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posted 27 May 2014, 03:37 by Gerry Kangalee
Below the surface of Trinidad’s political peace exists an antagonistic ethnic monster waiting its moment of opportunity to explode. The image of a politically stable and economically prosperous state however conceals powerful internal contradictions in the society. Many critical tensions prowl through the body politic threatening to throw the society into turmoil. Perhaps, the most salient of these tensions derives from the country’s multi-ethnic population.” Professor of Public Policy, Ralph Premdas (UWI – Department of Government)

Timothy Hamel-Smith earns our recognition for his persistent attempts to initiate a dialogue to uncover solutions to the causes that restrict the kind of open participation that can kick- start genuine social progress in Trinidad and Tobago. 

It may be a mis-diagnosis implied in his rubric that the challenge of change, simply put, is to restore trust and confidence. Trust and confidence strike me as a condition that assumes a common and equal stake among parties interested in the joint promotion of Trinidad and Tobago as an enterprise worth re-booting or refitting. 

We need to reflect on what the primary difficulties are, what the secondary ones are, and what methods we may use to assess what falls into the different categories.    
Among hamel-Smith’s lead commentators is a quotation from Professor Ralph Premdas who brings a conventional appraisal to the problem of political and social stability in Trinidad and Tobago. I believe that ethnic allegiances must be taken as sociological fact with potential political impacts. A multi-ethnic society may lead to ethnic fragmentation, but nothing in existence preordains that social segmentation will be a permanent condition that portends dire social explosions. Or that multi-ethnicity, de facto, is a curse on all possibility for serious social progress. 
Social fragmentation is not an automatic stricture on progress. Nor does it define the substantive difficulty we face as a nation with zero-sum antagonisms as Ralph Premdas argues, and seems to commit to, as an immutable universal law of human behavior. No belief could be more misleading or more subversive of a people's need, and moral courage to invest in living arrangements that imagine a primary allegiance to Trinidad and Tobago first. 

Persistent ethnic allegiance in heterogeneous societies is but a symptom of negligible social progress, just like waning ethnic loyalties suggest the breaking of bonds that release people’s availability to construct new, more inclusive ethnic social compacts out of many. Professor Premdas' neat, tidy sociological analysis inherently concedes no prospect of change that can be classified as progress. Therefore it sets false limits on the human spirit by promoting a snapshot of society as an absolutely eternal truth.   
Without social progress, ethnic solidarity is the fallback option for people in Caroni, the East West Corridor and Tobago whenever leadership is uninspiring or where individuals own no significant stake in the activities that determine the timing, course, objectives and the conditions for implementing social action. The likelihood of falling back unto primal loyalties for security is higher the less accessible are decision-making procedures to us. 

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago Premdas' analysis hints at no sense of possibility in the slow inexorable journey larger numbers of increasingly young people made from their ethnic moorings in the period between 1976 and continuing past 2014. That oversight from this observer has the potential to give his analysis an irreversible sunset character.   
We do need a point of departure that initiates the conversation. That point can best be a statement that identifies afresh what is at the core of the disabilities affecting existence as a whole in Trinidad and Tobago. The statement must identify some core facets of human activity in general, and examine how we have performed them in the particular historical circumstances of T&T. 

One useful starting point should be to answer the question: What it is about the decision-making processes at all levels (formal and informal) of the society that causes a reliance on an information base that is almost always poor in judgment, grossly under informed, devoid of cutting edge knowledge, oligarchic in participatory methods, chronically centralized, wasteful of time and material resources, unable to restrain excesses, low in output and productivity and incapable of imposing sanctions for errant executive abuse in a civic and timely way? 
The political task is to find a way to develop and install a set of reforms that help people believe they can confidently rely on a decision-making process to deliver civil rights and freedoms, human rights, economic and social rights, and which gradually relegates the role of ethnic solidarity. 

In opposition to Professor Premdas, Trinidad and Tobago's people have consistently demonstrated a willingness to back-off from narrow ethnic alliances at milestone events in the political process over the last 58 years wherever the leadership threatened to promise a vision of a nobler, larger space in T&T and that treats them as humans, and not as cattle that political leaders assume a proprietary entitlement to claim automatic allegiance and ownership. 

So the challenge is also leadership, and a concomitant capacity among constituents to use their right to vote more effectively and to develop a routine capacity to check executive excess constantly. Where there is no vision the people will be blown by executive winds in any direction. 
I focus on decision-making because it is the most core of the core activities that drive human progress or backwardness. We cannot afford not to fix it if we assume progress of the human spirit should abound in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean. We need to agree on what constitutes human progress and what conditions promote it. It helps to know how stakeholder control on executive excess aids social advancement.  

The need is to construct a new set of solidarity planks that focuses each human spirit and encourages a movement from the cocoon of race and ethnicity to a new, larger, secular social dispensation. That is the task Tapia House Movement set itself in the run-up to 1976 elections and why Lloyd Best lead a campaign for a party of parties in 1981 to 1985. Our failure to consummate that transformation is due to a failure of leadership and defects in national decision-making.   
Despite our parliamentary antecedents, in the Caribbean states are arrangements in which people have no exercisable stake in the decisions that affect their lives between elections. Therefore, the primary internal contradiction is what leads to street protests and demonstrations at every moment of heightened crisis. It is the existence of decision-making arrangements that relegates people to the status of stake-less stakeholders. That is the ticking time-bomb that a borrowed dysfunctional parliamentary system conceals. That condition mothers a primary contradiction everywhere in the Caribbean and perpetuates the conditions that reinforce ethnic rivalry.