The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.
The Peoples Partnership (PP) government in its 2014/2015 Budget presentation stated that the protective services would soon acquire Armoured Personnel Carriers in its unsuccessful fight against criminal gangs. There is still uncertainty as to the number of these deadly machines that will be purchased.
The government spokespersons have said these armoured vehicles will not be used against citizens engaged in legitimate protest actions and that some will be used to protect government officials and deal with criminals.
The current Minister of National Security speaks like a man devoid of any civil rights principles and analytical understanding of the causes of crime and a strategy to combat the criminal elements, except through comic book methods. Who and what caused this man to be in such a major position in government?
This country doesn’t need those vehicles to deal with the criminal elements. What we need are proper law enforcement strategy and tactics. In other words we need an efficient, well trained and well paid police service not more weapons that will be ineffective against the criminal gangs. As for protecting government officials, when did we last assassinate a government official?
It is an indictment against our government and leaders of law enforcement that a few hundred gangsters can terrorize our society for so long without being crushed. Who would these armoured vehicles be used against when the criminals reside in heavily populated areas? Are we to see peaceful citizens and children becoming collateral damage? Or are there other reasons for the use of these armoured personnel vehicles?
The main causes of crime in this country are poverty, inequality, and a broken education system that fuels the dangerous drugs trade and illegal guns. Therefore we need to deal with the importation and transhipment of cocaine into and out the country by some of the higher ups in the society, who while not dirtying their hands, do provide the foreign exchange for the purchases.
We need to deal with corrupt government officials who facilitate this wicked trade and politicians who are financed by the drug dealers and provide protection from the law for these evil drug dealers.
This PP government since its election into office in May 2010 has presided over the highest level of immorality, corrupt practices, unethical behaviour, immoral conduct, gross nepotism, victimization of citizens in the work place and lack of transparency for government jobs and contracts, ethnic chauvinism and worst of all massive corruption.
This government declared a state of emergency on the flimsiest of pretexts, detained and warehoused hundreds of urban youths without charge. Who can forget Section 34 when the government used the parliament to enact a new law to end the prosecution of corrupt financiers of their party. Then there is the “Reshmi” appointment as head of a major intelligence agency of the state as a payback for information even though she was just a clerical worker in the agency and faked her qualifications.
There are also the countless false qualifications tendered by operatives of the PP government that landed these falsifiers big jobs and big money in State agencies and enterprises.
Additionally, we have seen a total breakdown in the State Enterprise Sector to the extent that many of these enterprises are draining the treasury due to non-profitability or steep drops in profits due to inefficient cronies of the PP government being placed in high management levels without experience or qualification.
There is still no explanation for the continuing foreign exchange shortages and speculation is that the shortages of foreign money is being spirited out of the country into various types of investments by the ruling elites and in financing the importation of illegal drugs.
Constitutional amendments have been pushed down the throats of our people without proper consultations and worse a provision for runoff elections (for candidates with less than 50% of the votes) that was not discussed by the advisory body on constitutional change. This constitutional change to our elections is now awaiting the President’s signature to become law. Some believe this is an attempt by the government to steal the next election due in one year’s time.
This is the current political and economic environment that prevails in Trinbago. There are peoples’ protests at various areas in the country particularly at the parliament. Trade unions and various civic groups are incensed at the decay and various dastardly acts of the PP government over the last four years. New democratic and patriotic groups are being formed to struggle against the many violations of the people and the treasury by our current government.
History is filled with corrupt, inefficient and undemocratic regimes militarizing their police and defence forces and then using these sophisticated and deadly weapons to stop protests against their decadent rule. When a government is corrupt and facing the possibility of being put before the courts for their misdeeds, there are three (3) options available to the despotic rulers. And they always prepare for the use of all the options due to any eventuality.
Option 1: The Election Option: Steal the elections by rigging and corrupting the process. This is a Soft Option. Is this what more than (50% votes) runoff(s) is about? A candidate can win the first round and lose the second round or other rounds by the party in power corrupting and wheeling and dealing with the third force party and other small parties.
Option 2: The Repressive Option: Use the Military and Police against democratic protestors. Kill some of them if necessary, particularly the leaders of Trade Unions, Opposition Political Parties and Civil and Democratic Rights leaders. This will instil fear in those who wish to protest or engage in civil protests. As a result of raw military might the corrupt and repressive government will stay in power having pacified the population through brute force.
Option 3: Bank ill-gotten gains overseas and invest overseas particularly in safe havens for stolen money. If Options 1 and 2 fail: fly out with your family to meet your money.
Beware Trinbagonians. Act before it’s too late. The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal. We have elected a government that does not know how to run a country and they are insecure, paranoid and scared of the people.
The people of Trinbago need to act before it’s too late. Don’t feel it can’t happen here. Ask the people of Haiti under Duvalier or Guyana under Burnham. Ask Venezuelans under the rule of Pérez. What about Iran under the Shah and Grenada under Gairy?
Peoples of the world have lived in misery, suffered from poverty and have died under the rule of nepotistic, corrupt, undemocratic and inefficient governments. Once in power they use every available arm of the state to maintain their unpopular rule. Are we going to let this happen in Trinbago? The People, organized and united, is the only vehicle to restore our country to a level of decency and honesty in governance.
On September 11th 2014, representatives of the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) visited the San Fernando General Hospital along with representatives of the National Workers Union (NWU) to which the NHWU is affiliated. The party of trade unionists was led by Nigel Small, the Chairperson of the North Central Regional Authority branch of the NHWU.
The visit was to inform the workers at the leading health institution in the South of the need for health workers to build their own union and to spread the word that the NHWU which was registered on June 25th 2014 was on a campaign to recruit members.
At the hospital the party of trade unionists spoke to workers in different departments and distributed a flyer titled GET ORGANISED which answered many questions that workers were raising about the NHWU since the union started recruitment activities in the North Central Regional Health Authority. (see flyer here)
The visit was warmly received by many workers who expressed the sentiment that health workers needed to get organised in order to correct the multitudinous wrongs plaguing the sector and the relationship between the workers and management which is characterised by horrible industrial relations practices.
The workers agreed to strengthen their contacts with the NHWU and to organise follow up meetings with the union with a view to clarifying issues and becoming members of the union. The NHWU reps assured the workers that they would return before the end of September to advance the recruitment process.
The NHWU has set itself the following strategic objectives
To secure the complete organisation of all health care workers in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago;
Represent members, either collectively or individually, to ensure that their labour is sold for the highest price and the terms and conditions under which they work for the employing class is the best obtainable;
Further the interests of the Union, its members and the working-class.
The scenes in the photos accompanying this article are what greeted me and others at about 6.30 am on Independence Day as I entered our national Park, Chaguaramas. While the managers were feasting with our rulers, the corbeaux and stray dogs were doing the same as the photos show and yes there are metaphors and messages in the aforementioned.
Notice the pool of water which is caused by the construction works on the other side of the road. Danny Solomon and his crew have created this problem – and it is causing traffic to hang to the outside on a corner
where deaths have occurred in the recent past by Solomon and his crew approving the erection of a hoarding and making the corner a blind one.
It is amazing that this is all achieved by careful and intelligent planning by supposedly competent and specially selected men who are being handsomely paid by the State. Surely it could not have been worse without such.
And the President of the country, the business people and all of these men who themselves survive on “transfers and subsidies” (despite obviously low levels of productivity and competence and high levels of wastage and “all else” that is bad) from the State are bitching about such transfers and subsidies reaching the poor of the country through “make work” programmes - when it is their birthright due from the national patrimony.
I, and many persons I know, have not seen a Government cheque in more than 25 years and the little subsidy we get in the form of oil and gas for my car is being disproportionately shared with big oil and big business; who by the way are also unfairly given the lion’s share of the oil and gas revenues which is the god-given patrimony of citizens of T&T to be shared equally by all and not disproportionately as is done now.
The political dismantling of the “democratic security doctrine” applied from 1959-1998 in Venezuela began when Commander
Hugo Chávez became President and started a new era of relations between the State and Venezuelan society.
The systematic application of repressive methods designed by the State Department of the United States based on Hemispheric Security Doctrine that was applied in Venezuela and Latin America came to an end.
The understanding of these doctrines, their origins, the ways in which state resources, including the use of force, were used to dominate the people, and violate human rights, illustrates how these methods were and still are the materialization of colonization processes. Today the circumstances and methods are different, but the goals of the United States remain the same as during the Cold War.
There are some documents showing the relationship of Romulo Betancourt with CIA and U.S. State Department to discuss issues relating to the situation in Venezuela before 1958.It is said that in December 1957, Betancourt met Serafino Romualdi, head of the Labour Relations Office for Latin America and member of the AFL (American Federation of Labour), CIA official and South American Affairs Coordinator at the State Department.
What was discussed at that meeting is not documented but it is believed that they planned the New York Pact between Betancourt, Rafael Caldera and Jovito Villalba that began a process of political interference by the U.S. in Venezuela.
The political practice after signing the New York Pact of Punto Fijo and the management of the Betancourt Government of 1959-1963 and successive governments until 1998 provide insights into what may have been said at that December 1957 meeting.
On the political level Venezuela`s stability was cemented in 1958 with the Pact of Punto Fijo a pact that was signed by the three main political parties of the time, the social-democratic Acción Democrática (AD Democratic Action), the Christian Democratic Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI) and the small leftist Union Repúblicana Democrática (URD).
The essence of the pact was to share power and resources among the pact`s signatories and to exclude any challengers. Part of the reasoning for the pact was, first to ensure political stability by excluding more radical groups. Second, AD which was almost certain to win the 1958 presidential election, realized that it had to share with at least some of the other parties, if it wanted to avoid a repeat of 1948 coup that overthrew its democratically elected president Romulo Gallegos.
In 1948 AD governed alone and dominated all branches of governments, excluding all challengers, which then led them to support a military coup against Gallegos, which eventually led to the Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship. The stable Punto Fijo arrangement though rapidly led to rigidity (Crisp, 2000, 173) and political apathy.
Chávez would later rail against the arrangement, blaming the pact for practically everything that was wrong with Venezuela during those years. It is important to highlight the New York Pact of Punto Fijo provide its background and allude to the damage it`s done to Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
President Chávez, in 2004, ended the neo-colonial relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela by ending the training of Venezuelan military and police with the Institute for Security Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere, former School of the Americas. History has vindicated “el comandante” Chávez and the Commission for Justice and Truth - which along with the Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information - have the important responsibility of spreading information on these documents.
It should be noted that on Monday November 19, 2012, the Vatican`s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had ruled on October 4, 2012 that Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of The Americas Watch (SOA Watch), had been canonically dismissed from the Catholic Church as a result of his decision of not recanting his support for the ordination of women as priests (November 2012).
This fragment is just a sample of a tenacious fight for the American people which has carried out against the atrocities committed during dozens of years by the governments of the United States against the peoples of Latin America in implementing security policies that lackey governments have assumed as their own.
Father Roy Bourgeois and other promoters advocated for removal of this instrument of terror where over 70,000 Latin American officers were trained in the methods of terrorism and violation of human rights from the 50s to today. The above note referred is just a sample of how repressive state institutions to subsume individuals within the cloisters of injustice are articulated.
Father Bourgeois was a goal of the Department of State since the 90s when he began his crusade against the School of the Americas with social justice movements and defending human rights in the United States. That is the reserve with which Venezuela and other countries of the hemisphere intend to carry out, socially, politically, economically, culturally engaged actions.
Thanks to the work of SOA Watch in use of the right to Freedom of Information Act, some newspapers in USA have echoed the calls of these organizations defending human rights. Today Venezuela is also raising the banners of justice and democratic rule of law, especially through the Commission for Truth and Justice, which is the continuation of years of struggle for human rights.
The history of the struggle of our people against the colonial phase of
capitalism, and it's neo-colonial reincarnation, can be described, as a
struggle for the expansion of the rights and freedoms which we have won so far,
and our apparent desire to win more of the same. One feature of this struggle
has been the new found ability of the people to remove governments at the
Without realising its significance when it first occurred in the 1980s,
it has now registered itself in the collective consciousness of the people. And
so, like a well tuned instrument in the hands of an adept musician, the people
have come to the point at which they are now prepared to take charge of the stage
for the purpose of ensuring that the music which they want to hear is the music
which is being played.
While it may appear that the issue in contention is only about
corruption, (specifically in the context which the political parties and their spokesmen
in the media wish to frame the debate) that it is all about good governance and
transparency in areas such as the procurement processes; it is really about the
fact that the system was designed to produce the results which we see before
our eyes every day.
The powers that be, who are really controlling the system, recognize
that the focus of the people is shifting from a desire to receive the crumbs
from the table to one which is about taking charge of what is on the table. This
new found interest is not being influenced by any progressive organized forces
in the society, it is the ills of the society and its negative impact on the
consciousness of the people which has brought them to this cross road in their
collective political development. Marxists usually describe such a development
as the subjective and objective conditions acting on each other to achieve a
OUTLIVED ITS USEFULNESS
This is occurring because the system of society, constructed by the
forces of capitalism, has outlived its usefulness and the objective
relationship of the class forces in contention is creating stresses and strains
which will obviously lead to changes in the system. The type of change will
depend on the strength of the forces in contention and the type of issues which
could stretch their relationship towards a point where it will burst apart.
At this juncture it is the election campaign and the responses of the
“electorate” which will tell us how far the people are prepared to go on the
question of participatory democracy. That, in my view, is the central issue
now. In reading the situation, and the response of the powers that be, which will
be concealed in the promises which political parties will make in their
manifestos, it will tell us how they are prepared to treat with the demands of
the people, and the assessment they have made of their respective strengths,
and whether they are prepared or not to deliver on the people’s demands.
What we are currently witnessing in the utterances of the political parties,
in contention for the approval of the electorate is really a snap shot of the
disagreements existing in the camp of the ruling classes on the question
of how they should proceed on the
question of the implementation of changes to the constitutional structure; if any
changes should be made at all!.
The ordinary people have been drawn into this campaign -for and against-
because they are required by majority vote not only to decide which band of
Overseers will be placed in charge of the plantation, but also to decide what
new rules/policies will be introduced into the processes by which the estate is
managed. But you see, they are very clever, at hiding behind the support of the
people who are led to believe that all this argument and the hysteria it is
creating is because one of these parties is seriously interested in their
VERGE OF COLLAPSE
In reality the opposite is true. What is really happening is that
repairs are being proposed to a system which is on the verge of collapse. All
one has to do is to compare what is happening at Petrotrin, concerning the oil
leaks which have been occurring on the lines and tanks, with not only the
Constitution Amendment bill, but also, with the plans to privatize the valuable
assets of the people and the many scandals which are being revealed, almost
What is happening here is small, but it is a reflection of the much
larger version which is being played out on the geopolitical stage. For those
who are yet to understand the ramifications of what is unfolding before their
eyes, it will be useful to know that there is no invisible hand which is
responsible for the greed which is driving the desires of the one percent of
the world's population. These
individuals, are the leaders of capitalism at its imperialist stage and have
acquired new tools with which to manage the system.
They are sitting at a point from which, they are viewing the world in
the context of the new globalisation philosophy, they have been preaching from
the 1980s, with the objective in mind of shaping it in their own image and
likeness. Because the system is unable
to yield the returns which they intend to achieve on their investments, they
have resorted to methods which Naomi Klein described as disaster capitalism:
the practice of creating military conflicts in targeted countries with the
objective of gaining control of their mineral and other resources and also to
create a market for the hardware produced by the military-industrial complexes.
Investments in wars and the resultant negative effects which are usually
visited upon the people who become refugees is the new way in which the
capitalists have decided to extract profits from investments they make, in the
global market. That is what the conflicts raging in the Middle East and in
certain countries of Africa is all about.
Here in the Caribbean and Latin America, it has assumed a different
character, relative to the particular concrete conditions existing at this time
in the geopolitical relationship between countries in this region and the rest
of the capitalist world. For example, we
have not seen so far, a direct intervention into the crisis in Venezuela by the
forces of imperialism. In the past they have been known to have done so in some
countries of South and Central America.
Many attempts were made to bring down the Communist government of Cuba.
The Grenada invasion is also a case in point. In the latter case the
opportunity was presented to the anti progressive forces by the internal
conflicts which exploded into the open, precipitated by the failure of the
contending forces in the party in power at that time that could not differentiate
the forest from the trees. What happened
in Grenada holds many lessons for the working class of the Caribbean and what
is left of the progressive forces intent on bringing about change for the
We have to realize that the stage of development at which the capitalist
system has arrived is one where the seeds which it has planted is no longer able
to produce the rich harvest it has been reaping in the past and all the new
methods it has resorted to has not achieved the desired results. So chaos is
the only solution to which it has decided to resort.
That is why we have to watch them with cokey eye leading them to believe
that we don't know what's happening. Let them believe that the people are
foolish. It is imperative for persons who have an interest in understanding the
interplay of the class forces and how political statements can impact on the sensibilities
of the people to recognize when what is said is what we sometimes describe as
attempts at sucking up in order to get on the good side of the masses. But what
they don't know is that the ordinary people know a cocoa scorpion when they see
If I was…
a teacher, especially a primary school teacher who happens to be a member of the teachers union (TTUTA) and a parent to boot, then I would not have been able to remain silent. In fact, I would make it a cause célèbre. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why our society allows primary school children, in particular, to carry such heavy loads of books every school day. Something is wrong somewhere.
If I was…
a councilor in the San Fernando City Council, I would have jostled my colleagues to come up with a traffic plan and be ready to introduce it as soon as the new school term began. Just getting traffic wardens at the known ‘pinch’ points to regulate the flow and some sort of prior media advertisement to the public, would have telegraphed that those in office have a care.
If I was…
a union member I would want to know what all these unions doing about getting recognition for those of us who join a union but cannot get the company to meet and treat with us. I understand the stumbling block is the Minister of Labour who refuses to get a Recognition Board operating. Well then if he cannot hear he must feel.
One week ago A
NON-UNIONISED worker came to the offices of the National Workers Union (NWU).
He was a young man, just twenty-nine years old. He wanted to join the Union so
that the Union could help him to get urgent medical attention from his employer
as he was scared that very soon he could be paralyzed and unemployed.
What I heard
from this young man was shocking and an indictment against employers of
non-unionized workers in the country. This was not just about low wages,
inferior or non- existing benefits. His issue was about cruelty to an employee
and severe physical and emotional damage being inflicted by employers on
workers in the course of earning a subsistence living.
This young man
works for a successful company involved in the construction industry and is
owned by a rich family. He is a skilled and qualified tradesman. He is married
with a young wife and child and comes from a country district.
One day, not too
long ago, he was charged with supervising a group of workers involved in
retrofitting a large government owned multi-complex building. In the absence of
safety equipment and practices consistent with the Occupational Safety and
Health Act (OSHA) he was severely injured.
He reported his
injury to the company who sent him to their physician. His injury required an
MRI scan costing five thousand dollars which he had to pay from his own pocket
as the company does not provide specialist health care just basic health
services through their doctor and only to determine if a worker is really sick
and so curb sick leave.
report indicated severe back injury requiring major surgery. The company again
sent him to their physician who is not a specialist in that field but merely a
general practitioner. The doctor is prescribing only pain medications and when
one type becomes ineffective he is given another.
doctor is not authorized to refer the young man to a specialist at company’s
cost and the worker on his small salary cannot afford the cost of a specialist
visit nor the major surgery that he is told is required to bring relief from
the constant excruciating pain he suffers.
seriously injured on the job he is not given extended sick leave and has to
report to job sites daily. He supervises his co-workers by lying down on a make
shift bed on the job and giving instructions and technical advice. He cannot
afford to stay at home despite his health condition, as he will not be paid.
There is no paid sick leave for prolonged absences.
He says his
marriage is being affected for obvious reasons. He is thinking of leaving the
job as the torment of pain and exploitation is getting to him. For such
injuries unionized workers get specialist medical attention free of charge and
are given light duties if they are capable of returning to work after a measure
of healing is achieved.
He was given
some options to pursue urgently by the National Workers Union. The major advice
being to seek specialist attention at company’s cost with the Union’s
intervention as the major issue is attending to his back injury. The other
issues of work injury compensation and the legal options can come later.
This young man’s
pain and suffering is just one example of the callous disregard, contempt and
cruelty being meted out to thousands of unorganized/non-unionized workers by
employers subcontracting on government properties and working for large
conglomerates as outsourcers of cheap contract labour. These non-union workers
comprise the vast majority (more than eighty per cent) of the national
Imagine we have
an OSH Act and a Ministry of Labour which fails to monitor and report on the
gross exploitation of non-unionised workers on vastly inferior terms and
conditions of employment. Unsafe and unhealthy work-site practices abound in
this rich country where the elite lives off the labour of the poor and controls
the national wealth, which rightly belongs to all citizens.
General Secretary of the National Workers Union, Dave Smith, wrote the following letter to Minister of Labour, Errol McLeod. The letter is dated August 28th 2014.
NON-APPOINTMENT OF BOARD MEMBERS AT REGISTRATION, RECOGNITION AND CERTIFICATION BOARD
I am writing with reference to the undue delay caused by your failure to appoint a Board at the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board, in accordance with provisions of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), Chapter 88:01.
The failure of your Ministry to make these appointments detrimentally affects our union and others, and amounts to an infringement of the rights of those workers, on whose behalf we are seeking to become the legally recognised trade union. Our Union is currently awaiting the outcome of applications that are before the Board for more than one (1) year
now. As a result, we are forced to speculate, as to the negative effects, which the delay in appointing a Board, can have on its ability when so appointed, to act in accordance with section 26(1) of the IRA.
Section 42 of the IRA is supposed to protect workers against victimisation. However, we know that the best form of defence is union recognition and absence of an effective mechanism for obtaining union recognition remains a major and serious threat to worker's rights.
The Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago enshrines certain rights, one of which is the right to freedom of association. In this regard, we wish to submit that the delay in appointing a Board is a major attack on this fundamental right as it denies workers the right to trade union recognition.
In the circumstances, therefore, we wish to advise that the continued failure on your part, to ensure that a new Board is appointed, can lead us to consider such recourse that is available and to which we may have to resort to ensure that justice is done.
We look forward to an expeditious and favourable response.
THE DEMOCRACY WE HAVE…THE DEMOCRACY WE WANT
By Ken Howell
Amendment Bill has provoked quite a lot of heated debate in the country for and
against. Most of the contributions to the debate coming from callers to the Radio
Stations complained about perceived threats to democracy; others complained
that the consultation process was not widespread enough.
They argue that
the government does not have the agreement of the people to proceed to amend
the constitution to provide for term limits for the office of Prime Minister;
to provide for the recall of a member of Parliament or to amend the Elections
and Boundaries Commission Act, to cater for a run-off in a constituency, where
a candidate in an election, gets less than 50% of the votes. The Opposition and
parties on the fringe of electoral politics argue along similar lines with the
addition of more details.
One of the
interesting things coming out of the alarm created by these bills is that the
ordinary people are prepared to talk about democracy. But through no fault of
theirs, they are engaging in a debate about amending the Constitution of a
democracy which was imposed on us, and not one of the type of democracy that
they would like to have.
What is coming
across in the conversation is a sense that the political ground is shifting gradually
towards a desire on the part of the people, not only to talk about
participatory politics but also to actively engage in that type of politics.
Unfortunately, the direction in which the debate was channelled and the atmosphere
it created in the country was not conducive for the imparting of education on
the nature of the constitution we have and that when it was enacted the
interests of the ordinary people was not in the forefront of the minds of the
There is hardly
much difference between the 1962 Independence Constitution and the Republican
Constitution. Where the difference exists is that more power was given to the
office of the Prime Minister. But the rights and freedoms contained therein
have not been amended or repealed.
rights workers enjoy are those they fought for and even where the Industrial
Relations Act, a piece of legislation, which required a 2/3 majority in order
to infringe on the rights of workers for it to be passed in both houses of
Parliament, recognized the right to strike; restrictions are placed on the
manner in which it is exercised by the workers and their Unions.
So the debate
about democracy in the context of people’s participation is not provided for
under the current constitutional arrangements. There is nothing written in the
pages of the Constitution to compel a government to consult with the people. If
and when consultation occurs, it is merely for the purpose of taking the temperature
of the people with regard to a particular subject matter. The consultative process
must not be confused with negotiations, whereby proposals are submitted by the
parties seeking agreement through which a particular problem can be resolved.
not expected to produce any agreement, because parties are not required to sign
any document. It could be the question of legislation for the purpose of
dealing with what the lawyers sometimes describe as a particular mischief, or
to see how the population reacts to a decision to construct a highway, as in
the case of the highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin. Such consultations
are not required to get the agreement of the people who participated in the
The PNM which now
occupies the Opposition benches managed the affairs of this country for many
years and know this to be a fact. But their objective is to get as much as they
can out of the ignorance of the people on this question because to educate the
people on such matters would impact negatively on the effectiveness of their
The main features
of the Constitution prescribe for the separation of powers i.e., lines of
demarcation, have been placed between the Executive, which is the government
and the Judiciary which comprise the Courts, headed by the Chief Justice. That
is to ensure that there is no interference in each other’s affairs. This does
not mean that there would not be an exchange of views or consultation from time
is really designed to ensure that the economic and political system entrusted
to us at Independence is managed in a manner, which does not deviate too far
from the capitalist model, and the democracy we have is reflecting just that.
In the day to day management of the affairs of the country, the government, who
is charged with that responsibility, is headed by the Prime Minister, who is assisted by Ministers to whom she has charged
with the responsibility to have over-sight of their respective Ministries and
provide reports to the Cabinet.
can be selected from among elected members of Parliament or from among
government appointed Senators. The Prime Minister can be compared with a Chief
Executive Officer of a large corporation and the citizens are the share holders
who are invited every five years to a general meeting, which is the national
elections. The difference however, is that where in a Corporation's AGM, one
share holder's vote can decide who is appointed to the Board of Directors,
parties contesting the elections have to convince the electorate that one of
them is more qualified than the others to manage the affairs of the country.
But after the
electorate give them their stamp of approval by voting them into office, in our
democracy, the electorate is not expected to involve themselves in any post
election politics. Why? Because the party which won the elections was given a
mandate to manage the affairs of the country without any interference from the
population! That is why the protective arms of the state, are given co-ercive
The truth is that the population is not expected to interfere in the
management of the affairs of the country. That is why, although citizens can go
and listen to the debate in the Parliament the law still regards such persons
as strangers who can be escorted out of the parliament chamber if such persons
are over heard making comments adverse or otherwise.
The way the
Constitution treats with the economy is by vaguely speaking about the right to
the enjoyment of property without seeking to correct a historical wrong
committed against the first peoples of this country and ignoring another
historical wrong where lands were given to Catholic slaveholders free of charge
which allowed them to make millions through the exploitation of African slaves
and East Indian indentured immigrants whose descendants should be entitled to
be paid some kind compensation.
In addition to
the foregoing, there is the question of the laws concerning squatting, which are
connected to this question of the right to the enjoyment of property. When one
considers that the foundation of the economy and economic activity is
constructed on the basis of the ownership of land, the majority of our citizens
are at a disadvantage and the descendants of those who came here and got lands
free are the ones benefiting from our democracy.
is the fact that there is a vast number of citizens who are in need of a home
but because their income does not qualify them to get a loan with which to
purchase a home, they remain at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. But that
is the democracy we have!
The democracy we
want to have is one which is founded on principles which actively recognise
that this phrase, “democracy of the people by the people” must be rooted in the
day to day participation of the people in the affairs of the country, at the
economic and political levels. It must be a democracy in which the search for solutions
for all matters affecting the lives of citizens, from the level of the streets,
in the villages. towns, cities, rural communities; as farmers, fisher folks,
small business, artists and craftsmen, are included and their input a highly
regarded, and treated with the respect that is usually reserved for high priced
with these stake holders must not be treated as just consultations because the
people must be satisfied that they are not just invited to hear what the
presenters have to say. They must leave convinced that the solutions they proposed
were not just noted, but would form part of any final report on matters which
will have an impact on their future.
When that kind of participation takes root, not only in the
consciousness of the people what will begin to happen is that a blueprint for the
framework of a Constitution which will provide for the reshaping and
re-engineering of the political and economic structures of the country
It goes without
saying, therefore, that the democracy we want is not the one which the PP and
PNM want to keep. If we have to fight and when we have to fight, we must do so to
clear more democratic space for the poor and oppressed in this jungle known as
capitalism. Fighting against the current amendments proposed by the government
is not a fight for democracy. If one is to analyse the arguments of the
political parties against the amendments, objectively, you will realize, they
are proceeding from a position of their respective political interests.
We want a
democracy in which the interest of the people is not dependent upon their
ethnicity; is not dependent on who is sharing the cake. We want a democracy in
which, when we talk out against corruption, we are not talking with forked
tongues which, when translated, means that we are against corruption based on
which ethnic group is in charge of the treasury and is engaged in sharing the
We want a democracy in which the confidence of the people is rooted in
the fact that there is equity in the delivery of services, and in the
efficiency with which such services are provided. That is the kind of democracy
we must invite the people to begin to talk about in all of the organisations
representative of their respective interests. Spread the word: increase the
call for participatory democracy.
I went to a public forum organized, advertised and held by the San Fernando City Corporation on Wednesday 20th August at their palatial city hall auditorium. It was curiously entitled What to do about street dwellers.
I knew I was not in the best of moods having journeyed from Port of Spain through heavy traffic to reach on time. My aim was to gauge for myself what was driving this rather new approach of connecting the city folk and the Council.
Having missed a similar forum a couple weeks ago on the use of Skinner Park and forever planning to attend one of their statutory Council meetings which the public can attend (the last Tuesday in every month), I simply bypassed any other task and turned up. To put the experience in a few words I would say it was not encouraging to engender a substantial solution.
I was part of an audience of some four dozen people, half of whom included the Corporation staff, councillors, police, public health and so forth who had to endure a thirty five minute late start and then allowed three minutes by the moderator for any contribution from the floor.
After an hour and a half of the proceedings I left while one of the ‘street dwellers’ was given another opportunity to ramble on as she saw fit. The key point I made was that street dwellers must be empowered to become productive members of the society and availed of treatment for their personal ailments and that this exercise cannot be done by just providing shelter, food and clothing alone.
To be fair, people were honestly trying to put forward solutions as they viewed and experienced the problem from their perspective but the underlying thread that I picked up, not from ‘John Public’ as such, but from the body language and implicit remarks of the insiders (my term for those who occupy the inside track of the body politic) is that there is an election due next year.
Then it struck me, not immediately of course, that I was caught up in the game of politics – Trinidad style. After six decades of being a born and bred resident of San Fernando and citizen of this Republic, past experience guided me to a conclusion that cannot be substantiated with unadulterated proof but consumes the entire psyche.
The name of the game is to activate as many public centred fora as possible, thus raising a visible profile to win the hearts and minds of the people. Anything that sounds progressive and achievable is massaged into an election manifesto with which our brightest sons and daughters (read those who have worked on their vocabulary, charm and outer image) will tell us what is best for us. I am therefore putting those who have eyes to see to be on the lookout for various public fora or town meetings as we ape the American presidential elections.
Expect a forum on the use of illicit drugs; stray dogs; crime; the education system; the health system; a new traffic plan; street vendors; etc. etc. Nothing is wrong with this approach as far as I am concerned. The masquerade ends immediately after the new set of ‘self proclaimed messiahs’ are in place to govern (how I hate this word in this context) us. The conclusions arrived at are shelved or stutter along for lack of money from central government for another four years while they fatten themselves at the trough.
So dear comrades examine their horns, try to find the key as to why this flurry of public connections, how will it end and be vigilant. I am suggesting a mantra to guide you in your deliberations and dealings with pied pipers in officialdom. From each according to his ability. To all according to their needs.