Sunday 11th June, 2006

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The hope of a people

We have a tendency in this country to articulate ready “solutions” to some of the most complex issues any society can face.

It goes without saying that those with the problem-solving-made-easy approach do not shoulder responsibility for implementation.

They can, therefore, ignore or disregard objections to their solutions.

Leaders vested with responsibility cannot be so reckless. This is particularly true of those responsible for the political management of a state, especially one as heterogeneous as T&T.

Such management challenges have had to be addressed during this country’s post-independency history by leaders of different political persuasions from the PNM, NAR and UNC over the last 45 years.

They have all had to confront their moments of truth.

Some examples: reaching agreement at the London Independence Conference between Drs Williams and Capildeo, facilitating T&T’s independence; the industrial relations turmoil of the mid-sixties; the 1970 social upheaval; the 1986 democratic transfer of political power; the failed1990 coup attempt; the 1995 and 2001 general elections which produced 17-17-2 and 18-18 Parliaments, respectively.

That none of these potentially explosive developments overwhelmed our capacity to manage them reflected favourably on the leaders who facilitated the outcomes, the professional performances of the relevant institutions and above all, the inherent tolerance of our people.

Another one of these testing moments is the Trinity Cross issue. By its very nature and the deep emotion it engenders, its disruptive potential should not be underestimated, particularly when used by demagogues for ethnic mobilisation.

The constitutionality of the Trinity Cross was challenged by the Maha Sabha and Sat Maharaj and the Islamic Relief Centre and Inshan Ishmael, on the grounds that its continued existence and award breached their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution including, inter alia, its freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance provisions.

Justice Jamadar held “(T)hat the creation and continued existence of the Trinity Cross, given the historical, religious and sociological context of T&T, combined with the experiences as well as the religious beliefs of Hindus and Muslims, amount to indirect adverse effects discrimination against Hindus and Muslims.”

Notwithstanding, the application was dismissed, by virtue of the savings of existing law provision in the 1976 Constitution, the Order of the Trinity and the Trinity Cross are deemed to be existing law and therefore cannot be invalidated.

Predictably, the political opportunists quickly seized upon the judgment. Panday, the flawed former UNC leader, conveniently ignored his own failure to act on the recommendation of the National Awards Committee, chaired by then CJ Michael de la Bastide, whose report recommended a name change of the nation’s highest award from the “Trinity Cross” to “The Order of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Panday, a Hindu, then prime minister and at the zenith of his political power, had no excuse for his inaction, other than lack of political will.

The same lack of political will characterised his failure to deal with the Caroni issue. The principal victims of his grave dereliction of duty were the very Hindus, Muslims and sugar workers who constituted the core of his political support.

In abdicating his responsibility to them, without even an explanation, Panday failed them miserably.

Having lost his office as Opposition Leader, and with his political career at its nadir, Panday is now calling upon the Government to do something about the Trinity Cross.

“But,” he said, “can we really expect that to happen when they failed to act in a similar judgment on the Maha Sabha licence issue? So I don’t expect them to do anything and they may simply choose to ignore the judgment.”

Has Panday fully grasped the profound implications of the judgment for the UNC?

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in a pale imitation of her master’s voice, also sought to exploit perceived ethnic opportunity:

“The judgment comes at a time when we are in the midst of Indian Arrival Day celebrations, and this would surely enhance those celebrations, since the majority of Indo-Trinidadians are Hindus and Muslims…

“I therefore call on the Government to ensure the change is made in time for the upcoming independence celebrations, so we do not witness another award ceremony for the independence of the country with a discriminatory symbol involved.”

Sheer opportunism, since neither she nor her prime minister did anything about it when they both had the power and authority so to do.

Justice Jamadar, while ruling the law which provides for the Trinity Cross is valid, noted it is indirectly discriminatory against Hindus and Muslims on religious grounds.

“In the context of T&T,” said the judge, “given its history, it is quite clear that the words ‘Trinity’ and ‘Cross’ can be associated with the Blessed Trinity and the cross of the Christian religion.

“To link the words reinforces that association.”

Will the UNC now rethink this provision in its constitution? “The symbol of the party shall be the rising sun over the Trinity Hills above the letters UNC…”

How will the UNC, with its preponderance of Hindus and Muslims, resolve this conundrum of its own creation?

But T&T is a secular state, governed by the rule of law as Prime Minister Manning re-affirmed in Parliament recently.

Thus, he said, his administration was under obligation to comply with Justice Jamadar’s ruling “ and remove (the Trinity Cross) anomaly from our national life…”

Prime Minister Manning’s further remarks were a reassuring indication that his administration accepted Justice Jamadar’s ruling as a general principle.

“…At the same time, Mr Speaker, we must not lose this excellent opportunity to examine any other similar situation which has been allowed to persist to the discomfort of any section of the national family.”.

Confidence that T&T can successfully treat with such knotty problems rests basically on two important pillars: the innate good sense and tolerance of our people who, in our short history, have demonstrated our determination to strive for unity in diversity, while ignoring the siren songs of those who seek to exploit our differences; our good fortune to have at these critical junctures home-grown and nurtured political and judicial leadership equal to the challenge.

These are our hope for the future.

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