Friday 19th March, 2004

Fitzgerald Hinds, MP
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Principle or nothing

Notwithstanding the advice of some colleagues, I would be nothing less than deceiving, even unto myself, if I did not admit some pride for adherence to principle and the character as demonstrated by former Minister of Labour Larry Achong.

Being a stranger to the Cabinet and government, I am not altogether aware of the arguments before Cabinet for and against the application of the sectoral minimum wage for workers at the Atlantic LNG construction site and I therefore make absolutely no comment regarding the merits or demerits of his or the Cabinet’s position as adopted on that matter.

I therefore confine my admiration to his position on the basis of his adherence to a well-established principle of Cabinet government. He resigned his ministerial office and, in so doing, he has also come down heavily on the side of his constituents.

While in the Opposition, every one of my parliamentary colleagues expressed admiration and respect for Sister Pam Nicholson when she resigned from the Panday government and assumed an independent posture in the House. We are all saddened to hear of the vicious attack upon this courageous woman and her sister in their home in Tobago.

May she recover swiftly and it is our prayer that the criminal is apprehended and punished.

Ralph Maraj, a former Minister and MP for Naparima, did the same. While sensing the negative political impact on the then government, I remember feeling a sense of pride at his dignity and courage.

One does not resign on every issue of difference. The principle is that if one feels that the difference is sufficiently strong to threaten the principle of collective responsibility, putting the latter at risk, then one resigns. If that was indeed the case, then Mr Achong’s action is beyond reproof.

Selflessness, not selfishness

There is a significant level of selflessness in such action. Quite apart from the tremendous economic loss, including one’s salary, the actor knows in advance that he would be treated like an outcast by his former ministerial and party colleagues. This action therefore requires and demonstrates tremendous psychological toughness.

Vincent Lasse and Rupert Griffith would also have experienced this—albeit deservingly—since they could make no claim to “principle” but rather selfish and personal considerations.

Some people have argued that the unsavory developments involving Achong’s wife may be the true reason for his action. Even if so, would not any right-thinking husband feel sufficiently strong?

Messrs Achong, Maraj and Sister Pam walked away from power, while Lasse and Griffith shamelessly and selfishly ran towards it for their own personal sakes. Internal party politics, as I have seen it, dictates that such people be negative-listed and be accorded the status of persona non grata.

In the days of the late great founder of our party, to be labelled a “millstone” was to have one’s political epitaph written across one’s chest. The bearer is then completely marginalised; and since no-one wants to be contaminated, he is left to walk a lonely road to the political cemetery.

In the other political parties it is no different. The actor’s best friends and colleagues today, heartlessly and self-preservingly abandons him tomorrow.

Where is the sting?

One recalls 1996, when Dr Keith Rowley was writing PNM and the country’s political history. I saw him ascribed an epitaph with which he walked ever since. I respected that he simply refused to be buried. He was demonised, cursed, scandalised and even told to go back to Tobago. Yet he maintained the dignity that the very PNM (and presumably his parents) taught him, in the face of short-sighted and political hellfire.

The road is a long and lonely road for such men. Brother Achong, as a party and parliamentary colleague, I will never abandon you. I will always be your brother once principle continues to guide.

This admiration and support are also assured to any of my parliamentary colleagues, including Mr Manning, if ever he or she finds himself or herself in this position.

It cannot be right to claim to call a man a friend, Cabinet, parliamentary or party colleague today and then despise, castigate and ridicule the same man tomorrow, even if there is disagreement and his adherence to principle.

Because of the nature of the “politics” and the traditional PNM ethic which dictates that we “don’t wash dirty linens in public,” the public hardly ever knows all the issues that would lead men and women to such action. The actor’s deed therefore comes as a surprise to the public and sometimes even to his or her party colleagues. This shock leads to reactionary behaviours and comments that are often misplaced and serve to exacerbate an already volatile situation. PNM’s public response to Mr Achong resignation so far has been quite interesting.

To look and learn

As representative for Laventille East/Morvant, one of the most populous, economically and infrastructurally challenged constituencies in this country, I am acutely aware that my constituents deserve strong representation and support.

They deserve better living conditions, or at least conditions commensurate with our national wealth and our Vision 2020 aspiration. They need increased opportunities and generally a greater share and stake in the national patrimony.

One cannot and will not flinch from this responsibility and duty. One’s personal well-being and “status” are not important in this context. In other words, the prime concern is not to be about oneself, but about one’s constituents. The selflessness that is requisite in this is what is seen and found to be inspiring about the position taken by Mr Achong.

Morvant/Laventille is not fundamentally better-off than it was eight years ago when I assumed office. Admitting that the task is humongous and made even more so by the lethargy of far too many of its residents, one knows that fundamental transformation and development are achievable. A comprehensive plan, the political will and cessation of the attitude of taking the people and their votes for granted, is all that is necessary.

For reasons contemporary, historical, political and in keeping with social justice, Laventille needs major governmental intervention. We promised the people that we would so intervene, once we formed the Government. God has blessed us and we are the Government. We are therefore duty bound and morally obliged to remain focused on Laventille/Morvant and to ensure that “how we meet it, we must leave it in a better condition” per Black Stalin.

Pour it on

It is my respectful view that every aspect of governmental activity should be brought to bear on this community. The Ministry of Education should ensure that every school is properly equipped, fenced and otherwise secured.

All teachers in these troubled communities should be specially tested, trained and selected. Health services should be reviewed to ensure that all residents have even greater access to these services and, in particular, easier access to the free medication now available.

Community Development should be busy ensuring that all community centres be refurbished and expanded to meet modern-day expectations and imperatives. A massive drainage and road-paving programme should be undertaken by the Ministry of Works.

The Ministry of Local Government should ensure that the city and regional corporations are adequately funded to better carry out their mandate. Social and training programmes should be tailored and targeted to these communities so as to inject self-confidence, hope and courage to the beneficiaries.

It is suggested that all of these interventions taken together would impact on these communities in ways that are hitherto unimagined. For one thing, the people will feel that someone truly cares about them. Regardless of what we think, we ought to be respectful, sensible and realistic in our dealings with all people, even our closest colleagues. The representative must and will be strong.



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