Monthly Archives: April 2014

“They haven’t taught us to dream”: On the ground conversations with Tobagonians

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There is nothing like being on the ground and hearing about the real issues that are affecting people.   After spending 8 months in New York I am back in Tobago for a short stay and I know much of the two weeks will be spent catching up with people and having conversations surrounding issues of development. When talking about the development of a society it is important that these conversations transcend political differences and reach to the point of a middle ground where the entire society benefits.

If we operate from a platform of the common good for the society and trash out differences through negotiation and compromise better solutions will always be found.   Currently we operate on a platform that stunts development in all aspects and it is either my way or the highway and rarely is progress seen.     Too often our conversation are shallow and our vision for what development is narrow.   The entire society must develop together.   In doing so real progress will be made and people regardless of their political affiliations will engage each other for the common good of the society.

During the 13 months I spent in Tobago learning about my country, one of the issues I paid close attention to was that of income inequality.   Closely related is the issue of human capital development and it appears that these issues are placed on the backburner.   Also related is the issue of productivity in the different sectors of the society and value for money.     In all the conversations I had so far with people on all sides of the political divide these are the key themes that resonates.

There is a misconception about the role of government.   Social safety nets are important in any country but given the fact that we always in election and partisan modes despite how far away elections are, the social safety nets have become a form of dependency.   Social safety nets are meant to protect the vulnerable such as children and the elderly, hence the reason for programs such as pensions and school feeding, but when young people are trapped into the dependency syndrome of the social safety net there is something wrong.   It becomes more than an individual problem to the collective societal problem that require immediate attention.

“They haven’t taught us to dream,” was one the best lines I heard from close friend of mine on the night I arrived in Tobago a few days ago.   We cannot write off an entire segment of the population and dangle the measly carrots in front of them out of fear of losing the little income they have.   We must want for the children of others as much as want for our own and while socialist policies will not work, the children of the “have-nots” will engage in activities to get by some means even if it means engaging in criminal activities, petty and otherwise.

Human capital development is critical for Tobago at this current juncture in the development journey. When individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s are engaged in CEPEP and URP work, what kind of example this is setting for their children, what will be their aspirations?      There are systematic failures in the education system that has failed these individuals and from a young age children are written off as societal baggage.   When their children enter primary school, a stigma is already attached because of that their parents have not accomplished.   Social reproduction is now extended to another generation and unless opportunities are provided, the cycle continues and development is stunted.

Even when opportunities are present, some people are intimated to engage the system for access.   In the rural areas I was able to observe this problem first hand and people out of embarrassment will not make the moves to advance themselves.   This is not a personal problem it is a literacy problem.   No one wants to unnecessary stigma and the dreams, goals and aspirations they may have had would die with them.

The Tobagonian value of hard work has almost disappeared.   Yes, there are individuals who still work hard, but as a collective people we are too comfortable with getting without the required effort.   The society is quickly transforming and influences from all over the world affects us but our response to these changes is not as fast to catch up with the ever-changing world.

To be continued

 

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Remembering a Statesman, ANR Robinson 1926-2014

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Over the next few days the nation of Trinidad and Tobago will pause to reflect on the life and legacy of former Prime Minister and former President, His Excellency ANR Robinson.   We express our sincere condolences to his family during this time of their bereavement.       ANR Robinson was the only individual to hold both offices of Prime Minister and President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. His contribution to the development of Trinidad and Tobago is an important one, not without controversy but often misunderstood but there is no doubt that he has left his mark on the history of Trinidad and Tobago.   Even at this present time in our development, the fingerprints of ANR Robinson are there.

 

Last night during his final hours, a friend and I were discussing the politics as we usually do and ANR Robinson came up.   She reminded me that she grew up in a family that supported the NAR government, 1986-1991 during ANR Robinson’s tenure as Prime Minister and the attempted coup that took place in July 1990. Unlike her, I did not grow up in a “NAR” household and what I heard about ANR Robinson growing up in Tobago East is quite the opposite from what I now know is the legacy of ANR Robinson.

 

While we will delve into his legacy over the next few days as we reflect on his life and analyze his contributions to our nation and the world; however, today we will specifically deal with ANR Robinson as a politician and his evolution as a statesman.

 

A native of Tobago, ANR Robinson was a founding member of the People’s National Movement.   Over the years his political affiliation changed to the point where he became the first non PNM Prime Minister of the nation.   The pivotal lesson from his political evolution shows us that our personal politics is something that must evolve and be open to change when we are convicted that it is in the best interest of our nation.

 

After his falling out with Dr. Eric Williams whom he served as the first Minister of Finance for Trinidad and Tobago, Robinson turned his attention to Tobago on a quest for greater autonomy for the island.   This struggle ultimately led to the creation of the Tobago House of Assembly and he served as the first Chairman of this body. A politician with knowledge that the politics of the nation will evolve, Robinson was instrumental in the formation of the National Alliance for Reconstruction, a coalition party, which swept the PNM out of power for the first time, 33-3.

 

Robinson also demonstrated that big things might come in small packages. Robinson made those two Tobago seats vitally important in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago. He proved that no political party can lay permanent claim to these two seats and they can swing back and forth like a pendulum and can be the makers and breakers of government.   Even after the NAR was defeated, Robinson remained resilient and in 1995 gave the two deciding seats to the form a coalition government with the UNC, allowing Basdeo Panday to become Prime Minister.   Even as President, Robinson threw us curve balls when he appointed Patrick Manning as Prime Minister during a tied election.

 

Long before he became President, Robinson legacy has tremendous international impact. What we know was today as the International Criminal Court and his motion in the United Nations the led to the creation of this court, the legacy of ANR Robinson continues to impact justice worldwide.   The fact the people are brought to justice all over the world for issues such as genocide other crimes against humanity is a testament to what would be the continued legacy of ANR Robinson.

 

Robinson in his personal politics has showed us what it is to evolve.   He was a man beyond his times but functional in the times in which he lived.   As we reflect on his life and legacy and enter this period of national mourning let us truly examine those principles especially those of national unity, racial harmony and making tough decisions despite being unpopular with the public.

 

May the soul of ANR Robinson rest in a well-deserved peace and again we express our deepest condolences his immediate family.

 

No Room for Scandal: Women Leadership & The Changing Political Culture

 

The Honourable Prime Minister has accepted the resignation of the Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma.     This is the second dismissal from the cabinet in two weeks. Whatever the cause of the Sharma’s dismissal, his personal life and his personal issues is of no concern to us, but once again the Prime Minister has acted, and Sharma did the right thing by tendering his resignation.

The fact is public life is public but the humanity of public officials is not above humanity of others.   They struggle with many of the same issues the rest of the population struggles with but at the end of the day they must be held a higher standard.   There are several factors taking place here but is a sign that the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago is slowly evolving.

First, we must accept that what Sharma did while not excusable is a common thing in Trinidad and Tobago: some men run life and some women do the same but we would assume that they do so less.   Furthermore, when people have a degree of power, the aura of being untouchable tinged with various degrees of arrogance would push men towards infidelity.   It happens to presidents, pastors, and parliamentarians are no different but nevertheless it is not excusable.

Second, many people are asking the questions of Prime Minister’s judgment in the people she picks for her cabinet.   We have all grown up hearing the phrase, ‘show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.’   True to a certain degree, but the fact is we all don’t know who all our friends sleep with a night. If fact, it is none of our business.   People have private lives and these lives should remain private but if and when it slips out into the public and misbehavior happens especially with public officials, it must be dealt with, but not with the high road hypocrisy.

In a macco culture like Trinidad and Tobago, people just want to know, they just want to find out to make a judgment, but rarely do they wait until all the information is released.   We must act and use the same measuring stick, despite how unpopular a decision might because it is the right thing to do as opposed to currying favor.

Third, many have underestimated this Prime Minister.   For some, her gender makes her suspect and there is no doubt that because of her gender she has been the subject of many allegations and attacks against her personhood. However, this Prime Minister is slowly proving she has more balls combined than all her predecessors just by adding up number of Ministers she has dismissed from her cabinet.   In her last two dismissals, issues surfacing along the lines of abuse and physical assaults against women, the Prime Minister has acted decisively in support of women and as a leader with the balls of five or more men

Lastly, she will be criticized always.   I believe the Prime Minister should be criticized when necessary, but when she acts out of integrity she should be commended.   She is demonstrating that leadership is not about her but it is about the country and this would be a feature of the general election.   Over the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has raised sought to raise the international profile of Trinidad and Tobago and in doing so she is setting herself up to remain in power after the 2015 election.   She has dealt exclusively with national matters pertaining to her cabinet and in doing so she has began cleaning house.

Those seeking to challenge her in 2015 must get their act together immediately.     She has wisely kept out of PNM business and this is all part of KPB’s re-election because as of now there is no reason or political gain to her to attack Dr. Keith Rowley who will likely be her challenger. However, before we even declare Dr. Keith Rowley the winner of the PNM’s internal election, which is more than a month away.   Things are getting interesting here.

 

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