September 12ths thinly disguised PNM mobilisation
of proto storm-troopers, together with its failure to seek
any type of permission from either police or mayoral office,
is a worrying sign that Patrick Manning could be heading down
the road of a Forbes Burnhamesque paramountcy of the
I may be wrong, but the best way to stop abuse of power is
to assume the worst and seek to stop in its tracks immediately.
I remind, in this context, of an earlier column in which I
noted that, 46 years after formal political independence,
Trinidad and Tobago is still struggling to make the transition
from an authoritarian, colonial society ruled
by a governor to a consolidated democracy run by the citizenry
via elected, accountable representatives.
In their book on such transitions from authoritarian to consolidated
democracies in the rest of the world, two academics: Jan J
Linz and Alfred Stepan, identify a key role for civil society.
They note that:
A robust civil society can help start transitions, help
resist reversals, help push transitions to their completion,
and help consolidate and deepen democracy.
At all stages of the democratisation process, therefore, a
lively and independent civil society is invaluable.
By civil society is meant voluntary, autonomous groupings
of citizens who come together to realise common interests.
The PNM was constructed on the backs of a range of such civil
society organisations, spawned under colonial rule.
Unfortunately, party politics has come to mean either controlling
such groups or coercing/subverting them out of existence.
As a result, few of these pre-independence groupswith
some notable exceptionsstill exist as independent entities.
Fortunately, a new range of community based organisations
(CBOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have sprung
One recent example is the Sustainable Development Network
(SDN), formally launched yesterday during a conference at
UWI linked to completion of three studies on the role of the
oil and gas sector in T&T.
The SDN, co-ordinated out of the Cropper Foundation, was formed
some years ago and actually undertook an earlier study
The Northern Range Assessmentunder the leadership of
On Tuesday there will be the start of another conference of
civil society. The conferences theme is: What do we
the people want from next Aprils Summit of the Americas
meeting and the November, 2009, Commonwealth Heads of Government
meeting? both to be held in Port-of-Spain.
This two-day conference is being co-hosted by a range of national
and regional civil society organisations, including the CRF,
FITUN, The Network of NGOs; Emancipation Support Committee;
UWI Guild of Undergraduate Students; GOPIOtt; TTTI; TYC; CPDC;
CAFRA; CANARI; WINFA; GRENCODA (Grenada); St Lucia Civil Society
Network and the Forum for Effectiveness and Solidarity (Guyana).
Day 1, at the Cipriani Labour College, begins with registration
at 8 am. The first panel will address the topic of lessons
of civil society engagement with prior Summits of the Americas
and Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings with presentations
by Hazel Brown and Kris Rampersad; Ravi Lutchman and Nelcia
The second panel will address Lessons of Civil Society
Initiatives at Governance/Constitution Reform.
Speakers here will include Ivor Jenkins, of the Institute
for a Democratic South Africa; Renwick Rose and Cynthia Barrow
Giles, Constitution Reform Commissions of the St Vincent/Grenadines
and St Lucia, respectively.
The third panel on Tuesday will hear from a range of other
regional presenters on civil society-led initiatives, including
Mike McCormark, of the Forum for Effectiveness and Solidarity
(Guyana); Judy Williams, (Grenada); Brandon Antoine (St Lucia)
and Hermione McKenzie (Jamaica).
On Wednesday (Republic Day) the Conference shifts to the CWU
Hall, Henry Street, PoS. There will be presentations on job/food/personal
security and governance and also on equity and environment/natural
Speakers on the second day will include David Abdulah, Folade
Mutota, Winston Rudder, Victor Hart, Indira Mendoza and Sarah
The conference will culminate with the third Republic Day
Walk organised by the CRF, to stress its importance as something
more than a public holiday and a day on which citizens should
celebrate their democratic rights in a free republic,
The march will begin at 3 pm from the CWU and will wind its
way through central Port-of-Spain and then return to the CWU.
The organisers can promise no freeness, and certainly have
no power to employ or fire. Those who understand that democracy,
like any other flower, will wither if not nurtured, will turn
out. See you then.
There is a $50 registration fee, but the conference is free
to students and unemployed.
Lunch will be on sale.
For pre-registration: E-mail: [email protected]; Fax:
663-9536. Call: 662-7239.