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Dougla Government

Terry Joseph
December 16, 2001

Among the more memorable references to predictable products of genetically mixing two different types of people in equal proportions, is the Mighty Dougla’s 1961 prize-winning calypso "Split Me in Two".

For those not of Trini origin, Dougla is the colloquial description of a half-breed comprising parents of identifiably Indian and African heritage. Being of such stock, the singer fully assumed the sobriquet and penned a humourous ditty to lament his fate, if Indians and Africans in this country were all repatriated to their respective motherlands.

The song won him that year’s prize and helped thwart any further notion of going back to roots in the physical sense. Not unsurprisingly, audiences embraced the piece, laughing all the way to reality.

Hear the chorus of Dougla’s calypso:

"If they sending Indians to India
And Africans back to Africa
Well somebody please just tell me
Where they sending poor me?
I am neither one nor the other
Six of one, half a dozen of the other
So if they sending all these people back home for true
They got to split me in two,"

Forty years later, circumstances not even contemplated by Dougla have brought into focus the residual difficulty of voting along tribal lines almost exclusively, in a country where people of Indian and African origin exist in equal numbers and in the sum, count for some 94 percent of the population.

Of the 36 seats available in The House of Representatives, each of the two major political parties secured 18 at last Monday’s general election. Finding us without constitutional precedent, this dead heat has pushed the leadership of both parties to compromise, arriving at an agreement shortly after 8 pm last night.

What the Crowne Plaza Accord settled was which of the elected members will form this country’s next Cabinet. Where it couldn’t find agreement was on the matter of who would be our next Prime Minister. That task is now officially left to President Robinson.

So, after voting for your favourite political party, hoping to trounce all challengers for the throne, it turns out that at least half the Members of Cabinet will be people you expressly did not want in charge of your welfare.

During the past five days of speculation, if party membership on either side was consulted, the exercise must have been conducted surreptitiously. Neither political leader placed advertising to help inform the public on this crucial decision, perhaps because their millions were spent earlier, in the run-up to the election, pointing out each other’s unsuitability to the function of running Trinidad and Tobago.

Suddenly, all 36 candidates are sharing a common vision by decree of their leaders who, you may remember, rented public address systems to convince us of their differences.

Part of the PNM advertising showed men in handcuffs, a less than subtle message that the party planned to investigate and (where conclusive evidence obtained) imprison UNC party members who were found guilty of corrupt practices while in Government.

Now, as Dougla’s calypso said in 1961, it is "Six of one, half a dozen of the other." Are Cabinet Members going to investigate fellow Cabinet Members and send their Parliamentary colleagues to jail? In the breach, wouldn’t that be another type of corruption?

So, precisely how the investigation into corruption will continue in this yet unfolding scenario is unclear. Pre-election PNM charges targeted senior UNC officials. During the period, the PNM also briefly courted former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj who, insiders said, was to be retained as a Special Prosecutor, in the event of an outright win by that party.

The UNC leader, who fired the AG mere weeks before the election and called him "a terrorist" mere days after the September 11 attacks on the US, is unlikely to embrace his avowed foe in any new dispensation.

Party financiers whose donations were made with malice aforethought might now join the fray at the level of deciding who should be in which Ministry, if their interests cannot now dovetail with power-sharing imperatives. Party members who confidently expected material gains from working the constituencies for their candidates are in for similar surprises.

On the ground, the feeling is not one of accommodation. Perhaps people who increasingly cannot see past ethnic blinkers will really get the government they deserve.

If nothing else, the UNC leader and current Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday can now stand on the mountain top and shout about the achievement of his long sought after Government of National Unity.

But in this case, is it the echo that will dissipate first?

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