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Raffique Shah


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Unity, change and exchange

By Raffique Shah
July 05, 2009

Although I can't afford the luxury of frequent travel abroad that some people do, I understand why they opt to spend time in other countries. It's not that they don't love their country, whatever its shortcomings. But they seek escape from the crime wave, look for respite from a runaway government that believes its mandate is to disrespect and disregard lesser mortals, especially those who voted it into power. Most of all, though, I suspect they wish to drown out the cacophony that assaults us from every direction, the ubiquitous call for "all those who oppose the wicked PNM Government to unite to remove Mr Manning from power."

Not being actively involved in politics as defined in the Trinidad (one must belong to a party or vote in elections), I have grown more wary of the "country criers" who are out of power than of the arrogant and ignorant few who wield real power in this country.

The Prime Minister can translate his words and deeds any which way he wants, truth is he displays absolute disregard for voices of discontent, and even more galling, voices of reason. We are lucky that the latter breed has refused to retreat into extinction the way some of our flora and fauna have.

The resilience of those a generation ahead of mine-John Spence, Julian Kenny, Reginald Dumas, to name a few-assures me that we shall never surrender our independence, our commitment to country, with a whimper.

No "sawdust Caesar" will ever dim the fire of Dessalines that burns deep within our souls. We shall speak out, write with the fearlessness the way my colleague Kevin Baldeosingh does, whatever the consequences. But even as we expose the arrogance that goes with power, the contempt with which our leaders treat their respective constituencies, we also have a nose for smelling bullshit from the proverbial mile.

When disparate elements in the society call on us to unite to remove the PNM from power, many of us are smart enough to ask, well, why? What defines this "unity" about which you crow from every palm-tree-top?

Is removal of the PNM from power a solution to the ills that bedevil the country? If it were, then we ought to have witnessed miracles in the wake of the 1986 elections when the PNM was all but obliterated from the electoral map. Instead, we saw another face of the very arrogance we had condemned during the Eric Williams era. We saw a hastily contrived unity come apart at the seams before Mr Manning could blink, far less take his cat-nap in Parliament.

The same can be said of the period 1995-2001 when the UNC wrested power from the one-term PNM regime. Ray Robinson wisely decided to lend his two-seats support to Basdeo Panday to enable the latter to achieve a life-long dream, that of being Prime Minister of the country.

We saw what their definition of unity could do, and it was not a pleasant sight. Two MPs, elected to their constituencies as PNM candidates, calmly switched allegiances to continue to savour the taste of power. Shortly thereafter Panday became confident enough to kick Robinson upstairs, to the office of President, an act that would return to hurt and haunt him. Before long, the UNC Government was rent asunder by unbridled corruption, unmatched in-fighting, and arrogance a-la-Bas.

Removing the PNM from power, however compelling that may appear in the face of the Government's many sins against its people, is not an end by itself, nor is it a means to an end. Let's say all those who are fed up with Mr Manning's misdemeanours decide to join together at the polls and remove the PNM Government. What happens on the very next day? "Who is your leader?" the President would ask. Problems. Big problems. Within the ranks of the traditional anti-PNM crowd, there is a major division as to whether Mr Panday is fit to lead any new government. So the "united" force may not cross the first hurdle.

Assuming it does, though, what new form of governance would it present to make it more acceptable than the PNM? Would the new PM consult with his colleagues before naming an Attorney General? Or would it be a case of "who Bas put, no man touch"?

Would there be greater consultation with those who voted the "united platform" in the process of selection of the Cabinet? We are talking fundamental change here, and I haven't heard one would-be PM address it. My view is that he (or she) would see no reason to strip himself of this ultimate symbol of power.

What new policies would be implemented regarding managing the economy? Would the united-disparate-forces halt Mr Manning's heavy industrialisation plans? Bear in mind Mr Panday, when he was in power, had signed an agreement with Norsk Hydro to erect a huge smelter in Savonetta. Would lofty plans for food production take flight, or would they remain grounded, as happened under all previous governments? Would the new government have the balloons to slay the dragon that is the URP? I shall continue exploring unity and change in my next column.

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