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Raffique Shah


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Backward ever, forward never

By Raffique Shah
September 23, 2012

In ordinary times, the Prime Minister's decision last week to fire Herbert Volney for allegedly misleading the Cabinet on a critical issue (Section 34) would have won the lady universal acclamation. But these are extraordinary times. The baying of the hounds continues unabated, the sounds of fury rise to crescendos, refusing to be silenced by the sacrifice of one silly goat. The natives are restless.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar must be a puzzled woman. Having led her coalition government through too many crises to count and scandals aplenty, and now, having taken the most decisive action in her tenure after a week of public outrage, she must wonder why so many continue to call for her head. Well, Madam, so asked Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution, after she had infamously offered the masses cake when they cried out for bread. Marie and her fellow nobles paid with their heads, quite literally.

Let us not get carried away, though. This nation is not on the brink of any revolution, certainly not a violent upheaval that could see a bloody overthrow of the government. No, we have never been that way inclined. Ours are a people who, when they are fed up with high-handedness, angered with governments, they give you the hardest wine you would taste, the fiercest jam you could imagine, and, as on a Jouvert morning, before you know it you are outside the band skating on your backside on a dirty pavement, wondering what the hell happened there. That's the way we "revolute".

So the PM can caress her neck secure that she won't suffer Marie Antoinette's fate. Instead, she should glance at Patrick Manning, maybe even pay him a visit, see how he is coping with post-emperor stress. Or she should touch base with her guru, Basdeo Panday, find out all she can about post-power-tabanca. It's useful to familiarise yourself with territory you are likely to chart sometime soon.

You see, the outrage that refuses to retreat has little to do with Section 34 per se, which served only as the straw that broke the camel's back. The proclamation, then hasty repeal of that noxious piece of legislation, bared the backsides of all Cabinet members. And so far as the public is concerned, both the sight and stench were nauseating. Even as they hastily pulled back on their drawers, the lingering odour hovers ominously for the government.

The PM clearly thought that firing Volney was a volley so loud and clear, it signalled strong leadership such as we have never seen in the country or the region. But people are not so easily suckered. They have long asked why Volney was hired in the first place. He was always a loose cannon, an obnoxious person whose arrogance and misleading sense of self-importance was incomprehensible. In other words, he was a disaster before it happened.

So while his firing elicited a chorus of approval from the converted, it meant nothing to the discerning public. Others who were as culpable in this Section 34 affair (as it would be labelled in history) remain arrogantly ensconced in high offices, defecating not just on Joe Public, but on persons whose offices demand respect even if the individuals invite criticism. Jack Warner, who seems to be licensed by the PM to crush anyone who disagrees with him or his government, spewed sewage when he responded to statements made by President Max Richards, and concerns about the state of the nation expressed by a priest.

That the PM would later apologise publicly to these individuals and others who were hurt in the verbal melee meant nothing to the uncultured Warner. The PM should note, although I doubt she would heed, that if there is a threat to her government that's bigger than Section 34, it comes with the name Warner. His defenders would point to the drop in murders since he planted an army post in Laventille. They would cite his generosity, the number of votes he garnered in general and internal elections.

My response? A boor is a boor, matters not how it is packaged. Warner will haunt the People's Partnership to its political death. He is another reason why the public remains restless, why there will be continuing unrest in the country. There are other ministers who are as arrogant as he is and who do not help the PP's tattered image. Then there are the thieves—you find them in every regime. They are not vocal, except occasionally when they sing mandatory praise to the PM. The people know who they are, just as we did when the PNM and the UNC were in power. Where is the evidence, they invariably ask. Look in the mirror, I respond.

I note that Keith Rowley and the PNM are calling on the government to resign and hold fresh elections. Some thoughts on that: I don't think Kamla is as stupid as Manning (he called two early elections, in 1995 and 2010, and lost both!). The PP coalition is not going to fall apart anytime soon. Its members value their offices. The word "principles" is alien to politicians. So, for worse more than better, the country is saddled with a defective government until 2015.

Assuming that public outrage becomes so powerful, it forces the government to call elections, what then? Can the PNM unseat the PP? And is that really what the population wants? I don't think so. Getting rid of the PP might not be a difficult task. But crafting an alternative that would weld this nation together, extract its full potential, and take us forward to a land promised but never before delivered, is the challenge that faces us all. We cannot proceed backward ever forward never.

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