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(RE)PUBLIC SECTOR REFORM By Ken Howell

posted 23 Oct 2016, 06:46 by Gerry Kangalee

Image result for trinidad republic day 1976Following the coming into being of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1976, as testament to the severing of links with our colonial past, the process of replacing one type of capitalist constitutional structure by another, was initiated. 

Colonialism had already prepared the population, to accept the capitalist form of democracy as the preferred form. In the minds of the population, there could be no other form; this, notwithstanding all the bitter struggles fought in the past, from slavery to 1970. That being settled, the next stage was to begin to dismantle the structures of colonialism. We proclaimed to the world that we were an adult nation capable of standing on our own as a new capitalist country when we assumed republican status.

That meant that we were capable of deciding which brand of capitalism we would choose. As a result, we could not continue to have a colonial public sector structure, as one of the pillars on which a republican constitution must sit designed for a young capitalist state that has come of age.

One cannot, on the one hand, proclaim republican status which requires the establishment of new capitalist democratic structures and on the other continue to maintain the old structures. To continue to do so would be like pretending to be on your own while at the same time continuing to sponge on your parents.

The shift from colonialism to neo-colonialism meant that there also had to be a complete change in the way public goods were provided. Now, remember that the dominant view which drove political and economic thinking at that time and still does today is capitalist in content and form. Following the 1970 revolution and against the backdrop of the anti colonial/anti imperialist struggles, the PNM had the choice of taking the country in the direction of a type of political and economic system that was not capitalist. But that is another story.

You see, the process of colonizing a people is like sowing seeds in the ground. Colonialism was the nursery of capitalism and the seeds became plants and the plants became trees. Therefore, this shift in thinking and seeing ourselves as an adult capitalist nation had to be matched by a corresponding shift; by placing the responsibility for the provision of all public goods in the domain of the private sector.

Because capitalism is the domain of those who own and control capital, it is about “individual freedom” to own and control the heights of the economy and to let a few crumbs fall from the table when the natives revolt. It would appear that it was much easier to think the thought than to realize its material existence.

I say this because we witness the failure of successive governments in their efforts to achieve health sector reform, as well as public sector reform. Residing deep in the sub-consciousness of the public officers and the people are the seeds of past struggles for real democracy and independence.

While moves were being made to dismantle the colonial structures, civil service regulations which protected and still protect public servants from political discrimination appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle in the path of the advocates of public sector reform. The mushrooming of short-term contract employment in the public service, state enterprise and statutory authorities sector must be seen in that context.

By decentralising the system, it does not mean that the people who work in it are aligned to the new thinking and the new management structures which come with it and since the new system cannot function without people, the process of transformation becomes difficult.

Many of us, even today, still do not understand the significance of the revolt of 1970. That revolution was a major stumbling block in the path of the builders of capitalism in this country. It is the result of that revolt which stills haunt the policy makers who, I suspect, are annoyed because the process of dismantling the welfare state has become more difficult; the government being forced to implement the declaration of Chaguaramas which was in response to the call for the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy,

The PNM government of the day was forced into that position because of the failure of its second five year development plan, and because of the sharp increase in the price of oil in the mid 1970s resulting from the activity of OPEC. That is why it saddens me to see that the trade union movement still does not recognize its role as a defence against the state of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago abdicating its responsibility as the provider of public goods and as the initiator of major economic activity for the transformation of the economy.

In that context, the need to build and strengthen the unity in the movement becomes priority and cannot be achieved by joining in the bourgeois politics but by relying on the strength of the unions which can only be built through education, quality representation and militant action.
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