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Protecting the public interest: Daly explains value of Fixin’ T&T and Womantra

On Wednesday last, I gave the third in a series of presentations put on by the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. My presentation was entitled Professional Organisations and the Public Interest.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

One aspect of my presentation was an examination of why we are so often silent in the face of the misuse and abuse of power and it may be useful to share it.

The protection of the public interest in our republic is weak because few persons and organisations are willing to speak out or take action. Although it must be firmly acknowledged that Fixin’ T&T and Womantra and those who followed Womantra’s lead have proved themselves as resolute and successful exceptions.

Sadly, the country is so polarised at present that even when persons make a valuable input into public interest issues their independence is questioned.

In my presentation I suggested that, although we all have our personal preferences, persons could be accepted as independent if they were independent of partisan or polarised political preferences that inexorably drive them to take a side rather than examine an issue on its merits.

Such a person, when examining an issue on its merits, would take a position by the application to the issue of his or her values and experience of life and not be unduly influenced by the collective rants of a partisan herd.

Photo: Former Housing and Urban Development Minister Marlene McDonald. (Courtesy PNM)
Photo: Former Housing and Urban Development Minister Marlene McDonald.
(Courtesy PNM)

Weltanshcauung is a delightful German word that has passed into the English language.

It is used to denote the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.

In our insecure society there is a second essential ingredient for independence. It is independence from the desire for status within glamorous social sets and/or within the group former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday famously labelled “the parasitic oligarchy.”

Prevalent materialistic motivations include a status that transcends the recognition of official protocols, a status labelled as VVIP.

It is essentially a materialistically driven status, a passport to freeness and of no relevance to the proper conduct of the business of the State.

Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government. (Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

One cannot begin to discuss public interest unless we understand the threat to the maintenance of public interest inherent in the desire, one might even say lust, for VVIP status.

In a human condition unduly influenced by such desire, principle is readily subordinated to the desire to be seen to be “moving up.”

The public interest concerns the welfare of the general public. It is to be contrasted with the selfish, narrow or self absorbed interest of a person, business, batch or group.

It is an interest in which the society collectively has or should have a stake that deserves recognition, protection and promotion.

Government and its agencies should protect the public interest by reference to the policies and promises it puts before the electorate to win the electorate’s support.

Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on 7 September 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on 7 September 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Regrettably our Governments seldom do that. They make expedient choices in pursuit of their hold on power and for the advancement of their satellites and assorted sycophants.

In my view, in Trinidad and Tobago, one cannot detach any discussion of the advancement of public interest from the insecurities of a small, complex, post colonial society or from the predominance of Government in the economy.

These two factors complement each other and constitute a double whammy simply because, by regular misuse and abuse of power, satellites and sycophants can be rewarded for silence in the face of threats to the public interest by the easy grant of usually unearned and undeserved rewards from the massive State economic sector.

In addition, I am brave enough to assert that national awards and other honorary conferments are also sometimes used to buy compliance with the preferred status quo of our rulers.

It is common place in our country for political leaders to rely on the notion that anything goes in public life so long as it is not expressly against the law.

Photo: Former Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (left) and his vocal supporter Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul. (Courtesy LoopTT)
Photo: Former Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (left) and his vocal supporter Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul.
(Courtesy LoopTT)

However, it has long been recognised that legal prescriptions depend in part on unwritten and legally unenforceable codes of behaviour for their smooth operation.

Because politicians make expedient choices, if the public interest in the behavioural standards for public life, professional life or even for commercial intercourse are to be maintained, it is the leadership in spheres other than political leadership who must insist that generally accepted behavioural standards must be observed.

That is why I indicated to my audience that leadership—other than political leadership, such as professional organisations, including business organisations—should have a dynamic relationship with the public interest and should intervene more regularly to break the complicit silence that empowers those involved in undermining the public interest.

It is simply impossible to curtail crime and unethical behaviour in public office if cultural factors and relentlessly partisan political choices facilitate it.

Photo: Ex-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner (left) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar share a light moment during the 2010 FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago. (Courtesy FIFA.com)
Photo: Ex-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner (left) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar share a light moment during the 2010 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Courtesy FIFA.com)

Fixin’ T&T and Womatra have made a significant push back against negative cultural norms.

AboutMartin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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12 comments

  1. Like Martin Daly smoking tha weed Richardson find in Kamla house ah-wha?

  2. That is certainly the case in far too many instances Lasana.

  3. The biggest problem is that it ent only the politicians who are ethically bankrupt or unwilling to put Trinbago first.
    You say the people are too accommodating Kendall. I say they are virtually co-conspirators.

  4. It’s not rocket science. All you have to do is pledge loyalty to Trinbago first, before any other institution or organization, and the rest becomes easy.

    • Do persons pledge allegiance to T&T first when voting? Usually, regardless of the prospective MP’s conduct, they are voted in based on Party and not on character.
      Reasonably, there are several constituencies that should not re-elect certain persons or Parties because they have been neglected for years.

      Candidates for MP positions usually have baggages that are known by the screening committees, but are still allowed to ‘go up’. Did the persons in Princes Town have a choice on which UNC candidate should represent them?

      The MP for Moruga will have to speak on character in the future.

  5. FB & twitter are 1million times more powerful than any TT NGO…

  6. Earl Best

    “Fixin’ T&T and Womatra have made a significant push back against negative cultural norms.”

    Martin, Major, major statement. It’s hard to disagree with very much in this piece. But as a person with an active interest in language, I am concerned by your use of the past tense in your closing sentence. I trust that there is NO suggestion that there is not more to come.

  7. It’s bemusing to see those guilty of the same breach as MM offering lame excuses and platitudes to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Our politicians are ethically bankrupt and I agree that we as a people are too accommodating to their foibles.

  8. “(…) leadership—other than political leadership, such as professional organisations, including business organisations—should have a dynamic relationship with the public interest and should intervene more regularly to break the complicit silence that empowers those involved in undermining the public interest.”

    The music. My ears. So. Much. Yes.