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Sunday, July 16, 2017

We should have no great expectations of the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Such meetings between incumbents stretching over the last 15 years have not produced positive results. The inability to achieve results goes beyond the two individuals of today, PM Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Parties in government and opposition have been too narrowly focused on short-term, self-serving objectives; that there is this deep, engrained enmity between the two of today, to be witnessed in the disrespect and hatred shown to each other over the years, will also militate against positive results coming out of the meeting.

The two are representative and captive of political forces that were set in train before and since political independence, and which have only hardened into the intractable of the present—there is no easy escaping those forces.

Rowley and Persad-Bissessar are representative of the two ethnic, racial, fanatical blocs interested in dominance, one over the other. They will fail too because a core of their intent is focused on making each other look bad before the national community in the hope of scoring political points, that they cannot achieve is also because the deep structural problems which face this country have been contributed to by the political ancestors of Persad-Bissessar and Rowley, and there is no visible change in the ideology which drives the two parties.

What is sure to come out of the meeting, and decisions taken or not agreed upon, will allow for political grandstanding for the audiences and political tribes. The leaders and the chorus of their followers will charge each other for incompetence, “bad mind” and unwillingness to co-operate in the national interest; indeed the telegraphing of those intentions and propaganda war started even before the two sat down to speak.

But just in case the two were to agree to find the wherewithal required to escape themselves and their historical legacy, here are a few requirements they need to focus on beyond the immediate requirement to appoint a full Judicial and Legal Service Commission, and an acceptable means of resolving the Ayers-Caesar conundrum; the reason said to have been the motive behind Prime Minister Rowley’s invitation “to talk”.

The two political leaders need to face the fact and take responsibility for it, that notwithstanding T&T’s passage under UNC/PP and PNM governments during which tens of billions of US dollars in rent from oil, gas and petrochemical reserves were received, the governments and their parties have failed to make best use of the windfall dollars, except for the conception and implementation of a few elements of the industrial, manufacturing and service infrastructure required for the development of a sustainable economy.

PM Rowley and Opposition Leader Persad-Bissessar need to understand that nothing like the frame of mind necessary to creating an innovative and competitive economic environment has been nurtured by their present and past governments when in power, and in opposition, too.

If on the agenda for the immediate meeting and for meaningful contemplation for the medium-to-long-term Rowley and Persad-Bissessar agree to begin conceiving of a means for the cultural capacity at the national, the firm and the individual levels to be nurtured, then expectations can be raised for future.

If the meeting of the two leaders sets out a process and a time frame to meaningfully engage the population on the road to fundamental transformation of the Republican Constitution, then we can gain hope for political and social transformation towards the construction of a new society.

The most significant and challenging task that faces those who would take on political leadership of this plural society would be to begin to find a formula for an entente between the warring ethnicities and tribes: we are different; we have all made contributions; but we are all here; we have come in different ways and for different purposes, but the time is here to create a civilisation out of the plantation economy established by the Europeans.

However, as this column has insisted over the many years, ultimately, the challenge is not one only for the leaders of a couple and/or a few political parties. The reality is that the two major parties have shown themselves to be incapable of initiating a substantial response; perhaps even an indication that they understand the nature of the challenge. Instead, they engage in empty boasting that they have all the answers and the other side is made up of the corrupt, the profligate, the incompetent and those without innovative ideas and the capacity for planning.

In its assessment of the political leadership and their parties, the electorate has, since 1986, gone back and forth between the two major parties, ethnicities and tribes hoping for change. To quote Basdeo Panday, there has only been “exchange”.

Unless and until we the members of the national community as individuals, as organisations and institutions begin to meaningfully involve ourselves in reconstructing from the ground up, then effective change cannot come to the society and economy.

We, those of us not captive of the two major political parties, can kick-start a movement and process (not a political party) to initiate a meaningful process to constitutional reform. A general election contested in 2020 under the existing Constitution that changes the party in government or keeps the incumbent in office will solve nothing.

Reggie Dumas and Resett1962 have a point; we need to start over.


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