.

"Are we going to be a population that is happy with sloganeering, happy to not question. The legacy that we have inherited, if you would go back to your grandparents and would imagine the investment that they had in the future the investment of hope that they put into this country to be able for us to be here today, and what they have yielded is what I call the consumer generation.

"I don't think we can hold anybody else responsible for that but ourselves... if we were different kinds of citizens we would have different kinds of leaders."

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