I must give credit to my colleague Earl Best for the title of this piece given that, on this rare occasion, he was faster out of the blocks than I was.
The news late last night was that Housing Minister Marlene McDonald had been fired. Don’t pop that champagne just yet because this is no biggie!
“The dishonesty and immorality of public life in Trinidad and Tobago are now a byword. The population is tired of graft and corruption, sick to death of broken promises, fed up to the teeth with the squandering of the taxes for which (it has to) dig deep into its pockets.
“The situation daily gets worse… The disease is rapidly spreading to the Civil Service… The poison is seeping through the entire body politic.”
This is an excerpt from a Raffique Shah article of 2001. It is quoted from Dr Williams in the run-up to the 1956 general election at Woodford Square on September 13, 1955.
Those words sum up what he thought of his predecessor, Albert Gomes’ tenure.
Did Dr Williams’ government fare any better?
Revisionism and nostalgia surrounding ‘The Doc’ has obscured this period of our history. 1956 to 1981 was our ‘sliced bread.’
Even a cursory look at the period would reveal several persons who would disagree including Uriah Butler, George Weekes, Gene Miles and Raffique Shah himself.
Fast forward to 8 May 2010.
“Our nation is at a critical juncture. If the PNM is not removed from office in the next general election, there will be a repeat of 1956-1986, when it ruled this country for 30 years without interruption. There will be a repeat of the last eight years.
“They will plunder the treasury and the corruption that will follow will dwarf anything we have already seen.”
Those were the words of Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Political Leader of the UNC.
And I am not done yet.
“Some of us, with the high crime rates, have had our homes, cars or businesses broken into and experienced theft. You would recall how violated and powerless you felt, how you questioned the absence of order in the society.
“Now imagine we have elected and appointed public officials whose first and only concern, every day, is to spend taxpayers’ money as if it is their very own to do with as they please.
“It is outrageous that we have had to endure this brutal kleptocracy with its expert kleptocrats heading billion-dollar ministries and State corporations accumulating personal wealth as though it is a perk of the office.”
So said Dr Keith Rowley, at a function in commemoration of the 34th anniversary of the death of this country’s first prime minister and founder of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams.
As I write I can hear those children on Sesame Street singing:
We all sing with the same voice;
The same song, the same voice;
We all sing with the same voice;
And we sing in harmony.
So am I overly optimistic that we have witnessed a turnaround?
I am as optimistic as the last 15 times in the last 15 years that the West Indies cricket team has turned the corner. So, for me, this is no biggie!
Let me be clear, if someone is culpable then they should face the consequences. There needs to be a clear statement on the reasons for the Minister’s dismissal.
Remember the firing of Volney? Although a politician might give us the result we want, we have to be sure that we also agree with their rationale.
Additionally, if indeed the decision hinged significantly on cheques awarded to the Calabar Foundation, then there must be an effort to recover those funds.
If it is because of the hiring of her ‘famalee’, then a serious question arises about the Parliamentary oversight of MPs’ constituency offices.
Let’s not win the battle and lose the war.
How many Ministers have been fired in the last ten years?
And, the real biggie, how many pieces of legislation can we identify in the same period which have sought to prevent repeats or prosecute offenders?
How has our governance been altered fundamentally? Have we seen our heightened demand for better governance materialised in anyway?
In this period of our increased demand for better governance let us push the envelope on this discourse.
CLR James lamented that we think it is enough to elect good men and women only to find out that they soon become men and women who are no good. Let us take this opportunity now to understand how our systems work.
What are the rules for staffing at the constituency office? Are the requirements for organisations to access government funding stringent enough? Are the checks and balances adequate?
So, even though yuh jumpin up wit yuh fren and dem, don’t pop a bottle just yet. Marlene is no biggie.