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Bacchanalian Budget Debate

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 25, 2011

It's either I am crazy or the Prime Minister is going mad. She stands up in Parliament and maligns her citizens. When she is confronted she refuses to accept responsibilities for her actions. Defenseless citizens are left at her mercy. Then, the press either defends them or maligns them further. In a good season, the press may then point out that a mistake has been made and call upon the authorities to rectify it.

But not so quick. The fourth estate may not be able to defend your rights for much longer. One better have a second thought about that. In a flight of madness that borders on the edge of a totalitarianism, Fazal Karim, the Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education, declaims: "I am of the view that the time has come for us not only to graduate and certify persons [jouranlists], but to register them in a body and also to license them as practitioners and in so doing lift the quality of the bar in terms of delivery of services."

I do not know what Minister Karim professional qualifications are but I would like him to tell us the countries in which journalists are licensed? And what happens to columnists such as I? Am I supposed to go to the Ken Gordon School of Journalism, get certified and then apply to a government ministry to be licensed to become a columnist?

The word licenses smells to high heaven. Are we talking about a buying a pound of fish; cutting someone's hair; operating on a person's heart; or interpreting the law? And in case Minister Kazim may not know it a professional is a self-regulating entity. It is an arena the state does not get into unless someone breaks the law as in the case of libel.

But I am getting ahead of myself and the importance of self-regulating institutions. A report is issued by a committee that is headed by John Le Guerre who is married to the first cousin of the Prime Minister. He sends his findings about a matter to Devant Maharaj, one of Sat Maharaj's chief lieutenants and a Minister of Government. He hands the report over to Kamla. She goes to Parliament and then the bacchanal begins.

In Parliament the PM declares that the daughter of Brigadier Peter Joseph received $25,600 from a "secret" fund that was administered by Joan Yuile Williams, former minister of Culture. That fund could not have been that secret since everyone knew about its existence but that's for another day.

Confronted by this accusation, Brigadier Joseph commented: "I wish to state that my daughter did not receive an education grant from the Government through the Ministry of Culture and Community Development. I state categorically that my daughter Adanna Joseph has never received an award of any kind for any purpose from the Government."

That seemed categorical enough.

To make things even clearer, Brigadier told Newsday:

"I don't know who is feeding you that information. She did not write the Prime Minister. She applied to the Minister of Culture and Community Development...She applied on a form she had, and [had an] interview and after the interview they said she did not meet the criteria."

Now it does not matter whether Brigadier's remarks are true or not. The pertinent question is this: why should citizens have to suffer through the daily onslaught of government figures whose primary responsibility is to represent their interests (not some citizens) and to protect the citizens and their rights. Even when citizens err or even break the law, there is a procedure that starts with a basic assumption that a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Our government doesn't operate that way. It's really us versus them; black versus Indian; PNM versus PP. So that although the constitution gives one the right to vote for whatever party one chooses; although the constitution categorically denies discriminating negatively against citizens and declares that one's racial make up should not be a criteria in the awards of grants and scholarship, the PP is determined that the nation should be broken down into warring factions better to pick off the least defensive faction.

The PM claims that she bears no responsibility for her actions. As she intoned on Tuesday after Parliament: "This is what the Equal Opportunities Commission said. This is in their report. So what I read, all that information I gave came out of that report. They are not my words."

This is our prime minister who has taken a solemn oath to protect the rights of her people. These are not my words. They are the words of my cousin-in-law. So a prime minister can say anything, without checking its accuracy, malign a citizen and all she has to say is: "Ah just reading a report. It's not my words. Is ma' cousin-in-law words."

This brings me to the gist of the problem. A national budget is supposed to be a document that outlines the priorities of a government. Generally, it tells us where the government wants to go and how it intends to get there. Listening to the various members speak one would have thought that the most pressing problem that faced the government is that 45 million dollars were given out to black people (92 per cent of it) and therefore the constitution is violated and these people should pay back de money. And just in case yo' tink yo' could get away with it, we will now control the press, be sure you get a license to write and thereby create a racist totalitarian state.

Sooner or later, the populace will have to decide if this is the level of governance they need and whether the PP represents their hopes and aspirations. All the signs are there. All you have to do is to determine whether you accept this bacchanalian discourse and whether it represents us. The road to hell is always paved with diabolical statements. We just have to get their meanings.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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