January 18, 2004
By Raffique Shah
UPON reading my column last Sunday, many persons I know called to find out if I had gone "loco". How could I, someone who has been at the helm of the call for a more participatory form of democracy in the country, call for a the imposition of a malevolent dictator? Have I reverted to military thinking or did I make an overnight about-face? Some even asked if I was "looking for wuk"! So I had to defend my position, let them know that while I remain committed to the many freedoms we enjoy under the current system, I am not convinced that the mass of the population are ready to shoulder the responsibilities that go with these rights.
More than these weaknesses in the system, look at where we have reached after 40-plus years of independence, and however many years more than that living under some form of Western democracy. Lloyd Best has argued for years that the Prime Minister is no different in relation to his powers than the governor under colonial rule. But worse than that, the very laws that existed under the Crown Colony system are the ones that still apply today, save for a few subtractions and some additions. Yet the society has descended from being marginally lawless to one in which the outlaws outnumber the law-abiding.
In examining the road we need to take to extricate us from this mess, I argue that we ought not to dismiss out of hand the idea of some form of dictatorship or "strongman" rule. And when we look for reasons to impose such draconian measures, we must not only look at lawbreakers at the lower level of the society, meaning what is commonly referred to as the underclass. We really must start at the top, since that's where we expect exemplars to be, it's where the kind of society we have is shaped.
Without digressing much, can you imagine the effect Robin Montano's behaviour in the Senate last week must have had on students who are borderline cases? If he could behave like a "wajank" (I almost wrote "jamette", but modern call girls are more sophisticated) in the highest forum in the land, abusing the chair and everyone else, then why should students be chastised or punished for dishing out similar "calpets" to their teachers? In fact, many would use it as the benchmark for dealing with their peers, their parents, and just about anyone else.
The politicians are not the only ones who are responsible for the breakdown of values in the society. We must begin at the top where we find lawbreakers and hypocrites aplenty who cloak themselves in the respectability of business suits. That massive theft at a computer warehouse last week-where will all that equipment end up? In John John? In Penal? Surely there are criminal businessmen out there who trade heavily in stolen goods. From cars to computers, stereos to jewelry, the "fences" who make banditry and burglary profitable range from ordinary housewives to big businessmen. Without them, if no one purchases anything stolen or illegal, then banditry and burglaries might well take a nosedive.
These "good citizens" as Sparrow dubbed them in calypso some years ago, invariably escape justice. They can afford the best attorneys, and nowadays the best "hitmen". Think of the cocaine trade that has wrecked the society since the 1980s. We always knew that the pushers and pipers were not the main people behind that multi-million-dollar business. We always knew it took big bucks to access big "drops" of cocaine from Colombia. If the authorities were vigilant, not to add fair, rather than bring 100 pipers before magistrates to clog up the courts and jails, we would have had a handful of dealers taken out of the system and that might have mitigated if not eliminated the problem. But we hanged Dole and company, posted Beharry to a US jail, and we are no better off with growing numbers of addicts.
At the grassroots level, it's a case of "monkey see, monkey do". These young men who have emerged from homes in which values were quoted in the thickness of gold chains, from communities in which just about every law is broken by the many, what way forward other than robbing defenceless citizens? People still throw garbage on roadsides even though there is a collection system in place in their communities. Even in so-called prestigious residential districts, there are those who keep empty lots as mini-forests, with no consideration for the people who live there. I can go on and on about our numerous sins, the way we flout laws or conventions or acceptable behaviour without even thinking about it. After all, who is going to lock us up?
These cumulative anti-social activities cannot be addressed by elected governments. They have to pander to voters, even those who break the laws or disrespect their communities. Our memories may be short, but do we forget that successive governments have consorted with criminal elements? How can they be part of the problem and also part of the solution? No way. Which is why we desperately need to try some other system. For many years I supported the idea of greater participation of the masses in the affairs of governance. But among the masses there are hordes of asses. I see it every day. Some fool comes around and promises milk and honey and they run that-a-way. Then another fool says the opposite and they lean that way.
Let's face it: this society is neither mature enough to cope with self-governance, nor is that likely to change in the foreseeable future. The crystal ball shows a country awash with money from oil and gas, but also a society in which poverty dogs us without any solution on the cards, one that is steeped in anti-social and criminal behaviour that unacceptable. If we remain on this course, Trinidad and Tobago will flounder like most Third World countries. We need to take stock of ourselves, and also to make some harsh decisions, not to add take harsh measures.
That's why I have stopped thinking elections, why I view all politicians as ineffective vote-seekers, and I think only a "strongman" can get us out of this mess. We need someone who will not be intimidated by bullies, criminals or "community leaders", someone who will have the guts to lock up those who need to be locked up, and yes, terminate those elements who are termites eating away at the fabric of a society that has the potential to be utopia.