Gabriel Faria, the past CEO of the leading local business chamber, had an insightful interview in this week’s Business Express. He discussed the formation of a new business advocacy group.
He quoted a Dr Terrence Farrell 2011 article on the need for responsible elites in our society while admitting that ‘the membership and directors of the group will be kept private as there is a fear they can be victimised when they speak out on various issues affecting the community’.
Mr Faria had his June 2020 experience when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley blasted him ‘because he is only about himself and what he can suck from the country; […] a disrespectful mouth with precious little value rattling around in the Chamber with his acid tongue’.
Still, one can read between the lines of this interview and discern that he was then the fall guy for the business interests he represented. It appears as though the Chamber was content to have him serve as ‘a credible advocate for our members and the wider business community’ but simultaneously ‘pursue a collaborative and constructive dialogue with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the business sector’.
It is essential to parse these statements.
The cited Farrell article helpfully described the elites, drawing from Lloyd Best’s thinking: ‘This country, by and large, has an unresponsible elite, an elite who are happy to hold two or more passports, who accept offices for which they are unqualified and honours they do not deserve and who see the country as a place through which they are passing and for which they need take no ownership. It is because we have an unresponsible elite that we are in serious trouble.’ (The emphasis is mine.)
This observation may resonate even more based on their behaviour in the last two years. But this conceptualisation of elites could be more helpful if it focused less on the individual and more on the category within which separate groups exist.
Thinking of elites as a class enables differentiation between the groups. Elites who pursue legitimate businesses can live cheek by jowl with others accumulating their wealth in nefarious ways. In some cases, both groups will work together instead of against each other. Live and let live!
An American anthropologist, Chris Shore (2002), pointed out that the elites’ informal interactions, friendships, kinships, rituals, symbolic and intimate behaviour shed light on their behaviour and motivations.
Winters (2011), like Basdeo Panday, saw the oligarchic elites (those who use wealth as their power base) as formidable political actors. They are not helpless folk afraid of victimisation.
To accept that they may be powerless persons subject to victimisation is to locate them among those living in depressed areas, dependent on a CEPEP work. But maybe it is that they, like the CEPEP worker, feed on the public trough and therefore fear being cut off. Who knows?
In 2010, Panday famously said, ‘every five years, the black masses win the elections, but the oligarchy wins the government’.
Trevor Sudama was later to rue: “Panday must have read Machiavelli who emphatically stated that it is impossible to satisfy the oligarchy without doing violence to the interests of others.”
Sudama was then complaining about the influence of the CLICO jefes and the famous trio of ‘Brian, Ish, and Steve’ ascending to dominant positions in the Panday administration. He accused Panday of being converted to the virtues of unbridled capitalism.
That 2010 Panday musing forms the opinion of many, regardless of who is in power. So was Panday right about the ‘parasitic oligarchy’? What is the effect of their presence?
If he were, what kind of society do we expect when the privileged few act according to the logic of wealth and ownership? What will emerge when their subjective experiences and desires reflect their status, need to defend their wealth, and succession plans?
When and how will the category think about the general well-being of our society? What will prompt such a concern if defending their wealth and passing it on to future generations are the driving motivations?
Every time we discuss crime in our society, the attention turns to the ‘little black boys of Laventille’. There is a relationship between poverty and crime, but it appears that crime is a problem of and for poor people.
But what about the rich among us? Do they have any responsibility for the crisis and the rule of law? Can we turn our eyes away from the ‘disadvantaged’ and consider whether the elites are creating the conditions for crime?
While the elites guarantee their security via gated communities and armed private guards, police officers—a mixed bag of good and corrupt persons—look after the rest. The capacity of the state, the technological and human resources, to enforce the rule of law is unevenly provided.
We expect miracles ‘as seen on TV ’, but that cannot happen. This makes the delivery of justice and the detection of crime very unpredictable, making the people lose faith in the authorities.
The past Police Command had an undisclosed intimate relationship with the elites, which may have contributed to the dehumanising ‘cockroach’ characterisation of poor young men. The privileged funded the mysterious ‘I Support Our Service’, ignoring the pain of others.
The value of protection their property appeared to be greater than fixing society’s ills, which gave rise to crime. What does one do with a cockroach? Why give voice and support to this thinking?
The rule of law should value human life, and redress made according to transparent rules and evidence. The population knows when the police are not serving the shared interests of all.
When people get rich literally overnight through deals privately done, and transactions barely are scrutinised because of who is involved, what then should the hustling young man do when tempted to make some coins?
When we have those before the courts for years still consorting with the politicians and business class, what message are we sending to the young man in the deprived areas? When the elites remain silent when the Treasury is robbed, what societal values are espoused?
When some get rich quickly via unsavoury means and are allowed to co-exist in our business places, what are we telling our young?
When we consider the experience of Petronella Manning at the MovieTowne Complex carpark, we cannot help but think about the comment of her late brother, Patrick, about a murder at the exact location.
Chickens always come home to roost. Is it not ironic that it appears that securing that property is a long-term low priority?
How do all these things fit with Farrell’s observation, as expressed in the referenced article? He stated:
‘The elite in a society understands deeply the values of the society and its responsibility to uphold those values in the face of any threat, even against members of their own elite who transgress.
‘Responsible elites take ownership of the place they inhabit; they protect it and defend it. They are financially and/or morally independent and are therefore not easily suborned.’
In light of the evidence around us, do our elites uphold our values? Farrell answered they do not. We should consider the example of Father Hendey, a then 35-year-old English priest who played mas in Angostura Starlift in 1966. He was immortalised in calypso by the Mighty Cypher ‘If the priest could play, who is we?’
The then Bishop William James Hughes summoned him to Hayes Court and administered a severe reprimand and considered whether or not to send him back to the United Kingdom ‘as he had caused irreparable damage to be done to the Church’.
Father Rawle Douglin commented that ‘although things might be lawful, they were not necessarily expedient’.
In other words, his superiors upbraided him. Who does this for our errant elites? Why cast stones at poor, black boys who are hustling a dollar? ‘If the elite could play, who is we?’ must be the refrain.
When our elites accidentally or by design permit each other to take advantage of poorly drafted laws and weak law enforcement, they set an example for others to follow. When our elites allow ineffective men or those with apparent ill intent to hold office so that they could negotiate their deals and get away scot-free, they are creating an environment for ill-behaviour to become endemic.
The fragmented state security system makes criminal impunity possible. This impunity, coupled with corruption, erodes political trust. This governance crisis feeds into the crime crisis.
Unless we accept national security as a public good accessible by all and underpinned by an effective judicial system, our democracy will be threatened. The alternative is to blame the poor, put them in jails or shoot them.
The poor will continue to die because the rich do not see the value of a fair, equitable society.
Will our elites stand up and be responsible?
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