Back To Zero

…And Starting All Over

By Sunity Maharaj

The best that can be said about the current state of the politics is that, if nothing else, we have been well-conditioned for life without government. Given our history of centuries of alienation from the corridors of power, it has long been our lot to stand outside the window and enjoy the view of government as a spectator sport that has nothing to do with us.

The historical lack of representation of the mass of the population has been the whetstone on which our survival skills have been so sharply honed. And so we endure. No matter how collapsed the centre, life goes on. We have refined self-government to an individual art—which is why the concept of nationhood remains so elusive. History tells us that ultimately, we can depend only on ourselves. And so rampant individualism, far from being the symptom of indiscipline so many assume it to be, is really an act of self-protection.
It is touching, really, how, in the face of repeated disappointment- betrayal even—hope continues to spring eternal Repeatedly, we pick ourselves up off the floor, piece together our broken dreams and make yet another investment of blind faith—often based purely on illogical hope and with far too much charity—as we wheel and come again in an unceasing cycle of licking our wounds and hoping for the best. Then back to licking our wounds again.
Today, once again, the cycle turns as the churning centre sours hope. Are we condemned to return to the position of despair, trapped in a pathology of the impotent with political psychosis masquerading as parliamentary democracy, and free-for-all parading as freedom?
It doesn’t take political genius to read the next play.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of the SSA debacle has been its impact on the Prime Minister. Whether the position is retrievable or not, for now, Persad-Bissessar has lost her mystique and much of her moral authority. Under pressure with the media after launching the Year of African Peoples, the only difference between her and Basdeo Panday’s snarling “that’s insulting” incident was that hers came with a unsmiling smile.

President George Maxwell Richards

The SSA episode could have been an opportunity for the Prime Minister to come clean and free herself and her government from the encroaching corrosion of corruption in the dispensing of favours by the State. Instead, we got defiance, truculence and avoidance. And when that failed to dislodge public opinion, a paipsey admission of error in the anxiety to “move on”. What the administration has failed to grasp is that in the case of the disastrous appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine, sackcloth and ashes won’t do; what is required is a full account of how the junior technician came to be appointed Director of the SSA. The shenanigans surrounding this appointment, including the mind-boggling “letter of recommendation” from Deputy Director Julie Browne, have raised suspicions of a cover-up that might reach all the way to the Prime Minister’s office. Citizens want to know whether the conditions that gave rise to the scandal have the potential for imperilling the State and to what extent, if any, are those charged with protecting the State, responsible for doing so. The Ramnarine affair is no simple blunder on the part of a novice leadership and requires us to explore every option for getting to its root. Critical offices and institutions, from the President and Prime Minister down to the Media, have been touched by it. As the President who was not on the job the day the appointment came for a signature, President Max Richards is well-placed to assume the responsibility.
The Reshmi Ramnarine appointment, however, has merely been the breaking point in a string of appointments which underscore the cynical message that capturing the State is more about sharing the spoils of office than about national transformation and development. The principle of “winning the peace” by any means necessary which had made the overnight political partnership possible, continues to apply in government as one critical appointment after another is surrendered to lobbyists and political investors- even as integrity is proclaimed from on high.
As political strategy, peace-by-any means has served Persad-Bissessar well, helping her to survive Panday and, ultimately, to rise to the top of the political heap. But it is no qualification for the leadership that the country has so long needed and which offers little scope for on-the-job-training. What is required is mastery of the issues and the political authority to quell personal agendas in promoting a national agenda that does not depend on buying the support of sectoral interest groups.
One senses that, as public confidence in the administration recedes, political interests in the People’s Partnership, including those within the UNC, are beginning to calculate the options ahead. Barring health issues and unmentionable chicanery, however, Persad-Bissessar, even as overwhelmed as she appears to be, will remain a tough incumbent to dislodge, precisely because of the number of competing ambitions.
In the meanwhile, the PNM prepares to, once again, offer itself as the default position of electoral choice which, if nothing else, underscores the party’s increasing irrelevance to the aspirations of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Fifty five years ago, the PNM was the symbol of a people’s hope for better.

Today, it has been reduced to the Devil You Know as the people continue to search for an appropriate vehicle to invest their hope. How this has come to pass is what Keith Rowley needs to explore as he attempts the task of party transformation .
Perhaps the COP still fancies itself as the third force with the capacity to vault us into a more viable orbit. It shouldn’t be too confident, though. An ear to the ground will suggest that the people are reclaiming their authority. The rumbling and a-tumbling in the atmosphere and the blogosphere is the sound of people on the move in defence of their own interests, having been once again burnt by representational forces that have failed to equip themselves for the task.
In the unfolding scenario, any number can still play. That is both the danger and the opportunity.

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