Friday 28th April, 2006

 

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Constant dilemma for T&T

Will the recent and continuing “internal foolishness” being played out in public and the tensions existing within the UNC result in diminished support when the next national election is called?

Those who believe this and that the PNM will as a result be an easy winner better not rush to judgment.

History has shown that voters in T&T are still influenced, not by real issues, but by ethnic preference, sentiment and emotion. Those who now criticise Mr Panday will not shift their allegiance from the UNC to the PNM.

His method of getting rid of those who disagree with him may appear politically misguided but it has worked in the past. In any case where would they go? The PNM will not accept UNC defectors.

The two political parties stem from two distinct political cultures and history while general elections are usually contests between leaders and a plebiscite on the behaviour of the incumbent.

Unpopular governments get thrown out of office without much concern as to what will succeed them. Further, a return to office without an effective majority is cold comfort.

The PNM must be applauded for its positive record of sharing through social policies: the $1.6 billion in tax cuts, $5.8 billion for affordable housing, increases in pensions and healthcare, a high level of improvement in employment and educational opportunities. All of which should have resulted in a very high level of government popularity. But it has not turned out that way. Why?

Well for one thing the extraordinary pace of development which is causing severe indigestion by attempting to go too fast in a small country with a culture which at the moment cannot fit into such heady ambitions. The focus of intention apparently is to use the energy windfall to produce a showcase country.

While the Government alone cannot be fully blamed, an examination of the present situation reveals a less-than-positive result. The two political wooden legs are “we need no transparency” Udecot and the “too little too late” Central Bank.

These two wild bulls, perhaps forgetting that “bust” essentially follows “boom” and that recession is the flip side of inflation, have been counterproductively running roughshod over the cost of living of the people and the economy of T&T. Creating massive shortages, missed deadlines, cost overruns, overheating, inflation, liquidity and business instability.

The excess liquidity is being poured down the throats of a credit-gullible population by bankers, opportunists, loan purveyors and advertising agencies.

The mirage of good intentions was to produce full employment and a better standard of living for all. But while it is correct to state that more people are in employment and a reasonable percentage in better jobs, there are still too many of these same employed people catching hell to make ends meet or living from pay cheque to pay cheque.

It certainly must be obvious that rising inflation and an inadequate and crumbling infrastructure are much greater dangers to a population than crime. Of course not all of the country’s woes have been the fault of its government.

Every effort made to neutralise bad news is destroyed by the repercussion of an indisciplined population that is too demanding and full of bad habits. However, it is always the government in power which must take the rap for the condition of the society, whether caused or encouraged by public attitude and behaviour.

At the centre of which is a highly uncomfortable and fearful environment with noise pollution and floods which the Government, whatever its efforts, seem incapable to arrest.

Added to this is the low standard of government institutions, disappointing level of national productivity and a judiciary in which most citizens continue to lose trust and confidence.

Only the very wealthy, the main and final beneficiaries of government spending, can easily afford the runaway costs in housing and other basic standards of living.

Even the credit that must go to the Government for decreased taxes and social subsidies have been heavily eroded by the Tower of Babel syndrome. Further, crime and drugs generally take firmer root in unfair societies. Especially in do-as-you-like societies with an overexaggerated sense of rights.

The country can of course boast that there are far more obscenely rich people than ever before, all paid for from the people’s patrimony derived from oil and gas income and whose wealth flows outside faster than it comes out of the ground.

Not from any new private initiatives by the rich or increased conversion of oil and gas income to sustainable alternatives, but instead to a huge increase in rampant commercialism, heavy consumption and waste.

This lopsided form of development, as it has done everywhere else and which the country has experienced in the past, ends in only one way: a highly dissatisfied population. Demoralised citizens do not turn out to vote and as my mother use to say, “you never miss the water till the well runs dry.”

Mr Manning and his cabinet better take heed of this old adage and seek to “cool it.” Or after having achieved what I listed earlier in this article, the UNC’s troubles will not lessen the Government’s political burdens.

But the real truth lies in the fact that the first principle of democracy is to empower the people. Elections and democracy are not one and the same thing.

The tragedy of T&T is that two much of the country’s power, wealth, management and future is centralised in the hands of a very few. Lack of improvement in this regard generally results in mismanagement, low popularity and a consistent annoyance with government. Simply add the fact that too large a majority of the people of T&T are politically stupid and you get the picture.

The problems of T&T go much deeper than either the Government, Mr Manning or Mr Panday. It stems from the culture and psycho-ethical nature of the society itself. No government can really change that. Only the people can.

Governments will come and governments will go. But it is the people who will remain. One can therefore understand the country’s constant dilemma.

 

 

 

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