January 8, 2001 By Keith Smith

We business on the street

WELL, all the streets that I walked were alive with the politics. Everybody who talked to me had a view and, tell the truth, there were times I grew weary of offering mine which is that Mr Robinson does not have the constitutional right to rein-in Mr Pandayís recklessness. You had to be careful not to be persuaded though such was the coherence of his conversation, the man talking to a national audience as if it were one on one, stepping down from on high, as it were, such was the calling of his conviction.

He said he was trying to bring down the issues to the simplest terms and on the streets I found myself suggesting that we had to break down the debate into two separate issues which was whether what the Prime Minister wants he gets and whether the Constitution gives the President room to prevent him from getting what he wants even when the President believes that what he wants threats the democracy that the Republic is engaged in designing.

I am prepared to concede the first supposition only as the latest and most visibly extreme form of both a substance and style of leadership that has been our bane since Independence and before and, as for the second, well, you only have to go back to the Presidentís address to ascertain that he has had to cite intangibles which he perceives to see in the Constitution to give himself the room to make the manima, to quote Kitchener, that he did.

I think that even the good men and women who support the presidential intervention know this. It is a measure of the level to which Mr Panday has made so many people distrust him that these men and women are agreeing to constitutional contrivance as a means of stopping this loose Caroni cannon at all costs, their arguments, like the Presidentís, spurred by the very emotionalism that he has so sincerely yet impossibly, asked us to eschew.

And yet, I find it difficult to believe that Mr Pandayís supporters even as they pillory the President and pound his posture did not receive with a start, the Prime Ministerís plan, to give heightened profile as well as considerable social clout ( if nothing else) to those who had fought and lost difficult seats for him. Mr Pandayís predilection for reconstituting, without recourse to reason or rationale, was bound to bounce up against public expectation at one time or the other.

Is there not room here, then and, after all, for fertile public discussion and, indeed, action? If the issue of prime ministerial over-reaching is being openly articulated, on the one hand and privately considered, on the other, might we not have reached a point where the debate, after fully 40 years of Independence, might not be on how the society is to be governed particularly since the collective experience over those 40 years might have taught us to be wary of executive power that is not checked by popular representation and involved participation?

Or to, hopefully, put it more simply, has the Panday/Robinson axis not so pushed us into the constitutional corner that we have been lazily, yet aggressively, avoiding for all these years of when-I-talk-let-no-damned-dog-bark?

Iíd be lying if I said that I knew what triggers a country to look into itself, but I canít remember ever seeing or hearing such ongoing arguing about issues seemingly outside of physical needs and creature comforts. Does this mean, then, that the country knows that this is inherently about itself, about its past, its present and, most acutely about its future, people up and down asking each other variants of that once throw-away Trinidadian question:

Wha happening, boy?

What is really meant, I wager is:

Wha going and happen?

Such is the making, I suggest, of fertile ground but I am not naive not to be aware that that ground is fraught with danger, what with the fire already on top and the fire that could spread, or be spread, below. Still the experience, both in the country and in the town, is that, given control, baked by this process is the best bread. Now is when we really need wise men in truth. And, not just three but in their thinking, and talking multitude.

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