Vote in, vote out, repeat: T&T electorate’s recurring nightmare

HL MENCKEN suggests that “under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

I could find no quote more discomforting in its truth about the situation here in Trinidad and Tobago.

There is no doubt in my mind that this Government has lost its legitimacy to govern. Their removal, however, can redound to little more than a wasted opportunity as did their election in May of 2010. As an electorate we are unprotected and we are vulnerable.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. (Courtesy
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Those institutions which have been vested with the authority to guard the guards have all but collapsed. We now find ourselves in the precarious and unenviable position of asking politicians to save us from politicians.

It is worrying that the population has not read between the lines of this reality. It has been generally accepted that corruption can only be unmasked and penalised when the Government changes. The unstated implication of this expectation is that our Independent institutions only work with the ‘right’ Government. Or to put it another way we depend on ‘good men and good women’ but soon realise that they are men and women who are no good.

The transgressions of the current administration, as abominable as they have been, have had absolutely no consequences. Although the PM has tried to take credit for decisive action in many instances, her actions have been no more than slaps on wrists.

A consistent characteristic of her leadership style has been to close the stable door after the horse had bolted. We will not “unhear” what was said to us in the Parliament by Mrs Vernella Alleyne-Toppin nor will we “unexperience” Life Sport or Section 34.

Photo: Former Sport Minister Anil Roberts (centre), ex-SPORTT Company CEO John Mollenthiel (left) and former SPORTT chairman Sebastien Paddington. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Former Sport Minister Anil Roberts (centre), ex-SPORTT Company CEO John Mollenthiel (left) and former SPORTT chairman Sebastien Paddington.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

The rapidity with which the PPG lost its 2010 goodwill was nothing short of phenomenal. A review of the last five years would be a montage of “missteps” and apologies. This frequency however suggests a more sinister nature of the so called ‘missteps’. It is arguable that no other administration has had more perceived blunders.

However if we accept (as many have) that these missteps were deliberate, then we would also have to accept the weakness of our systems. This administration must be given the highest accolades for illustrating to the electorate the extent of the vulnerability of our institutions to abuse. Indeed they perhaps surpassed their own expectations. Our collective sense of hopelessness and the consensus that it is only an election which can save us speaks volumes to the fragility of our democracy.

Our 50th anniversary of Independence ought to have seen us dedicate time to discussing the state of the nation and laying out a road map for the next 50 years. Instead we got Section 34.  This is an indictment on all of us, as we have abdicated our collective responsibility as an electorate to be gate keepers for our democracy.

We have minimalized our democracy to voting and the traditional parties have learned how to structure their governance around earning votes. This of course has been to the detriment of independent institutions such as the Judiciary, the various service commissions and even the Parliament itself, to name a few.

Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

The fundamental question which will not be addressed by an election is how could a government function which such impunity for such a long period without consequence? This is the key.

Unless and until we restructure our systems to function as components of our democracy, we will forever be subjected to parties which campaign purely on the basis of being ‘better’ than the other.

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About Akins Vidale

Akins Vidale
Akins Vidale lectures at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies and is a UWI graduate with a B.A. in History. He has served as the president of the Trinidad Youth Council and is the General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN). Read his blog:

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  2. Very well said messrs: Jochen Lee-Wo, Duane Howard, Corey Gks. To my mind, it is we the people who remain at fault, it is we who birth the politician, he, she comes from us. We keep expecting them to be, and act differently from us. When it is we who are corrupt, we who thief, we who break all the so called “small laws”, we who take and give a “Bligh” with goods and services that, we, do, not, own! It is we who sit on our asses and allow most of what happens to we to happen to we!

    We are exposed enough, travelled enough, educated enough, to, make, a difference! It is we who remain lazy and desirous of all that the good life of the food and luxury goods importation bill has to offer, it is we who fuel the $4+ billion dollar black market…

    Unless we, get up off of our entitled, subsidized asses and decide that enough is enough, then it is we, who will continue to mumble and grumble and wait every five years to make ah small change-none really-and ad nauseum, ad infinitum, we carry on and pretend that we care. When what we really are is a typical bandwagonist.

    It is only the true fan that feels the bitterness and loneliness of defeat, the bandwagonist just lingers briefly in the moment and then moves onto the next event of interest.

    Shalom Aleichem.

  3. An excellent article.
    Politicians are a subset of our society, our people. How govt’s and in particular this current PP Gov’t can transgress to the limits to which they have, un-accounted for, is a damning indictment on what we as a people and a nation stand for. It is clear for those who can perceive that people of integrity, people with strong leadership skills and people of character are a rapidly disappearing specimen. What is left are intelligent wolves, people of knowledge, who use their brains to manipulate systems and people for their own benefit. Manipulate i say, hesitantly, because i am more convinced that as a people, we knowingly accept the garbage that politicians toss at us, because we benefit from it

    The true success of the PPG, is their ability to buy out the electorate, with a weak but persistent spin program, and the largess of the treasury. Even “holy” men and women have fallen for the offerings of this corrupt bunch. But we benefit, thus we remain silent. The silence that allows the consistent mis-steps and travesties is a result of too many trinidadians unable to talk, because their mouths are full. The crumbs and sauces ooze out of puffed cheeks, dripping and dribbling all around those that gather at the trough. But one cannot say much when the mouth is full. And so, we gorge on the offerings, fat and contented, and soon comes slumber.

    No Gov’t has dedicated as much resources to passively ‘hushing’ prominent persons as this current one. The true ramifications of this will not be seen immediately. For what has truly happened is a nation has probably already lost its soul. The majority of the populace are indifferent to what is happening, and the aftershocks, if they arrive, will truly rock this great island nation.

    As the author of the article stated, we are left in a cycle where we “believe” we must just exchange. The answer is no. Power is from the people. And if the people want a constant exchange, then the people ‘believe’ that is of benefit to them. When the people truly want change, they will not only demand it, they will fight for it, they will march for it, and if necessary, they will die for it.

    Life is still truly great and wonderful in T&T, thus the gravity of what Gov’ts and in particular, this current one is doing is lost on the people of this island nation. When we do rise from this slumber, it may be too late. All it takes to visualize what can be, is to travel to other countries close to home and see the hardships that others live under, see the result of chaotic gov’t, the result of power left un-checked, and pray that our peaceful nation doesn’t fall in that manner. What is good to observe, is that even in the most despotic, chaotic and de-stabilized countries, there exist a small class of people, a super rich, elitist class, that remain un-affected. And therein lies the danger for this country:

    When the masses (sheep) place the running of their country into the hands of a few, who care not for the people, but seek to enrich themselves and their kin, without accountability, that begins a recipe for a dish most un-palatable.

    Sheep do what they must. And so do wolves. Where is the shepherd?

  4. It is quite simple we must hold our politicians to account. Politicians must understand that they are servants of the people and not the other way round. Politicians must understand that you go into politics to improve the lives of the people governed and not to steal and get rich. We the people in T&T do not have a choice as both parties are not credible .

  5. Who is setting basket in this case Philip C. Núñez?

  6. I serve notice that I am not taking any wire basket, none! Only Blind Institute cane basket.

  7. No argument there. As I said, this issue isn’t unique to us and there is no easy solution.

  8. True. But we must demand action. And the electorate is more powerful than they know. And not just on voting day either.

  9. Less corrupt officials will equate to some degree of better governance Lasana and a higher possibility of actions more geared to the greater good that narrow self interests.

    And it will require politicians to enact the changes to fix the institutions. No matter how you slice it, we need a better level of politicians.

  10. Dr Rowley bring a motion in Parliament about the PM plottting to assasinate a journalist and the Govt plant a BUG in the DPP office…talk nah…and FAKE, BOGUS email to implicate the Govt…

  11. So better people equals better governance Kendall? Maybe. But the broken system creates a hell of a temptation for the corruptible.
    I think the people will only get what they are prepared to fight for.
    Btw, pay Royce no mind. He spent too much time staring directly into the rising sun. 😉

  12. was Dr Keith Christopher Rowley ever was a Teacher in Tobago??????????????

  13. I do think, that there is a slight difference. I think, that the amount of apologies and slaps on the wrist as Akins put it, have significantly increased because the violations have significantly increased.
    I rather think , that also due to the third party and the talk of “New Politics’, combined with the increased ability to communicate within interest groups through social media, there is a increased awareness and scrutiny of so-called missteps.
    In the past, whoever mis-stepped, waited and sat out until the 9day memory was erased and continued their merry way….. that has changed and one has too take in consideration that there may be (even if it is a little slap on the wrist) consequences. That knowledge has not arrived with our politicians yet though… but it is a step into the right direction……
    I’m really not a particular PNM -Fan and do not suggest to my wife to vote for them( I’m a ExPat with no voting rights at the GE, so my wife and i talk a lot and she votes for what we were able to agree on so i can feel a bit represented as well), but it seems that Rowley and his peeps have noted this tendency more that the UNC and made a swung towards issues rather than mudslinging…. we will see whether that will last….

  14. This is exactly what I have been saying since the Manning administration and Panday’s own before that. Each administration is showing us in the worst way how much of our democratic processes, our independent institutions are merely hollow farces, how much our institutions are ineffectual and how much our ideas of leadership are mired in Doctor Politics and the messiah/Maximum Leader syndrome (which even many of the comments indicate).

    I was hoping though, that the article was going to go deeper and not just essentially describe what is wrong with the system and us, as important as that is. I’m certain that the writer is aware that what is needed is an educated, informed and assertive electorate; I’m sure he knows that during the colonial period the then authorities ensured that that was not the case and that the population was kept in ignorance about politics. I’m sure he knows too that for various reasons the new elite that took over from 1962 kept things the way they were in order to hold onto high office and that it is not in their interests to do any major education now at all. As such, I was hoping that if space doesn’t permit articles like this to disseminate the information needed, then at least steps could be taken to direct the reader to another site or perhaps a physical meeting place where the serious issues can be discussed and stimulating ideas exchanged so the ordinary voter could use his/her voting power and power of penetrating questioning as well as direct action to bring our politicians to heel. Around 7-8 years ago I think it was in France or Spain where a very unpopular government was voted out of office and replaced with a party that was hugely popular by the population and especially the labour unions. And as soon as they took up office those same unions promptly went on strike before the government did a single thing. They did that to send a clear message and because they understood the pressure the new government would be under from external forces to implement policies that would be detrimental to local economic and social development.

    The point is nothing is going to get any better or even show signs of future positive change if all we do is move out one ideologically bankrupt group of kleptocrats and replace them with another and THINK that that is all we can do. With the technology we have now it is so much easier to get and share information that at one time was the preserve of an elite few. At least let’s use the spaces and the available time to educate and mobilise. What is now needed is a population that are going to ask and not necessarily very politely specific and detailed questions on systemic change — including the dismantling of the top-down approach and other legacies of colonial rule — and each party’s position on certain issues, how *exactly* they plan to implement it, when/what time line we looking at and so on. And these are questions for which we already have our own answers.

  15. I refuse to accept that the future is so bleak. What is required is for a new generation of leaders to step forward which is VERY slow in coming. I hope in the interim that the reality that we won’t accept nonsense will set in and lead to less issues.

    And don’t for one minute think that these problems don’t exist elsewhere. If you follow world politics, it’s quite clear that problems exist in the so called first world economies.

    That doesn’t excuse the perpetrators in our context – just saying that there are no easy solutions.

  16. I’ve been saying for a long time that the problem with our country (and with developing countries in general) is the weakness of the institutions and the general lack of vision or philosophy of the people elected to office. As you said, our democracy has been reduced simply to voting. There is little to no discussion of a vision for the country in political debates. There is little or no discussion of performance and whether or not policies that are already in place are effective. There is no meaningful discussion of strengthening our institutions and giving more power to the electorate to hold elected officials accountable. At the end of the day, politics boils down to tribalism. The mentality is that it’s “we time now” and so whoever is the “we” that happens to be in office myopically takes care of themselves and their friends for as long as the people will tolerate them. Then they go on hiatus and try again in another 5 years.

  17. People in TT fear ideology
    They rather dumb politicians

  18. Wel Mel, as I said, we all need to evaluate ourselves. Not because one relationship goes wrong, they all will…

  19. Well there was a supposedly credible third party and people did leave their comfort zone for them
    Look what happened!
    Will the population trust another third party?

  20. True change is coming, but who will leave their comfort zone?

  21. Unlike other parties in the past, this government did not continue the policies of the previous preferring to undo everything that was in place. That made them different as they stopped progress without replacing what they stopped. They also plundered and raped our treasury which is why Vernella can speak of rape in the way that she did. the ideologies are really the same, just a different racial focus except that this government did not follow the model and preferred to enrich themselves on a scale never before seen. We need a credible third party but not 3 months before an election. It is supposed to have at least a 3 year life before election so that we can get a sense of what they stand for or if they have any substance.

  22. But have they ever defined what their ‘ideologies’ are, LL? I have never come across any party in T&T defining themselves and what they believe. They wear it very lightly, if at all. There doesn’t seem to be any core ideology driving them except capital accumulation – for themselves.

  23. We cannot, you are correct! These few months should give us enough time to evaluate ourselves

  24. It is hard to say with any certainty what ideology either party has. We end up choosing who we think is the best of the lot and then cross our fingers. We cannot go on like this indefinitely.

  25. Great read. We really keep exchanging one set of looters for another and this lot has had a long time in opposition to plan the heist properly. Lawyers should remain in the courthouses

  26. The future is staying abroad. Free education from the government and then bolting abroad, of parents sacrificing and the their kids staying there.

  27. Trini in real trouble….we have no true leaders of the people but just of their respective clans and colours be it red or yellow

  28. Good read. They certainly have a vested interest – our current and past governments – in keeping state institutions as powerless and underdeveloped as possible. Which is one of the most depressing realities ever. Nothing has been built, nurtured and developed,Except their careers. And their bank accounts. Reg Dumas, Terrence Farrell and others have written volumes on this awful reality. Its all a pappy show, Stir a little effnic issue here and there, a lil bacchanal there. Keep the masses distracted. The substance is missing. The nation state is an empty shell. Hollow.

  29. We vote governments out we do not vote them in.

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