Playing games with people's lives
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 31, 2022
It is with regret that I return to PNM's neglect of its people. It seems that nothing one says or does can make its ministers recognise their tone-deaf responses to the cries of their people. It is, as my mother used to say, "like stick break in dey ears".
I couldn't help but feel this way when I read Minister Marvin Gonzales's response to reporters after he and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland visited John John and Sea Lots, with a view to repairing the sewage issues that have plagued the people of the latter area for several years.
While I give the PNM kudos for attending to the problem, I can't understand why Gonzales refused to go into Beetham Gardens and felt it necessary to lecture the residents about morality and responsible political behaviour.
His rationale: "I have had information that the United National Congress elements responsible for stirring up the protest action recently have taken a sip of alcohol and are misbehaving again. For the benefit of the people of Beetham I will stay away from there so that the workers can do their work in peace and comfort and let the jokers continue to be jokers." (Express, January 26.)
Such a statement, coming from a minister, to a constituency that has always voted for the PNM, was unfortunate. All residents, regardless of their political affiliation, deserve the services of the government in power. When the PNM members took their oath of office, they pledged to serve all of the members of the community. Strange, then, that they should discriminate against a community because it's alleged a UNC member started the protest to draw attention to a health hazard that faced the community.
Government officials need to respect the people who elected them and support their legitimate rights to peacefully protest against what they see as Government's indifference to their problems. The whole community should not suffer because some of the residents "interfered with the pumps" and stole the fuel that prevented the pumps from operating efficiently. This was a wonderful opportunity for the Government to work in partnership with the community to solve the problem.
Rather, the minister offered a misguided lecture on morality: "When it comes to supplying water and electricity to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I am not about playing games. I am not about playing politics and any politician that is involved with playing politics with people's lives, we should get them out of the political landscape."
Perhaps I got it wrong, but I thought that Minister Gonzales is a politician who happens to be a minister. I don't know that he can separate his political persona from his ministerial identity or even if such a distinction is possible. More importantly, what is his empirical basis for asserting that "what transpired on the Beetham recently was politically motivated by people who believe that they should benefit from the true and sincere suffering of segments of the community"?
This dubious distinction reminds me of Spoiler's satirical calypso, "Magistrate Try Himself" (1958), in which a magistrate acted as both judge and jury simultaneously for a speeding charge. At the trial, "Heself tell heself, 'You are charged for speeding.'/ Heself start to shout, 'The policemen lying!'/ Heself tell heself, 'Doh shout!' He said, 'No sport!'/ And he charge himself for contempt of court."
In the end, the magistrate took out his mirror, looked at himself, and rendered his judgment: "Heself tell heself to pay twenty dollar/ He bus out a cry, then turn round and say, 'Give me a chance, ah want a lil time to pay.'" The magistrate finally gave himself five years to pay his fine of $20.
Spoiler wanted to illustrate the absurdity of a person being the judge and jury of his own misadventure. It's a point that Gonzales couldn't intuit from his presumed moral seriousness: that is, a politician declaring he is not a politician even though he derives his power and privileges from being a politician.
Eric Williams represented the area that these esteemed ministers supposedly represent. As a sophisticated politician, Williams would never have made such an ill-advised statement. In "The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago", Williams noted: "Every step taken by the party must be a step calculated not only to do something in the interest of the people or for the good of the people, but rather designed to get the people to do things for themselves and to think for themselves."
The Beetham Gardens project would have been a great opportunity for the Government to work with community members to come up with a satisfactory solution to their problems. It was unfortunate that Gonzales depicted these citizens as mischievous children who had sinned and thus were unworthy of his entering into their community to ground with them and to work out their problems together.
One wonders if Gonzales and Fitzgerald Hinds, the representative of Beetham Gardens, will return to that community to solicit their votes during the next local and national elections. After all, a politician's moral zeal cannot be separated from the human source that gives life to his political identity.
Wasn't this the point Farley Augustine made when he announced his "Show Me a Road Tobago" programme, in which he spoke about the community working together with established Government agencies to solve their problems? Didn't Williams announce a similar concept in "The Case for Party Politics"?
Is it possible that Tobagonians, at the last election, were responding to the "Prado Boys" who looked down contemptuously at the ordinary citizens? Could the PNM find itself in a similar situation in Trinidad in the next election?
Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe