I had been considering several topics to write on and then inspiration (if I can call it that) came by the way of an ill-conceived attempt to stir my sense of humour. The message on my phone read as follows:
I phoned the vet the other day and said, “I think my goldfish has epilepsy.”
The vet came over and saw it swimming and said, “It looks OK.”
“But,” I chimed in “look what happens when you take it out of the water.”
It was a mediocre joke at best, although, I could not help but reflect on the clumsy epileptic attempts by the leaders of this current administration to convince the population that they are practicing good governance.
It is evident to even the most apathetic observer that, not only has this administration lost its bearings, it has also lost all moral authority to continue to govern. They are fish out of water.
That being said however it is not enough to come to this conclusion without properly discussing how we got here and, more importantly, how do we move forward. The fact is that we have been having below par governments for some time now. The fact that some can feign competence longer than others only prolongs the inevitable ‘epileptic fit.’
Between 2002 and 2007 civil society groups were unrelenting with their cries of injustice meted out by the then Patrick Manning-led PNM administration. The general resentment within the society gave room for an embryonic Congress of the People to pose a formidable challenge to the entrenched traditional bases of two major parties.
Having survived the ballot in 2007, the PNM would ask the electorate to return to the polls in less than three years. While it is arguable that the PNM could have struggled through the final two years of its term, the situation was getting volatile and the leadership of the PNM had become indefensible.
So why do we always seem to be like fish out of water when it comes to the governance of a population of only 1.3 million people with a GDP, according to the World Bank Report, in excess of US$30,000? (By the way, Trinidad and Tobago’s GDP is higher than Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
There is a prevailing view that many of our state institutions have collapsed or failed. I do not share that view. I want to suggest that their inherent flaws have been exposed and that these institutions were not created for functionality in participatory democracy.
They have not collapsed in as much as they are unable to meet the demands of a population which is more vigilant and more demanding of genuine democracy. The government structures of our society have outlived their usefulness and the changes which are needed are not cosmetic changes to who holds office but fundamental changes to what it means to hold office in Trinidad and Tobago.
Let us take the recent resignation of the Minister of Sport Anil Roberts.
The Prime Minister would have us believe that it is the beginning of an unprecedented dispensation of good governance to accept a resignation letter weeks after the Minister’s position had already become untenable. What is of even greater concern is that, in the absence of the eventual capitulation to public pressure, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has absolutely no check and balance to hold office holders accountable.
Remember that in spite of the fact that the Attorney General is the legal advisor to the Cabinet, the infamous Section 34 was never flagged by him (at least that is what we are told) and yet he remains an office holder.
We must take an honest look at ourselves. Are our independent institutions as independent as they should be? Do we have the kind of separation of powers that can engender confidence in these institutions?
Are our ‘watch dog’ institutions toothless tokens?
The answer to these questions lies in a reorganisation of our state through policy and constitutional reform. It is also requires and open mind from us as citizens to shift our culture or practice of governance.
Over the next few weeks I will deconstruct the proposals by the Movement or Social Justice which we see as a step in the right direction to achieving this transformation.