Our Truant Prime Minister

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 18, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOn September 8, the House of Representatives debated the political anarchy and runaway violence in Haiti and how we, in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), can help to bring that country back to political stability. AG Reginald Amour assured us that T&T’s government is “trying to help Haiti, but that troubled nation must be addressed with care, not loud sound bites.”

Caricom created an Eminent Persons Group (EMG) to “facilitate dialogue and consensus building among Haitian stakeholders with the aim of resolving the political impasse.” The EMG is “guided by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley overseeing national security in the Caricom Quasi Cabinet.” One wonders where he is taking that group.

T&T’s crime wave will drive us into the same barbarity that is taking place in Haiti, yet we are asked to save Haitians. Rodney Charles reminded the House: “Gangs have seized control of up to 80 percent of Port-au-Prince, killing, raping and sowing terror in communities already suffering endemic poverty….’ A surge in violence in Haiti’s capital pushed over 3,000 people to flee their homes.'”

Six weeks ago Garry Griffith confronted the prime minister while he was playing golf on Moka Golf Course. Griffith bemoaned: “I am very disappointed that we have a Prime Minister in a situation where the whole country is virtually lawless, people are being killed three and four a day, the whole country is at the threshold of anarchy where people feel the criminals have now taken over and instead of you…putting in all of your time and effort, having meetings, strategies, policies, you are on a golf course and that really sickens me.”

It is permissible to play golf but should that be done at the peril of the people?

Crime has increased in direct proportion to the PNM’s years in office (2015-23). The PM and his minister of national security told us that if they give the police the necessary resources that would solve the crime problem. That strategy has also failed.

At a recent crime symposium, “Violence as a Public Health Issue,” the PM asserted that crimes had escalated because too many guns were coming into the country. He called the crime challenge, the fourth leg of a stool on which the Caribbean leaders have anchored their approach to Caribbean development.

To this heady brew of self-satisfaction, he added the amorphous, ill-defined slogan: “Violence is a National Health Issue.” In 2022, he told us that T&T is “a violent society,” and he didn’t “notice anybody running from it.” He repeated that position on Thursday.

Professor Andy Knight claims the symposium sought to create conditions domestically, “for peace and security to thrive.” Fitzgerald Hinds intoned: “Among these beautiful photos [of the symposium] though, are a few, featuring the sour, big-time loser. The evil woman from Siparia; the ‘filthy’ rich one from Oropouche; the rum-soaked lout, Miss de Mark and skinned heart upstart, were all there….These discourteous lost-souls, remained seated while the entire gathering stood to congratulate Dr. Rowley.”

No one knows what has happened with that initiative.

On Monday the PM said the inability to solve the crime problem lies with Opposition members who “are not prepared to see beyond what they believe is their prospect in the next election.” Blissfully, the PNM is not remotely concerned about the next election.

Fighting crime is a 24/7 365 days a year challenge. Each citizen must know what her/his role is in this fight. The first obligation of any prime minister is to mobilize the entire society around a plan and direct its implementation. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, an eminent professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, wrote: “A true leader faces facts, present a situation fully to all stakeholders, and models accountability….A true leader sets appropriate expectations and delivers.”

A viable crime plan takes planning and discussion with every civic, trade union, professional group, village council, church, and sporting group to be successful. The PM should go to every nook and cranny, take the people into his confidence, and discuss with them how to eliminate this societal blight.

In 1956, when Eric Williams formed the PNM to usher in a new society, he visited 209 communities between January 24 and September 23, 1956 to spread his message. He wrote: “I launched the new movement in fifty-two different meetings all over the country” between January 24 and June 14. “From the presentation of candidates in the University of Woodford Square on July 30 to my last two meetings…on September 23, I held 157 election meetings all over the country” (Inward Hunger). Our PM had two vacations, a one-month health checkup in Los Angeles, and several overseas engagements during the last nine months.

What is the PM’s plan to lead us out of the national decline that stares us in the face? Can he summon enough energy to walk the length and breadth of the island to inspire his citizens to form a collective front against crime as Williams did when he launched his movement in 1956?

Nero, the Roman emperor, kept playing his fiddle (or his cithara) while his city burned to the ground. Our PM walks the greens while our country descends into anarchy and barbarity. He should leave the greens, walk the streets, and organize his people to face their momentous historical challenge.