Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Self-Government, is an obligation to serve your community.”

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As I sat and listened to US President Barak Obama delivered the State of the Union addressed the one line that appealed to me immediately as a Trinibagonian-American was “self-government, is an obligation to serve your community.    Despite the differences between the two countries given their stages along the development spectrum, the concept of self-government for any people in any nation is dynamically linked to the idea of self-determination, hence the comparison.

The United States has a history of 200 plus years of self-governance and it also has elements of dysfunction in government, but even within these 50 states, the people that occupy those spaces understand the idea of self-government.

Like Trinidad and Tobago, political parties also exist, however American political parties are rooted in ideological differences.  Despite this, there is something uniquely amazing about American politics and I would argue that politics is the national culture in the United States.   It is the only thing all 50 states have in common – the federal government is the only thing that unites these states.    Furthermore, the lack of civic knowledge (or facts) by many Americans about their federal government often maligns Americans as ‘dumb’ for lack of a better term, but American civics and history is powerful to the idea of self-government and self-determination.   It teaches the story of the American people, of an American dream (though sometimes deferred for many – they have social problems too), about the immigrants, about the founding fathers, about colonialism under the British, the revolutionary war, the Civil War that broke the nation apart over slavery.   It talks about state’s rights (go look up the nullification crisis), people marching for the right to vote, the rights of the individual, and even speeding the idea up to today, states legalizing marijuana, a violation of federal law, but that’s federalism for you.   I know this because studied it and I taught it.

Without getting lost in American history and politics, let’s get back to the idea of self-government.  It is no doubt that Tobago needs self-government.   Self-Government has to be taught and infused into the DNA of the Tobagonian.  By mere human capital alone, if the resources were provided, we always had the spirit of self-determination because Tobagonians were viewed as hard workers and our students, despite poverty excelled way beyond now.    We must find our way back to this heritage.    This is a place of common ground in the Tobagonian story.

We are proud of our heritage, but we have lost a significant part of it.   When my 85 year old grandfather tells me about the steamer that came to Charlotteville and all around Tobago many years gone by for agricultural produce, and to sit thousands of miles away from Man O’ War Bay, and hear another elder via internet radio talk about the steamer and the current controversy at the beachfront, it tells me we have long gone past this heritage.  There is a high degree of hurt and frustration on the part of people, especially the elders, who believed times gone by were better than now.

This is the heritage of hard work and resilience.  It is the heritage of things like harvest which brought communities together and in doing so strengthened them (the actual going to the church part loaded with provisions from gardens).   It is the heritage that says ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child.’ Self-government is about responsibility then legislative frameworks.   Self-government is about the ‘len hand’ and the ‘sou-sou’ when you can’t access banks, still want to save, and still want to do something.  Self-government is about the building of community institutions that have broken down and become unresponsive to the needs of a society gone astray.    Therefore, self-government is an obligation to serve your community. It is in the telling of the story that self-government becomes practical and even better a reality.  The story provides a place of common ground because it our common heritage.

As I conclude, next on my agenda is the fun task of reading the report by the Constitution Commission.   This is timely, but also connected.  Ending like we began, the American system of government takes into consideration the people, majority and minority based on votes cast.   Every elected member whether majority or minority are considered part of the government, every member can present legislation, and the when the people are mad with Washington, they are angry at Congress period. This however provides a platform for consensus building and the creation of alliances to accomplish some, as opposed to nothing.

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Yuh like to talk s*^t

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The awkwardness of noise and silence when examining the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago will be our jumping off point today, but in all reality ‘we talking shit’, seriously.   I was told that in writing an article as a journalist, all you need is one piece of information.  You get leads, do your investigation, ask relevant questions of the right sources and then you write your story.   Clearly, there is a great deal of discretion one takes in protecting their sources and what eventually gets published.  Creating and maintaining good professional and at times personal relationships is always a positive for access to information from important sources.   With that said let’s address the concept of noise and silence on the political culture.

The political culture of every country is unique and Trinidad and Tobago is no different.   Our political influences, though much of it borrowed and in need of reform has a distinct flavoring of Trinbagoness.  At times, if not most times, it is loud; it is renowned for its picong which lends itself to being authentic but only on the surface level.  There is something deeper and as the system evolves hopefully it would gain this depth.

As individuals we know when to make noise and when to keep silent.   We have our personal motivations for the decisions we make.   As a collective society, the same is true.   What drives us as a society to make noise and to keep silent?  What are our motivations?

While listening to Radio Tambrin this morning former Parliamentarian and a native of Charlotteville Pamela Nicholson called in to share her concerns about the sanitary condition in Charlotteville where the temporary vending booths were constructed. Apparently, there is untreated sewage coming from the toilets that were constructed next to the structure.   A second caller also addressed the issue and alluded to the idea that “people are whispering, but no one will speak up about it, they would rather just close down their business place and go home when the place smells bad.” Several other callers addressed the issue.

Whatever is happening at the bay front is Charlotteville is controversial.   I wrote two articles, one about those supporting the project, the other for those against.     I have never publicly commented whether I am for or against the project, frequented the establishments of everyone for business and made the conscious decision not to use public toilets.  I believe the lessons from the contentious project are important because of my belief in individual rights in getting a hearing for their grievances.   In this case, the courts were utilized and the matter will play out there, decision pending.

But, who is going to clean up di shit? Some entity has to take responsibility for it.  Untreated sewage is a public health hazard.    This statement is a true statement and most human being would agree that it is so.   It is going to be clean up, eventually and hopefully solved in the short term but the will to get it done by interested and affected parties is the space between the awkwardness of noise and silence in our political culture.

Also on the matter of sewage, is dumping of sewage in the water at Pirates Bay by tourists on yachts.  A solution here is imperative.    The tourists on yachts enjoy Charlotteville and I have had the opportunity to visit a few out on their yachts.    A solution must be provided as a measure of public health to allay to concerns of villagers and beachgoers.   A coordinated effort by the legitimate authorities to create a solution that includes the setting of fines for violators and a patrolling system for yachts is a welcomed policy measure.

Think Hard and Learn to Juggle

 

With news of a pending shake up of THA Secretaries we will turn our attention to issues that should be addressed and discussed in a constructive manner.   We will begin first by addressing the Division of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports.    Forgetting some of the troubling news that have plagued DEYAS from leadership down, the new Secretary and his or her assistant will have their work cut out for them.   

DEYAS must repair its tarnished reputation and the Division must truly aim to become to center of educational affairs in Tobago that supports schools, principals, teachers and students.  Despite all, in all departments within DEYAS, there are incredible and talented individuals, but morale has sunk to all time low.   This trickles down affecting employees who in turn cannot provide the support our schools need.      

 

Improving educational systems and producing lasting reforms requires work.   DEYAS must demonstrate its capacity as an educational central office capable of producing real-time data on any student in Tobago at any given time.  Should this be a goal, it has the potential to focus the work of Division, create new knowledge and data about learners that will influence the formation of new policies and improved educational outcomes.  

 

Often many students are dismissed for “dunce” given a variety of factors or certain knowledge of their social circumstances and backgrounds.    In days gone by, the marker was passing the Common Entrance exams, but with almost two decades with guaranteed secondary education, and even greater access to tertiary education the outcomes should resonate stronger.   Are they?  For development, they must.   

 

For teachers to be responsive to the needs to leaners they need real time data to make decisions.   While a coordinated effort is required this information will allow us to support schools and directly support students.    What is needed is a mandate by the policymakers, commitment by the public servants, effective communication with the principals/teachers and engagement of those capable of doing the work.  A team will be required to collect, evaluate, and analyze data.   Reports should be created from the data to support intervention strategies.  Evidently, this will be aligned to major curriculum benchmarks for all students across the subject areas which in turn will require a different instructional approach.   

 

Reforms mean change and change is exactly what is needed for improved educational outcomes.    We must set up our students for success because they are important stakeholders for Tobago’s development.  If we want individuals who will actively contribute to the development of a society at this critical stage, robust interventions are required that will identify and fix problems before they morph into a crisis.  

 

This effort should not be disconnected from related youth and sporting initiatives.    Whether it is the establishment of after school academic programs for students, weekend classes, academic tournaments and competitions the impact would be significant and should produce improved outcomes.   

 

While there is a long list of issues that must addressed regarding educational policies in Tobago for improved outcomes the new Secretary must think hard and learn to juggle.   

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The Political Roundup: Traffic Light Politics

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The past week has marked the one anniversary from the January 21, 2013 election.    The week began with a TOP rally, the ILP announced Shadow THA Secretaries and the Island Council of the PNM wrapped up with weekend with a Thanksgiving Service. While it is not our intention to regularly comment in detail about political parties and their activities on this forum, it is important to discuss and provide analysis of the space they each occupy on Tobago’s political platform.  

The TOP still appears to be in crisis mode.   It is clear that a certain faction, Forward Movement of the TOP, wants Political Leader Ashworth Jack out.  Whether or not Jack has gotten this message, the party currently has the public perception of being in a state of chaos.     During the rally last Monday, former Justice Minister Christlyn Moore spoke on the issue of leadership within the TOP (and Tobago as a whole) and reminded the TOP family that “there is no such thing as an invisible leader, if you have not seen your leader in a year that is not your leader.”  Jack stated in the Tobago News “I was not invited and there is no way that that could have been a TOP rally because I am the political leader.”

The TOP had a year to reinvent itself after election, so far, they are still struggling but their struggles for the most part have been public and to a large degree transparent.

The ILP, the new kid on the block, is trying to define itself on the Tobago political landscape.  According to reports from its Tobago leadership they have 2,500 registered members.  Lionel Coker, the former TOP Chairman, since his departure from the TOP has took on the role of Tobago Leader of the ILP.   The organization seems to be working together with its Trinidad leadership evident by the recent visit of Interim Political Leader Jack Warner.  The ILP has also named “Shadow Secretaries” for the THA various THA Divisions all in an effort to establish themselves as the legitimate “third force” in Tobago.   Furthermore, Coker is pushing to be included in talks that Chief Secretary Orville London has begun with the TOP and the TPT in regards to Tobago’s autonomy.

The ILP has good ideas and taking initiative appears to be the plan for the moment.  For their long term survival in the political arena, the organization has to put out the required effort to build the party.

The PNM survived its first year without an opposition. This year was not without problems as the administration faced challenging issues related to transparency, budget shortfalls and some major projects remain incomplete.   Some strides were made in tourism and overall they made consistent effort of reaching out through the use of the face-to-face meetings and the Public Interest Desk.  The PNM led administration is pursing the issue of Tobago’s self-governance with a new vigor but the timeline is very tight.

From the outside, there a perception of “tight lips” within the PNM, what they would call “party discipline.” Compared to the ruction with the TOP, the PNM’s have internal issues (Melville-Pitt controversy) among others; however, these problems appear to be dealt strictly within the party.

The Ministry of Tobago Development (MTD), is also is player in the Tobago political landscape.     MTD and the THA are engaged in turf wars and the Island Council of the PNM has labeled the Minster of Tobago Development, Dr. Delmon Baker the Minister of Community Development in Tobago.    There is no clear platform whereby the MTD and the THA can engage each other without the political ramblings.    While the MTD is trying to make their presence known on the island, there must be some clarity between the THA and the MTD so efforts are not duplicated, as in the case of the marinas.

Like it or not, everyone has their eyes on 2015 general elections.   The PNM will do its best to capture the two Tobago seats from the TOP.    The TOP will try to hold on to those seats and will remain in People’s Partnership should they win 2015 to keep the Ministry of Tobago Development.    The ILP is a potential spoiler for the TOP should it field candidates in Tobago in 2015.

A Dr. King Quote, slightly modified on T&T

Dr King

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.   Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”   This is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the larger than life American Civil Rights Activist who shook the very fabric of a racist American society.   As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday in the United States and the principles he stood for worldwide, Dr. King’s words then can resonate with us today in Trinidad and Tobago.

Allow to me modify Dr. King’s quote to match the current reality of Trinidad and Tobago on this the 20th day of the year 2014. Therefore it would read:  If we are to have “calm” within a nation, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.   Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our “constituencies;” and this means we must develop a “national” perspective.  Three simple changes that uniquely reflect the present day reality of Trinidad and Tobago forces us to think about the road we are heading down as a nation.

King Quote

Where is the national perspective in Trinidad and Tobago?  Sadly, at this present stage of our development, there is none.    There is partisanship, divided government, those in power, and those seeking to get power.    In the midst of all this lies the politics of race, tribe, class, sections, and body counts running up in some constituencies more than others.    The national perspective is drowned out by the noise and government becomes nothing more than a joke.

Transcending our race/tribe (and I will add religion) means that we are deliberately engaging each other on  platforms that informs and educate about similarities and differences especially those that lead to misunderstandings and unwarranted criticisms.    Transcending our class means that we are mindful of existing structures of income inequality in our communities and ensure that resources are distributed fairly and equitably.   Transcending our sections means that we evaluate the role of political parties in our system of governance and made wide their tents and promote an inclusive national agenda.

These are issues that governments must tackle and not play politics with.  Trinidad and Tobago is receiving international attention, and the recent cocaine bust in Norfolk, Virginia has heightened this attention, specifically by the United States.   This has highlighted that we are a transport hub in the Southern Caribbean for the international drug trade with links with South America.   To what degree is the drug trade responsible for other levels of criminal behavior?  The fact it is, somebody’s drugs was seized, and we can only brace ourselves for the consequences of the bloodletting as already predicted by some.

From Dr. King to cocaine, seemed like a hard stretch, but someone how we have managed to do it.   Dr. King’s legacy has worldwide implications that we in Trinidad and Tobago can learn from him about becoming ‘a more principled society.’

The Creation of Hybrid System

Rethinking C

The Constitution Commission held consultations throughout the country last year, one of which I attended as a reporter while working for the Tobago News, has released a set of recommendations.   While I am still in the process of tracking down the official report of the Commission, according to reports, some sweeping constitutional changes are recommended.

A simple but important change is the change of the name “Leader of the Opposition” to that of minority leader.    While this change is simple, it is a move away from an “English-Westminster” system, to a hybrid model with elements of an “American-Congress”.   Ok, so the name change is not as simple as I said it was, but it makes sense.

The recommendations will allow for the House of Representatives to keep a focus on “representation of the people” and constituency services while serving as a check against an Executive Senate.  The Senate’s new Executive structure will also comprise of 41 members as the House of Representatives, and the Prime Minister, new Deputy Prime Minster, all cabinet members, and the Minority Leader will be drawn from the Senate.

These are sweeping changes.  The separation of executive and legislative duties and functions is a step in the right direction.   The House of Representatives’ legislative capacity will now work alongside an executive agenda.    The Commission remained silent on an “Executive Presidency” but this function will be carried out by the Prime Minister and Cabinet members, all of whom are Senators.

The election of Senators under a system of proportional representation will be covered in another article; however, the Leader of Opposition will be a remnant of the past.  The term Minority Leader will replace leader of opposition of designates the member of the Senate who does not have the support of the majority of the members of the Senate.

This significant change will enhance democracy.   Given than the cabinet will be “limited” in numbers, those Senators not in cabinet and those who are part of the minority party will have incentives to work with the House of Representatives.    This will lead to consensus building as opposed to the permanent role of adversary the opposition currently plays.     It will also create wider interest based alliances and political parties will have to position themselves differently and even forced to define themselves ideologically.

These recommendations are a step in the right direction for Constitution Reform in Trinidad and Tobago.   The kinks are left to be workout but the creation of this hybrid model will change the governance structure in Trinidad and Tobago.   While yet to see the document in its totality, there is no indication if the issue of Tobago’s internal self-governance is dealt with.    The consultations in Tobago in 2013 took place around Easter and Chief Secretary Orville London alluded to the idea that he did not want the two issues to collide because the Tobago issue might get lost in the overall debate.

According to reports, the recommendations will be brought to the cabinet for further discussions but it is left to be seen what will be eventually be brought to the Parliament to eventually change the Constitution.

Trinbago Orgy: Where is our Oliva Pope Trinbago?

Olivia Pope

In our Trinbago culture, “drama” is synonymous with bacchanal.   It is pervasive at every level of society from those that happen between individuals, within families, among neighbors, in groups, and even in Parliament, cloaked in parliamentary privilege.  The news media as a whole thrives on it because bacchanal sells.  At this point, we need our own Olivia Pope, but this will increase the bacchanal, because a horner man is going to be somewhere in that picture. Has bacchanal led to the disorder in our society?  The historic origins of the word bacchanal and its connotation leave us with much to think about, because in essence, it’s an orgy, “wild, drunken revelry” but we have taken it an applied our own special Trinbago definition to it.

In paraphrasing the words of Dr. Eric Williams, “bacchanal cannot be the foundation of an orderly society.”    I am still trying to understand who Dr. Williams was, because my exposure to him is mostly as a historian and academic as opposed to a politician.   In my head, Eric Williams might as well be George Washington in the context of founding a nation.   The fact is, a significant portion of the population, those under 40 give or take, have zero firsthand knowledge of Williams as a politician or Prime Minister except his legacy of leading us to from colonization to independence until his death in 1981, the year I was born.  The contributions of Dr. Eric Williams are important markers for Trinidad and Tobago, but what about all the bacchanal that we are left with deal with.

Murders, child-abuse, lack of trust, rape and robbery are the outcomes of a disorderly society.   Are these political problems?  Are they social problems?  Do they have economic consequences?

  • Man living in house with woman, sexually abusing step-daughters while mother sleeping or not a home.
  • Prey on a 6 year old, crack up she skull killing she, then stuff she in a barrel in she mother room.
  • Kill the little boy and throw he body in a cesspit
  • Shootings at high noon in Port of Spain
  • Chop up and killed for car

These are the headlines that we are familiar with.     They are all problems which have plunged our society into a state of decay and disorder.    If we examine the stories behind these headlines, beyond the sensationalism of the media, at the core are deep social problems of the perpetrators and in cases of families where incidents of abuse and neglect take place.  While social problems need political will to solve, the antidote is not in political solutions, but rather social solutions with economic implications.

I don’t believe it was always this way because we would have heard.   These pervasive problems and certainly the murder rate is something that has spiraled out of control over time.   We won’t be able to stop murder, but we can certainly take measures to reduce them.    What then are the foundations of an orderly society? If we know what it is not, it seems as though the answers are easy to find, but it still perplex us.

Culture is a great thing, but there are harmful elements of culture in all cultures, and this is a human thing, a social problem.   We have to realize that we are consistently fed messages subliminally and they become a part of our psyche. Foreign media is not even to blame because even at the very center of our politics, even the order of the day is bacchanal, the time is always bacchanal time.