Time for true giant to rescue T&T politics


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 13 Jan 00

This week, I am reproducing an e-mail debate between myself and three Trinidadians (jump-started last week) because it reflects current waves of thought in this election year2000.


I’ll call them Readers A, B and C. For the sake of clarity, I have condensed several e-mail into single responses.


Reader A

“My thesis is, if you want political power, you have to finance your politicians and make sure they understand what is expected of them.

“You need a wide variety of groups to do it, to ensure balance. From the grassroots (your need money for strikes, etc) to policy lobbying (you need money for contributions). A population’s response is coloured by PR, which requires money- campaign contributions, etc. A well -crafted message, effectively delivered, will go a long way to election/re-election and even ousting an effective leader.

“Witness Churchill’s defeat after winning WWII, Bush’s defeat after winning the Gulf War and Thatcher’s landslide victory after the Falklands. Money makes it work. Without it, intellectuals and analysts remain in the library or university and out of mainstream influence.

“Politicians work for the people and are empowered (elected) by the people (or those who care to vote). Their first job is to get elected and the second is to get re-elected. Their performance in office will contribute to their re-election prospects, so there is incentive to govern well. Still, elected office is not a carte blanche to do whatever you want to do.

“The only way controls exist today- within a democratic system - is via the rules of government and debate; and money, which provides access for your views to be heard and promoted. Good politicians are able to mobilise their constituents to manage through this process without always losing to the best-financed view.

“Given the politician’s desire for funds, they are more likely to listen to money providers. If they have no money, they will soon be out of work. Hence, in a democratic society, money works so it is very near and dear to the hearts of politicians.”


Reader B

“In other words, buy the politicians and then make sure they stay bought?  The fundamental question is not whether democracy/politics/finances are the most important issues but what causes mankind/womankind to strive for these things?

“At the core of it is the quest for power. This is a constant theme as witnessed by Rousseau, Kant, Plato, Nietzche and indeed Machiavelli. As a side benefit, one can indeed profit handsomely by wielding such power, thus satisfying the financial imperative you speak of. Trinidad Indians seek financial power to prevent being relegated to the indentured labourer status, while Africans seek political power to be “big fish” in a small pond and control the fate of the country.

“As to the rest of the country - Jews/Chinese/Syrians - well, they know when to pull their heads down and milk the cow for all it’s worth. They wield power behind the scenes and thus can afford to be arrogant.

“The best politician the country has seen has to be Williams. By promoting the ‘wave of democracy’ in T&T, he effectively castrated the opposition into 18 political parties each of which was more intent on attacking the others rather than the PNM. You have to admire him for this achievement, even though it was to the detriment of the state as a whole. By presenting any opposition as weak and ineffective... perpetually mudslinging and squabbling... he was able to present himself as a strong statesman and reaped the rewards.

“Never forget that the US calls the shots in Trinidad. For a country that holds itself up as a model of democracy, I think the US is sadly lacking in this regard. One can buy an election in the US and only money (or blackmail) can buy a senator or representative. The US needs urgent reform of its political system or the unheeded underclass will surely revolt (and they have the guns to do it).

“I quote, admittedly from a shameful source: Donner: SS commander of Aachen in 1944-45) “In the time of the setting sun, dwarfs cast the shadows of giants. The sun

is going down and I do not wish to live in the time of the dwarfs.” Is the sun setting on T&T? Maybe, because we are living in the time of the dwarfs.

“Trinidad needs a new generation of statesmen/politicians.... who can cut across the deep racial/religious/class divide.”


Reader C

“During Burnham’s reign in Guyana, elections were held regularly and - according to the local vote count - he lost all those elections, but was declared the winner after the overseas votes were counted. Now, was he a politician working for the people and judged, by the people, on his performance?

“I know that, because of US propaganda, Castro is considered evil. However, given the corruption that existed in Cuba before Castro, and the changes after the 1959 revolution, would you say that Cuba is worse off today, than if the revolution had failed? Castro has managed to raise education standards and health care to levels the US can only dream of, while being shut out from any external funding sources. However, he cannot see past a one party state. I am sure that the levels of corruption in Cuba are no different than those in other states. Yet who can replace Castro? Granted it is time Castro goes, or changes, as it’s time to move on to the next phase of the revolution. Yet Cuba did better in the 20 years after the revolution than in the 10 years preceding it. But the US and its biased press will never admit it.

“My point is democracy is not always the best way to govern and money is not always needed to win elections. Politicians ought to be accountable to the people in a democratic society. Is this so in Trinidad? No, and the politicians recognise this. Our population should be demanding that their leaders be accountable to them, rather than sit around feeling sorry for themselves, waiting for the government to provide ‘opportunities’.

“The average Trinidadian is not interested in constitutional, fiscal or political reform. The so-called leaders in this country know the priorities of the average person, so what do they do? They keep the price of rum and beer low, shut their eyes to the ‘mountain dew’ being brewed in the country, the weed planted on hills and in forests, while grabbing all they can get their hands on. You might say that the politicians in T&T are the country’s best entrepreneurs.”


Reader B gets the last word:

“In the early 19th century an English peer said in the House of Lords, “Are we so denuded of talented men that we are reduced to men such as these?” An apt cry for Trinidad these days.

“What is needed is a true giant who, by sheer force of his or her personality, could sway the country into a new direction. Such leaders are now extinct. Maybe a rallying cry to the diaspora could unearth someone who can come into the country with clean hands and a fresh approach.

“We need to break the back of party politics by introducing proportional representation - a more inclusive form of government - thus forcing the politicians to work together for the common good rather than for the good of the party.

“Politics is a dirty business but to turn around an oft-repeated maxim “politics is

too important to be left to the politicians.””


The debate continues.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur