Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has warned citizens against looking “for short cuts and pied pipers or false messiahs” if they want to secure a stable and prosperous future for this country.
He also sounded an alarm bell about the ease with which some were becoming comfortable with corruption and plundering of the State’s resources, “once the spoils were shared”.
“Is it that we are willing to surrender to corruption, indignity, hollow platitudes, fancy speeches, political spin and flashing blue lights that hide and dazzle with all manner of wrongdoing associated?” Rowley asked last night.
He was at the time delivering a pre-recorded televised address to the nation on the occasion of the country’s 51st Independence anniversary from Naparima College in San Fernando.
Touching on the historical journey of the country from colonialism to independence, Rowley said while the country had “matured politically,” it was still restrained and bound by systems of government that had become irrelevant.
The Parliament was one such system which he said must act as a watchdog on other public institutions.
He said after 51 years, “I am firmly convinced that our Parliament, as presently operated, is not only inadequate but a definite impediment to the development of this country.
“After half a century, it is time for bold transformation. Whatever model we eventually adopt, it must, inter alia, ensure proper representation of the people in the decision-making process; act as a fierce watchdog on the Cabinet, Public Service and State enterprises, ensuring transparency, real-time accountability and the elimination of corruption and waste in our public affairs.”
According to Rowley, Parliament “must be empowered to negotiate budgets, legislation and public policy with the Cabinet, on behalf of the people, and have effective parliamentary committees with the power and resources to summon public officials to enquiries that can lead to serious attendant consequences where shortcomings are observed”.
He said key public officials such as the Governor of the Central Bank, the Commissioner of Police, chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, chairmen and executives of local government bodies, etc, should be able to report and be examined regularly as required and take questions from the people’s representatives on all sides of the political divide.
Rowley said what was needed was a Parliament where if taxpayers bail out a regulated private financial institution to the tune of billions of dollars, that the management of such an entity and the State’s regulatory agencies should appear before a parliamentary committee to answer to the people’s representatives directly.
“Such a system will allow the public to be properly informed in a satisfactory manner as to who did what, when, where and how, and it will also allow decision-making to be less secretive and erode the widespread public cynicism which currently prevails,” he said.
He explained while the People’s National Movement (PNM) did not have any particular model of the new governance, discussions continue on the issue within the party.
He paid tribute to the resilience of the people, having faced social unrest in 1970 and again in 1990, as well as an economic collapse due to oil prices, and felt that after 51 years, the country had much to celebrate.
He agreed that much more needs to be done and questioned whether the gains made by “our ancestors” were being squandered.
Rowley warned against “false messiahs” and those who rationalised “instant gratification as the new order”.
Pointing to an ideological change from building a nation on dreams and principles, Rowley said the conversations taking place now offer “that integrity in public life is now optional”, and “that the ends justify the means, no matter how unprincipled and innately dishonest they are”.
He made it clear he rejected this “conversation”, adding that public service should remain an endeavour for nobility and an unwavering commitment to nation-building.
On the crime issue, Rowley knocked the inability of the State to protect its citizens against criminal acts such as the displacement of homeowners on Duncan Street in the troubled East Port of Spain areas.
According to him, the State’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens, their rights and properties, and he called on all citizens to ponder whether the State had “abjectly failed in its first duty to its citizens.”
“Think about losing your home of 20 years to gangsters, and the State and all its agencies appear impotent to repossess your home and restore your rights,” he said.
Throughout his address, Rowley spoke about the need for “togetherness” to build a better nation.
“This must start with the understanding that we are in this together, one people, one national community …there is an inescapable connection between all communities in Trinidad and Tobago, rich and poor, north and south, east and west,” he said.