Why we elect the leaders we do; a former journalist looks in the mirror—and cringes!

“So what is it about Trinidad and Tobago that results in our putting corrupt politicians in office election after election? It is, arguably, the fact that we are too simple to care and perhaps the fact that we are a ‘laissez-faire’ people.”

Former political reporter Akilah Holder shares her concerns about the political culture in Trinidad and Tobago:

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)

In the Trinidad Express of Tuesday 15 August, 2017, I read a beautiful article, headlined “Ferry fiasco symptom of systemic problem,” written by Raffique Shah.

Shah argued that the fiasco resulted from the systemic problem of corruption in T&T politics and that our political leaders—given the sad state of this nation, I am ashamed to be associated and cringed when I had to write that possessive “our”—are a reflection of ourselves.

“We cannot, however, absolve ourselves from these politically-generated mountains of manure,” he wrote. “Who created the politicians who defecate on us? We did. We moulded them with both our hands (applause), and especially with our index fingers, which, if we use our imaginations, we could put to far more rewarding use.”

Insightful, very insightful. Bravo! Bravo! In the same way that Donald Trump is a reflection of American society, the Rowley Administration is a reflection of Trinbagonian society.  And past administrations as well. For Shah did make the point that political parties come and go but the problem of corruption remains.

So what is it about Trinidad and Tobago that results in our putting corrupt politicians in office election after election? It is, arguably, the fact that we are too simple to care and perhaps the fact that we are a “laissez-faire” people.

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

“Anything goes” is our unofficial motto; it dictates how we—well, most of us but I certainly am not included—live our lives.

I will start with the simplicity that characterizes most here.  In the lead-up to the most recent general election, I did political reporting for Newsday. I was, therefore, required to attend endless political rallies and, during each one, be it UNC or PNM, I waited patiently for the candidate to make a substantial statement on how (s)he and his/her party would change this society for the better. I’m waiting still.

I waited patiently for the candidate to make a substantial statement on what made him/her stand out from previous ministers. I’m waiting still.

What I did hear was the candidate, indeed, several of them, berating the other party, “throwing picong,” we call it here.  And, of course, their simple-minded followers laughed and waved the party flag or tee-shirt. No one, I am not kidding, not one made any substantial statement, statement of real value, on how (s)he would make a difference; we got nothing but general, weightless, worthless comments and jokes about the other party.

Meanwhile, my fellow reporters covering these rallies and I rolled our eyes in near disgust at having to be out so late covering this foolishness without hearing anything of value. You would think that we went homes to our beds and called it a waste of a night, wouldn’t you? Well, wrong! We all dutifully typed up our stories and filed them asap.

Photo: Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal speaking on the campaign trail.
(Courtesy Elections.tt)

Why? Because we might not have been interested in what we had heard but that did not mean that our media houses weren’t. On the contrary!

Bacchanal sells. Yes, even the media houses are involved.

See why this country can’t escape the corrupt politician? We’re too busy liming, drinking, feting and looking for a laugh, even if it is at someone else’s expense.

And our “laissez-faire” attitude?  Let’s face it, if the sky literally fell down around us as it has figuratively been doing, we probably wouldn’t care; we might just keep on jamming.

What significant action, for instance, have the people of Trinidad and Tobago taken to hold the government accountable for the ever rising crime rate? We take whatever foolishness the National Security Minister or the Prime Minister puts on our plates and we do not ask any questions about it, not out loud anyway.

Tell me honestly, how many Trinidadians do you think even understand the chain of command in the Police Service?  Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams has to answer to the Police Service Commission (PSC), which answers to the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, who appointed its members after consultation with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) talks to the media while National Security Minister Edmund Dillon looks on.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

With that knowledge, you have to wonder why the President and the Prime Minister have not already conferenced with the PSC to find out why the incompetent Williams continues to “act” at the helm of the TTPS. A fellow reporter once joked that he “hear Williams in line for a Grammy.” What I know is that the man has never once acted as if he were competent or as if he cared, so when I think about it again, I know he not winning no Grammy no time soon.

For this reason, the PSC should have been dissolved by now and other competent persons appointed to the board.  But why has that not happened?

Administration after administration, taxpayers’ dollars are misused, squandered, and we talk about it in the rumshop or on the block and that’s that! We drop it.

Why hasn’t anyone organised a peaceful protest, involving no one going to work and children stayíng home and everyone taking to the streets, if even for days, until the government properly addresses crime and corruption?

When African-Americans decided enough was enough, did they not, led by Martin Luther King, Jr, take to the streets for days? Did they not risk their lives when they stood up against racist, white officers? Did they not deny themselves when they boycotted white businesses?

Photo: Late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Courtesy Mankindheroes)

Did they not stand their ground until the Federal Government in the United States of America took action? Did some of them not ultimately give their lives because they refused to leave places they had occupied despite being told not to go there?

But not Trinbagonians, right? We don’t know anything about activism—not because we are a pacifist people; the bodies piling up at Forensics are evidence that we are not—we only know how to “run we mouth” on situations and people.

So, there you have them, the reasons why we elect the leaders that we do. And, Trinidad and Tobago, that will stay that way unless we wise up and agitate for action.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, after reading this, you talk about it briefly in your circle and then drop it to go and take a drink or par-tay.

In fact, I expect it. Shah and others have been enlightening us for years; anything change yet?

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  1. This bunch sounding like a bunch of Trumpites. Attack the “fake news media” instead of heeding the message. Steups!! That is why we’ll forever rot in this place with a bunch of corrupt politicians.. More steups!!☹️☹️

  2. That’ my point exactly. Party politics has blinded people from admitting TRUTH, Do we as a people know the difference between wrong and right?More than that CORRUPTION has become pervasive and can be found everywhere including in the ordinary man who stands for Nothing. so we let politicians fool with LIES, half-truths and innuendoes

  3. I have just read this article…What a novel idea Ms Holder…”take to streets and protest…” so government can take action….

  4. The persons who are being paid to ask questions are in bed with the politicians (literally and figuratively). They let the politicians off too easily. They do not do sufficiently in-depth follow up pieces and when a couple of them do, it seems that there is some slant to the stories based on the reporters’ own political or personal bias.

    It is partly due to the shortcomings of reporters that social media and blogging has so much influence. Persons on social media and blogs tend to address the white elephants in the room that journalists refuse to address.

    Therefore, while the PM, PSC, CoP, the Judiciary and the citizenry has some fair share of blame to receive for the state of the country and for the types of leaders that emerge, what about the failure of the fourth estate? How much blame is the mainstream media to receive for not asking sufficiently direct and in-depth questions?

  5. You know, I’m not sure I accept this. I remember during the LGE campaign the PNM put out a plan for Local Government a month before the election and NOT ONE media organization reviewed it. The PM also gave an hour and a half speech in Moruga covering their plans for the regional corporations but the only reference to that speech in the media was a piece of picong included in the speech about roti that circulated for days, bemoaning the state of political debate in T&T while ignoring the whole rest of the speech. I’ve often thought that journalists were lazy in this country and this article really does nothing to change that opinion.

  6. In our Plural society the race card is used to divide the society and perpetuated by racists. The Parliamentary system of government and “Winner takes all is also a contributor to the party in power, who controls the reins of power so that one ethnic side feels disfranchised. Thirdly they citizenry has limited choice PNM or UNC which is made of has been politicians. Furthermore,there is no room for a third party, (Check out our history). We than ask where are the true loyalist or patriots? They are around , but not willing to become involved in the game of nasty politics and CORRUPT practices which is endemic in this country. There is no easy answer, since for 5 decades successive governments have ignoring pertinent issues and played the proverbial ostrich and buried their heads in the sand, However more importantly is the failure of citizens to grow up and become politically mature. Party politics have blinded many so the fail to stand for anything and politicians used that against them. Politicians continue to play with our lives and treats us with disdain,. This explains why the UNC has obsolete people who refuse to retire and party supporters elect them to office just to ensure ‘the other party is removed form office. Election is not based on issues affecting the country nor tho people, but keeping ‘my party” in power based on race. Until we admit that, we going around in circles.

  7. I find u should published more article like this one so people could understand wat taking place

  8. When it comes to politics, Trinbagonians are very complacent and gullible. They also indulge in tribal politics and overlook the issues and their vote is based on party affiliation. They also don’t have much options and it boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils.

  9. Lawlessness pervades throughout every layer of society…corruption has been endemic for several years..politicians have siphoned public money for decades..
    Who is in jail??

  10. Ok while I agree maybe we need the journalist to also not just file their story and unto the next one but how about not letting a story go? Why something as drastic as email gate has never been spoken of again?

  11. Let us start a reject the used politicians now campaign

  12. Kamla just endorse Marlene Coudray for liming with Gangsters ! Only in T&T

  13. I really enjoyed reading this piece, thank you Akilah. I am not so sure it is so simple though. I think a decent amount of people care but we may be ignorant of how to agitate for change, how to organise, how to get in formation, how to mobilise. I know I am. Either way I don’t want just to drop it as you fear we would. I want change but where do we start?

    • I have had several ideas about mobilizing, with ground level projects, research, initiatives, and mobile apps.

      Never got funding, backing, support to execute.

      My dissertation was in social movement, mobilization theory and practice

      Down to the Beetham last week, I came up with a cool idea to mobilize people.

      But people I share ideas to, from union bosses, to academics, seem not to grasp vision and possibilities

    • Where can I read your work Maven Huggins? This is important, especiallyif you have done an entire dissertation on it.

    • Michigan State University

    • Very interesting that you ask about my dissertation, and not my ideas to mobilize Trinidad citizenry

    • You studied at Michigan State? Im asking because one of the reasons you have probably met opposition from local union bosses and local academics is because unfortunately, there is a culture in TnT of shunning those who studied abroad because they are perceived as threats. Not all of us are like that, but most are, I studied abroad and met with endless opposition. Keep in mind that union bosses and local academics, some of them anyway, have positions to protect, and want the glory, so they are likely to dismiss you. It is a matter of talking to the right people. This group is a start.


      You are salve to my soul.
      I know this to be the truth.
      Not just with unions and academics, but with all: politicians, so called friends, family, relatives. Public servants. Private sector more nuanced : they will talk and engage, then blank; or show how much they are really mediocre: like just last month agreeing to sign a confidentiality agreement with an ICT company currently getting work, to build my apps, and the document had no names of company, owner, principals or employees I had already had meetings with; no address; no timeline; and a document that basically released them to use my IP after a year. What I look like booboo the fool.

      I don’t even bother telling what I know to be true cause almost all disbelieve me and think I am arrogant. Just that I never got a pass to do shit.

      Anyway, Thank You from the bottom of my heart!

    • Lol, you are very welcomed. Sorry to hear about that fiasco. Im glad I did the article since it has given some of you hope that change can happen. And it has put me in contact with folks like you and Keron. We will stay in contact. Thank God for fb.

    • And yes, whenever folks like you and me try to enlighten them, we are deemed as arrogant.

    • Forgive me Maven Huggins I misinterpreted your original comment. I thought your dissertation was on mobilising the TT citizenry. Please share with me your thoughts on this topic. But for argument sake I’m guilty as charge. I do prefer long reads like dissertations. I suppose Akilah Holder also has some thoughts especially regarding the PSC and how can we agitate in that area as well.

    • Oh I should say I’m a local academic but I love my foreign peeps.

    • You might really like my dissertation then.

      Its not dry, pretentious, or in a tower.
      It was always written to be published in a book. That today has currency still.

      And if you note the date, predated all the popular, modern, and recent revolutions: Arab Spring , Black Lives Movement.

      But over in the states not free from issues either, and little black girls ain’t suppose to be magic, starical*, or that insightful. The sabotage, ignoring and shooting out of the sky on ascendancy happens. There because you Black.
      Truthfully, here too.

      Anyway, you might enjoy it.

      My ideas, i either share it in a national conference I want to have on innovation; In one on one meetings, Or with persons interested in discussion serious implementation.

      Just in the last month, I wrote as usual one of my many ideas for the recently retrenched and unemployed. A registry. Conference and plan of action I would have proposed to them.

      A unit in Ministry of Labor, and past colleagues, stole the idea and had the ministry implement the registry. But as I did not list the other components, they were stumped. Just a registry.

      I stop , at least trying to, writing my brain on fb.
      Been doing it since 2008.

      We can meet if you wish to activate the work, get resources behind the idea, or give me access to students to implement.

      Always thought tertiary students should do national projects.


    • I’ll inbox you when I get home, this sounds good.

    • Maven Huggins girl like no one trusts any one these days. It’s best to accept that someone is going to steal your idea and make great use of it than to watch us get worse yes. These things have happened to me not with politics of course but anything that truly helps society, let it go and let someone else run with it. It’s better not to be in the limelight anyway.

    • Akilah Holder you could tell by the way the heads of police talk and if you talk English that’s a little less garbled worse yet. You’re not even putting in no accent, you’re speaking with broad Trini accent and you get to hear a set of ‘this is how white people talk’ and I know I don’t talk like White people. Lol

      I hate racism in all its forms. Some can’t stand their own black people once they’re educated outside.

  14. Elections in T&t over the last 3 decades is a choice between the devil and the blue deep sea.Corruption is endemic. People see politics as an easy way to thief, since no one is held accountable or makes JAIL. The honest people, don’t join any particular parties , so we do the same nonsense over and over . CHOICE :Poor No More (PNM) and U Ent See (UNC) since they both bury the CORPSE

  15. We getting close to approaching the truth:
    “Too Simple To Care”

  16. Yup, our politicians know they don’t need to offer any ideas on policy to win our support, they know we are seduced by the politics of identity and personality. I was observing Vasant’s challenge for leadership of the UNC, without offering a single idea on what he would do differently from Kamla people were ready to throw their support behind him.

  17. I difinitely agree with the writer. There is no chain of command and all seriousness is a joke. There was recently a protest on the betham highway for police arresting two criminals who claim to be community leaders in the enviro of betham, and protesters held the flow of traffic, putting innocent lifes in danger for the realease of criminals. Criminals not even the Prime minister knew was on his payroll and protesters not one for a moment critically thought that i’m risking being shot by police for so-call individuals who don’t even have a college degree or a meaningfull platform to stand.

  18. And in 2020 we go right back to our old habits and vote these parasites into government.

  19. I agree and it’s frustrating because I listen to T&T politicians and their speeches offer nothing of substance. I like this quote…. “No one, I am not kidding, not one made any substantial statement, statement of real value, on how (s)he would make a difference; we got nothing but general, weightless, worthless comments and jokes about the other party.”

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