One can be forgiven for mistaking last week’s public quarrel as the harmless flaring of tempers. It is not. The sound we heard is the whimpering sound of our dying democracy.
Like 1990’s guns and fiery fury, this unseemly quarrel is one more corrosive chipping away of our long-standing political norms. It is just as insidious as Yasin Abu Bakr’s incursion at our Red House.
We have just emerged from very partisan and in many ways vile electioneering in which certain folk, powered by opportunism and the bile of social media, emerged to sit in the Senate. Instead of standing strong, leading politicians behaved like wimps in the face of bullying behaviour.
History teaches that appeasement never works with bullies. The quarrel played into the script of social and economic inequality, along with racial unease, that threatens our nation’s foundation.
Words are to be taken seriously since they are usually followed by action. When we applaud the norm-breaker, it gives rise to others and what is acceptable deteriorates into deep partisan extremism. This is as dangerous as Covid-19.
It is particularly chilling to witness the brawl between key leaders on what ought to be a straight-forward issue. If it were not dangerous, it would be laughable to see the contortions that seek to involve the Parliament in what is essentially a settled matter. We run the risk of paralysis by convoluted thinking and reasoning.
When decisive action is needed, we punt the ball and fill column inches pretending to be so wise. The Emperors in our country are naked.
The Roy Joseph Housing Development (this was called a ‘scheme’ in my childhood days) in San Fernando cannot be compared with Bayside Towers in terms of public access. The former are communal blocks of flats that allow access to the general public through well-established ‘short-cuts’.
In my childhood, there were several plum trees that were the source of much pleasure. You ran through the Scheme on leaving the market to get home. Nobody stopped you. It was open to all. Today, several of the young residents and the police ‘know’ each other well.
Public space is not determined by whether or not there is a physical barrier; it is defined by ‘is it a place where the general public had and were permitted access to.’
To suggest that one is discussing the private homes is a red herring. To suggest that the police’s behaviour at election times with a senior member of the outgoing administration present is the norm is to fool nobody. This is privilege being blind.
At Bayside Towers, the walls of the compound demarcate a private space and so there is no thoroughfare. But there are two distinct physical components of the land and buildings within those walls.
The first is the individual unit which is for the exclusive use of the owner. He or she can do whatever they wish within the walls of that unit, even though some complexes specify the colour of the drapes that can be seen from the outside.
All the structural walls, the corridors, ceilings, floors and the swimming pool belong to a separate entity owned collectively by all the unit owners. This entity is responsible for the management and maintenance of the common areas.
Should an owner want to host a party at the pool, he has to apply for permission, it is not his right. He also cannot change the colour of the wall outside of his unit.
To enforce those rights, the entity which is governed by a board hires both a property manager and facility/ security officers. They adjudicate on any infringements by the individual owners. The authorised agent of the common property owner is the property manager.
Residential complexes are high density (it is reported that Bayside has close to 200 units) and houses residents who are high-risk relative to Covid-19. When there are miscreants (as there are in all residential groups), they put all their neighbours at risk or make them uncomfortable.
The residents hold the board accountable and the board in turn holds the property manager accountable. It is not fair to cast aspersions on all the unit holders because of those who held the party. Those unit holders are in the minority.
It is disingenuous to suggest that ‘some residents’ called the police. The property manager or the facility/ security officers would be the ones calling. The residents would provoke the manager and insist that s/he act.
The board, most of whom would be living on the compound, would be aware and would demand action. The property manager would call the police for help to enforce their rights the same way a homeowner would call in dealing with an intruder.
This is where the specious argument about ‘private property’ breaks down. The pool is not owned by a few unit holders, who could cavort when it pleases them. It is owned by separate company on which behalf the board acts via the property manager.
In the absence of specific health regulations, this property manager can implement requirements for the common areas in order to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all persons using the compound. Under OSHA, they also have the responsibility to ensure that the property is reasonably safe.
In the Bayside instance, this property manager was proactive and on 1 September had issued a note, incorporating the Legal Notice No 206 of 2020.
The offending residents did not have permission to hold the pool party. They were therefore in trespass and breach of the temporary governing regulations. The police, in response, came twice to the property. These facts could have been established by the relevant authorities.
It is disheartening to witness the ministers prevaricate. This is what gives rise to bullies who seek to dominate public discourse. This is what causes the grief and pain in the society. A simple position that sought to protect residents was mismanaged and instead became a political football.
The inflammatory nature of the discussion draws another line to the idiotic social media post by a young woman. The mantra appears to be ‘my way or the highway’.
Despite the tagging of the post, the authorities who claim to monitor social media kept asking for help to find this person long after her schoolmates had identified and disowned her. Our leaders, in their selfish ‘wisdom’, are taking us down the path to a hellish future.
This sadly reminds me of a Kenyan proverb which says: ‘when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’.