The MSJ's Independence Day Message
The Movement for Social Justice today issued its Independence Day Message. The following is the full statement.
Occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries provide the opportunity to celebrate the achievement of another milestone in life’s journey; to reflect on the years past and to rededicate oneself to the effort required to obtain unfulfilled goals. This is as true for a nation as it is for an individual. Thus it is that this, the fifty-first anniversary of our nation’s independence, offers yet another opportunity for us to collectively celebrate, reflect and rededicate ourselves to the task of building a truly independent nation.
There is no doubt that, in spite of all the problems which we are experiencing, there have been positives in the last 51 years. This is most evident in the fields of our cultural creativity and in the individual efforts of our world class achievers in international sporting arenas. Through a Desperadoes enthralling audiences at Carnegie Hall and Anya Ayoung Chee overcoming all challenges in the Project Runway in New York; CLR James and Vidya Naipaul stimulating debate with their writings; or Brian Lara setting the Sidney Cricket Ground alight with a brilliant double hundred or Hasely Crawford winning the 100 metres and the hearts of all at the Montreal Olympic stadium and our youthful Keshorn Walcott and Jehue Gordon surprising the world with their gold medals; Trinidad and Tobago has felt a sense of achievement.
These are, of course, but a few examples of what so many citizens have accomplished through their individual and collective efforts. At the same time, we can say that the history of the post independence period has been one of relative success compared to a number of other countries who obtained political independence at around the same time as ourselves. Some of those countries have been described as “failed states” since the vast majority of their citizens have little or no access to educational opportunities, basic health care, or shelter and where the society is shattered by war, famine and the almost complete absence of the rule of law and human rights.
Yet while we can take away positives from such comparisons, there is much that is wrong about Trinidad and Tobago. Given our very abundant resources and our small population size there is absolutely no reason why so many of our citizens live in poverty fifty one years after independence. We cannot be satisfied about the huge gap between the rich and the poor; or that our education and health care systems fail so many of our citizens. Basic requirements for a decent life such as proper shelter, a reliable supply of water, adequate drainage and other infrastructure – roads, recreational facilities, green spaces, community centres – are either non existent or woefully inadequate. Surely, fifty one years after Independence and having had in that time two very considerable windfalls of wealth from our oil and natural gas, these problems should not continue to bedevil us to the extent that they do.
It would be very easy to engage in the blame game for these problems. The MSJ today points to our collective responsibility for the state of our nation, fifty one years after independence. In the same way that we all jump for joy and “own” the victory and successes of our sporting and cultural champions, so too we must collectively “own” the failings of our country. For, while it is absolutely true that governments through the years have failed to bring about the real change that is required to resolve our problems, it is also true to say that as citizens we have voted for the politicians and parties that have then become the governments that have failed.
Over these fifty-one years of being an independent country, what then have we learnt? What can explain our failures? What is responsible for the crisis of governance or for the social breakdown of which our violent crime is a symptom? Why do the vast majority of citizens feel that politicians and others in authority have failed to represent them, or worse betrayed them? Why do we not trust the institutions of state to give us justice – from the police to the Courts to the Cabinet? How come there is a sense that there is so much corruption and that so many people are corrupt that corruption is no longer an issue?
It is the view of the MSJ that these are signs that, while Trinidad and Tobago is not a failed state, our post independence institutions of state have indeed failed. From the system of representation of Parliament and Local Government; to the system of justice of the police and courts and prisons; to the system of executive decision making of Cabinet and state boards of how resources are to be allocated; to the system of social development of our schools and health care facilities – there is a fundamental need for major reform – revolutionary change even. Such revolutionary change must also be in our thinking as citizens. We need to move from the culture of dependence, of “eat ah food” – whether it is the business owner who is afraid to lose contracts and so goes along with the paying of a bribe to the minister; or the professionals who are scared of standing up for what is right because of the fear of not getting a consultancy; or the unemployed youth who knows that the politician is not serious but will wear the party jersey and attend the rally for a few hundred dollars and a promise of a CEPEP wuk.
Fellow citizens, we are at an important cross-road on this the fifty-first anniversary of our Independence. We can either grasp the opportunity for real change by supporting a movement that truly stands and will fight for social justice, equity and fairness for all; that is committed to changing the relations of power so that our institutions will be in the interest of the ordinary man, woman and child OR we can take the road of following either one of the traditional parties who are the ones that built and maintained the existing failed systems with political support of an ethnic base; or worse, we could run after the smoke and mirrors and gifts of those who promise change and claim to be action oriented, but who really are about money and power. The road we choose will determine what we will be reflecting upon at the sixtieth anniversary of our independence.
Movement for Social Justice