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The Loss Sheep

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: July 02, 2004

As I listened to the debate on the Police Reform Bills at the House of Representatives on Tuesday last, I glanced at a bust of Captain Arthur Cipriani that stands at the south-eastern corner of the Chambers. Inscribed upon the marble piece below his bust are the following words: "Statesman, Servant of His Country & a West Indian Patriot." As I read those words I remembered an editorial that appeared in the Beacon on January 1932. It read: "Captain Cipriani continues to lavish his promises of self-government on the people of Trinidad. At a recent meeting of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association a resolution was passed urging the Captain to make representations for self-government to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The report of the meeting we read did not stipulate whether the Captain had presented or read any document or outline any terms, conditions, etc., of his proposed new form of government. To the lower classes mere mention of the words conjures up visions of a little Paradise in Trinidad: a local man as Governor reduced administrative expenditure, employment for the local man and an improved standard of living in general. Intelligent people, however, have only a faint idea of what Captain Cipriani means and are, quite naturally, skeptical." In other words, the little people could have no understanding of what self-governing and independent meant although it took several decades before the later condition arrive.

The editorial also commented on the applicability of universal adult suffrage, the right of persons in a democracy to vote at the age of twenty one or what one calls the age of majority. It said: "We learn, too, that Adult Franchise must be a condition of Federation if Great Britain wishes it to be acceptable to Captain Cipriani and his labour confederates. Captain Cipriani wants immediate granting of self-government, and in the event of such an impossibility being realized, there should be two apes, three baboons and a few asses on the Parliament of the Dominion of Confederated West Indian Islands… We [are not] blind to the fact that the local man is usually the bad administrator; he manages affairs for his own benefit. The average member of the working class is on an intellectual parity with any ape and is, consequently, incapable of distinguishing a counterfeit from a genuine coin."

Suffice it to say that the British Caribbean federated in 1958. Thanks to the DLP, the intellectual forebears of the UNC, they destroyed the Federation three or four years after it was created. This led Dr. Eric Williams, a statesman of the same ilk as Captain Cipriani, to label them a recalcitrant minority. It was almost as though they reveled in being in a backward stream of progress repeating the slogan, "Backward ever; forward never." I am not too sure if the DLP considered the members of the working classes as being on intellectual parity with apes, incapable of managing their affairs and too lazy to run their own country.

As I listened to members of the Opposition and the bombast of their leader's comment after the debate, I could help but think of what Sigmund Freud called the "return of the repressed," that explains so wondrously the confused legacy of reactionary behavior the UNC brings to most of its deliberations. In other words, come hell or high water, the UNC are prepared to repeat the reactionary behavior of their forebears without even thinking about it, so instinctive it has become. All they could say is, "Nay." The can never say "Aye."

While they do not know it, repression is always linked to negation in the subject's unconscious mind. This is why Freud argued that "Negation is a way of taking account of what is repressed; a kind of intellectual acceptance of what is repressed." In fact, the UNC has become so used to saying "no" that they now act in this negative fashion without even thinking about it. In spite of all their grand charge, nothing the PNM does can be any good.

Maybe this persistent repression has something to do with the fact that the UNC are perpetual losers having never won an election in their lives. Maybe they have said "no" so long that they really don't know how to say yes and feel good about it. Maybe, the unconscious legacy of negation is so great that they can ascribe nothing positive to anything that cometh out of the mouths of the PNM even though they said the same things when they ruled the roost...

Yet, I take Mr. Yet Ming at his word when he says he wants to be persuaded by the effectiveness of the Bill and its capacity to transform the current culture of the police even though he leaves open an escape hatch. He says he wants to believe the best but somehow, given what he has heard, he expects the worst and really does not believe that he will be persuaded by the government's case. But if we reject his claim, the same claim made by the Prime Minister and others, that we must de-politicize the issues that surround the Bill before we can talk honestly about it, then we end up with a false position because the Bill is brimful of politics and nothing we do will eliminate this fact. Passing bills and seeking to win the hearts of citizens is at the heart of any Legislative measure and that's what politics is all about.

And this is one lesson the PNM can learn from the UNC. When the UNC governed they did not care about the PNM. Even though they started with 17 seats and gained four along the way, they governed as though they were elected by a majority of the populace. The PNM must understand that they were elected by the people of Trinidad and Tobago to govern the society. It is foolhardy to turn to the UNC every time it wants to deal with a major problem--be it the anti-kidnapping Bill or the Police Service Bill-to beg for their help. If the PNM really believed that the UNC is irrelevant-and they are until they begin to act more responsibly-they would come up with radical solutions to the problems we face, find creative ways to solve them and push forward to achieving a more secure state.

In fact, the PNM only had to listen to Mr. Yet Ming to understand the dilemma in which they found themselves. He says he looks with horror at the fact that the government believes that the UNC are "the only people to save the country." He says further: "I can only look on in horror at the level of responsibility that has been placed on the Opposition." In other words, rather than see themselves attending to the high purpose of national business the are horrified at the prospect of having to work with the government to take of the nation's business.

If I were the Prime Minister I would act as though the UNC never existed. I would consult them when I must but proceed as though they were irrelevant. Democracy only demands that one acts within the law as one carries out one's mandate as purposefully as one can.

In this context, Mr. Manning can learn something from Mr. Bush on this score. Elected to the presidency by a margin of three electoral votes, a minority of the popular vote and less than thirteen percent of the eligible voters in the United States, Mr. Bush proceeded to run his government as though he were elected by a majority of the people. When he decided to go into Iraq, he did not ask for the permission of the democrats even though he received their support. It did not matter how long Senators Byrd and Kennedy spoke on the Senate floor. When he decided to cut taxes, even though the Democrats decided that if favored the rich, he went on with it any way. He was declared the President of the US and he acted as though all of America had elected him.

The UNC understood this very well. During 1991-1995 when the PNM wanted to get rid of Jules Bernard as the Police Commissioner they ran into all kinds of problems with the Public Service Commission and lost much political capital. When the UNC wanted to keep on Mohammed as the Police Commissioner, without any fuss, they simply passed a law that extended his contract for two years. They lost little political capital and got what they wanted. They same was true when they made winners losers.

As Mr. Manning noted in his presentation to the House, the UNC does not know how to keep its promises. Were he a student of Freud he would know that it takes generations to stymie represses unconscious desires. Like Little Bo Peep who having lost their sheep, Mr. Manning should leave these wayward ones to find their way home. They waste too much of the nation's time and are constitutionally incapable of being honest. Like Mr. Manning said: "They really have noting in their heads."

"To whom little is given; little is expected." It's really about time Mr. Manning left those sheepish people alone? Unlike Cipriani and Dr. Williams, they are neither servants, statespersons nor patriots. They are consumed with their inward passions and are incapable of looking outward or forward. They will find their way one day.

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