Leaders must take responsibility

Guardian Editorial
Saturday 22nd March, 2008
guardian.co.tt

Young PeopleThe President of the Republic, His Excellency George Maxwell Richards, and the head of Government, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, have, in their different ways, raised serious concerns about the current state of Trinidad and Tobago. In the instance of the Head of State, President Richards has warned about the challenge of staying on track amongst the recognised and viable states of the international community and not becoming a “failed state.”

On a smaller scale, Prime Minister Manning talked about “this very troubled time in our lives.” However, he confined his remarks to the disturbing issues that have to do with the “direction in which young people are going.”

In the instance of the failed-state challenge, the social scientists who explore this decline so categorise countries whose institutions have broken down or are in the process of doing so. It certainly would be unfair and without foundation to suggest that our institutions here have broken down or are in large-scale deterioration—and we are not suggesting that President Richards did so.

Realistically though, there can be no ignoring statements of decay and decline which have come even from within institutions such as the judiciary and the criminal justice system as a whole; the unacceptable state of the family; the decline in the authority once held by religious bodies of every denomination; in the functioning of Government and in a range of other vital institutions where deterioration is self-evident.

As noted by President Richards, this slide is coming at the most economically prosperous time in the history of the country. Such a happening must certainly call into question the view that comes easily forward to explain deviant behaviours and social decline, supposedly relating them to a shortage of resources and poverty.

Whatever the level of poverty that exists in this country (one figure being 17 per cent) it must certainly have been allowed to develop through bad planning and administration in education, training and social and human development. That means Government and a variety of economic and social institutions, including the family, have failed to prepare our society for the times.

Unlike Haiti, for example, ranked as a failed state, without adequate resources and with a long history of inadequate or completely absent social, economic and political institutions, Trinidad and Tobago cannot blame historical factors.

The responsibility for any decline to failed-state status lies squarely with the generations of the last 50 years.

In the instance of the undesirable direction in which young people are said to be going, Prime Minister Manning ducks the issue. Children and young people are creatures of their upbringing and social learning. They have not turned in the wrong direction all by themselves but rather have been allowed to wander off and indeed have been deliberately encouraged in that direction by adults and society.

Responsible have been parents, the education system, Government policy or lack of it, poor examples by adults—including behaviours demonstrated in Parliament, Government and Opposition—the slackening of the influence of religion, the media and questionable exposure to undesirable behaviours portrayed in very glamorous ways.

We cannot have done wrong by our children and young people, then wake up one morning and heap blame upon them, shirking our own responsibility.

However, it is good that the President and the Prime Minister have made these observations. They must know that they have very central responsibility for facing the challenge and altering the direction in which our young people are heading. The State has given them enormous power and responsibility to influence change in these and other matters.

Source: www.guardian.co.tt/editorial.html

5 Responses to “Leaders must take responsibility”


  • It is very wrong to expect a political solution to a social problem as vast as the one being experienced by the population in T&T. As a small group (Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, French Creoles etc), we inherited a structure that was not perfect but one which worked. Independence could have strengthened us if we sought to mend some of the ways of the priveleged by providing for ALL instead of sosme. We had a fairly good system of health care. My mother used it while it was good and benefitted by it then died using the same system post independence. The social fabric changed when every group decided the way to identify themselves were NOT as Trinidadians but Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc. This identity was further pursued by ideologies which for the most part did not come out out of our experience as ‘Trinidadians’. Then we started putting demands on the political directorate to satisfy our group identity, as this is when our great divide really started to show. The import of ‘Americanism’ into the culture did not help much (even though there a good things to be said about it). Individually each and everyone of us wanted ‘to do our own thing’ without understanding our neighbour nor wanting to understand our neighbour. Our wants swelled into demands by this time because we no longer worked hard enough to satisfy our needs and our wants. All this made our political task of reconciliation harder and less trusting because each group think that they deserve some kind of political and social
    advantage over the other. Our dilemna now lies in the question ‘who are our leaders?’. Are they our politicians?, are they our religious elders?, are they our teachers?, are they out policemen?, are they our soldiers?, are they our civil servants? are they our ‘free press’?, are they our historians?. I venture to say that all have failed so far, therefore being a failed state is more than just having an ineffective government, it is also have a people without identity and who think theyd can buy what they want without having to account for their behaviour etc., etc.

  • I believe that your post goes deeper into the core of the issue than the Guardian editorial does. But what you touched on represent the sacred cows of our consciousness. There are two glaring examples in the Caribbean of nations blessed with the natural and intellectual human resources to become first world societies, but are, unfortunately, locked in a time warp of mediocrity and underdevelopment because of pressures on politicians to pander to group identity. And that pressure comes from the same people who loudly berate politicians for not doing better.

    This is not an easy area of examination, because few wish to venture to that point and time where it all began. Few wish to honestly and objectively examine our history in order to illuminate the initial point of the divide, if there is such a point, or to venture into the kinds of introspective examinations designed to open closed minds and eyes.

    Crime and corruption flourish in societies when attention and concern over those issues conflict with senses of group loyalties and affinities. And let’s face it. If the UNC was in power, for the most part, the roles of the punditry would be reversed. This is not to say that everyone who hurls a stick at Manning or the PNM is a UNC acolyte or sympathiser. But there is no purely innocent or guilty group in our dear country. So much so that T&T and its sister nation caught up in this political quandary are each, nations divided internally on the basis of ethnicity, with cultural separation and perceptions of insecurity and inequality as the combustibles fuelling the engines of division.

  • L. Logan,

    It is very wrong to expect a political solution to a social problem as vast as the one being experienced by the population in T&T. As a small group (Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, French Creoles etc), we inherited a structure that was not perfect but one which worked. Independence could have strengthened us if we sought to mend some of the ways of the priveleged by providing for ALL instead of sosme. We had a fairly good system of health care. My mother used it while it was good and benefitted by it then died using the same system post independence. The social fabric changed when every group decided the way to identify themselves were NOT as Trinidadians but Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc. This identity was further pursued by ideologies which for the most part did not come out out of our experience as ‘Trinidadians’. Then we started putting demands on the political directorate to satisfy our group identity, as this is when our great divide really started to show.

    This quote is quite confusing to me, so I am asking a few questions in the hope that your answers would clarify what you are saying.

    You said, “The social fabric changed when every group decided the way to identify themselves were NOT as Trinidadians but Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc.”

    When in the history of this country did people identify themselves as Trinidadians and Tobagonians and not as Indians, Muslims, Hindus, rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged and suddenly changed the social fabric when they abandoned their nationalist identity for the ones you mentioned? Were Africans not the only people ‘robbed’ of culture in such a way that many stopped identifying with indigenous religions and had to work out their racial identity?

    Are you implying that people should not “identify” themselves as “Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc”?

    Which Trinidadians identify as Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc. and NOT Trinidadian?

    Can people be African, European, Indian or Mixed as well as Trinidadian?

    When as Trinidadians were people not advantaged and disadvantaged? When did people decide to think of themselves as such?

    You said, “This identity was further pursued by ideologies which for the most part did not come out out of our experience as ‘Trinidadians’.” What is this Trinidadian experience and which ideologies were people pursuing that did not come out of that Trinidadian experience?

    You said: “we inherited a structure that was not perfect but one which worked.” This can be said of any structure depending on who you ask, but certainly, all people would not agree with that. Whose material interest was this structure we inherited to serve?

  • Heru. I am not sure if blogging allows enough time and space to examine our history at different points of development. For the most part our perspective range from where our learned history allow us to begin our understanding to the now. So, our rationale will definitely be based on the eras that are most known to us. For example, the Police Service that we now lambast was once an excellent institution which made Trinidad proud. It was void of the self-interest and lack of personal committment that we see today. The civil or public service was once an institution that could have been depended upon, today, well…..? The teaching service was once our brightest area of recognition….now…?
    It was once ok for the hindu, muslem to attend a christian school without having to feel that he had to exert or parade his beliefs to his hosts, now we want everybody to know what we stand for and what we do not stand for. So, in a way being Trinidadian was being more tolerant and understanding whereas now we want to have everything based on our group identity.

  • L. Logan:

    “Heru. I am not sure if blogging allows enough time and space to examine our history at different points of development.”

    With all due respect, this is a copout. I asked some straightforward questions and you have not even attempted to answer any. If you felt it would have taken some time to respond then by all means the blog offers time and space.

    Your initial comment can be interpreted as a veiled attack on Africans who are reclaiming and proclaiming some form of African identity. Although you stated: “The social fabric changed when every group decided the way to identify themselves were NOT as Trinidadians but Africans, Muslims, Hindus, Indians, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged etc.,” it is really only directed to Africans who proclaim their Africaness.

    I say this because although you mentioned race, religion and class in your statement, in Trinidad and Tobago, Indians, Indian Muslims, Hindus, rich, poor, advantaged and disadvantaged people have always identified with their respective races, religions and class distinctions. There was never a time that that was otherwise even before Trinidad and Tobago became a country. The only change in relation to your statement came when some Africans started rejecting colonial labels and, to some extent, attitudes, and insisted they were Africans. At no time did any of those groups you mentioned claim that they were not Trinidadians. So while your statement appears to be targeting all these different ethnicities for the change in the social fabric (whatever you mean by that), you are really only targeting some Africans.

    L. Logan:

    “For the most part our perspective range from where our learned history allow us to begin our understanding to the now. So, our rationale will definitely be based on the eras that are most known to us.”

    The reason I asked those questions was to get a basis for your rationale, or lack thereof. I asked for the historical evidence for your statements so I could gage your perspective. You did not respond to the questions so I feel justified in going along with my assumptions of what you meant.

    L. Logan:

    “For example, the Police Service that we now lambast was once an excellent institution which made Trinidad proud.”

    I disagree with this. It is my opinion the police service was never an excellent institution. The police service in earlier times was mostly about protecting the colonizers and suppressing all attempts at redressing social inequities. Police back then were very brutal towards Africans, especially in poor communities. The police service is not much different today. Of course, they arrest mostly poor criminals, but, by and large, they leave the elite criminals to do as they will. Who do you feel is responsible for the tons of drugs that pass through Trinidad and Tobago? Certainly not the poor Africans and Indians who we see getting arrested all the time.

    The police service has always lacked a proper concept of itself in order to defend and protect all of us. The whole idea of removing people from their Africaness was to ensure that they did not have a real idea of self interest. You said: “It was void of the self-interest and lack of personal committment that we see today.” They, the police, were conditioned to interpret self-interest to mean being committed to defending the colonizer and the otherwise ruling elite. I cannot think of any time in our history when the police service was something I could have been proud of.

    L. Logan:

    “The civil or public service was once an institution that could have been depended upon, today, well…..? The teaching service was once our brightest area of recognition….now…?”

    I could never be proud of the public service nor the teaching service for some of the same reasons I advanced earlier. They are all about ensuring the state machinery works for the ultimate benefit of the colonizers/ruling elites. The teaching service was originally about producing a compliant workforce for the ruling elites. It still does this today. Africans were being routinely negatively discriminated against in the private sector in the past. Of course, people learned to read and write, but, for the most part, they were functionally illiterate. The earlier teaching service glorified the colonizers. Children were being taught that murderers and thieves like Morgan and Drake were our heroes. They had to sing praises to the queen. During Eric Williams’s time, after the 1970 uprising, some of that changed. But the teaching service never rose to be an institution that consciously facilitated developing self-awareness.

    L. Logan:

    “It was once ok for the hindu, muslem to attend a christian school without having to feel that he had to exert or parade his beliefs to his hosts, now we want everybody to know what we stand for and what we do not stand for.”

    There is nothing wrong with people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. People realised that these Christian schools were fueling negative discriminations in favour of Christian dogma. It was a good thing that people started waking to what the Christian-run schools were doing. These schools were teaching children to hate themselves.

    L. Logan:

    “So, in a way being Trinidadian was being more tolerant and understanding whereas now we want to have everything based on our group identity.”

    While it may appear to some that Trinidadians were more tolerant, that appearance of tolerance masked anti-social conduct. You may be speaking about the era when Africans were accepting colonial labels and weren’t challenging the system for equality or when Indians casually accepted that they were second class citizens. Some Africans started questioning where we were heading with our miseducation system.

    It was a good thing that different people started looking more into our past to help address the many levels of racism that was inculcated into our people. The Trinbagonian nationalist identity is worthless unless it is informed by our awareness of history of and before slavery and colonialism.

    I conclude that these multiple identities are quite natural and healthy and a realization of our more historical identities is a step in the right direction. I am an African and a Trinidadian; there is no conflict or contradiction with these positions.

    You should still try to respond to my earlier questions.

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