Changing the face of power

By Raffique Shah
November 03, 2012

Raffique ShahSOMETIMES the eternal optimist in me is severely challenged by a nagging pessimism in my mind, and I ask myself, is there any hope that this country would become the paradise so many think it could be, or are we condemned to the purgatory of mediocrity or worse? The thought that we might remain trapped in the netherworld of the latter depresses me.

It is said that a people get the government they deserve. If that’s a truism, then the people of this country have been a cussed lot, or plain stupid, for a damn long time. Think about it: if we were honest, we would admit that we have criticised or condemned every government, from Dr Eric Williams and the PNM in 1956 to Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her People’s Partnership administration that holds office fifty-six years later.

Bear in mind that during that half-century, it was we the people, or at least the majority of us, who voted one party or other, or combination of parties, into office. We did it with our eyes wide open. Thus far, our democracy has held good to the extent that no one can claim that he or she voted under duress. And while there have been allegations of gerrymandering, our elections have been free and fair.

Why we voted in particular ways, I suggest, was based on subjunctive considerations. Many fell for the charisma, the oratory of leaders. Many more were motivated primarily by race, a factor that has been most dominant for however many years, even as we proclaimed, “All ah we is one family”. Others were wooed by survival: if dey win, ah go get ah ten-days, or mih chile go get in de police or de army. And an increasing number, members of the “eat ah food” assault force, are driven by pure greed, since mostly they are well off, but they would do anything to fare even better.

Few voters ever bother to read parties’ policies and programmes, or their manifestos. They however pay close attention to platform promises, especially those that might bring monetary rewards to sections of the electorate. In essence, we vote on the basis of self-interest rather than the national interest. To put it crudely, most of us, politicians and voters, are political whores: we sell our votes for personal or group aggrandisement, never for what is best in the national interest, if that is at all on offer.

Which is why, for all the resources this country is endowed with, we lag behind others less fortunate than us, and signally, we have failed to achieve anything close to our full potential. I never envisaged Trinidad and Tobago as the Singapore of the West, certainly not driven to material success under the yoke of draconian laws by a people devoid of cultural mores. That said, I strongly believe that with good, visionary leadership, we could have achieved far, far more than we have done since we were granted self-government.

The rampant lawlessness that has become part of our culture did not happen overnight. Oh, we always had deviants and criminals in the society; but they were miniscule, outcasts in their own communities and contained by the watchful eyes of the law (yes, the police once enjoyed community support, hence “eyes”).

Over the years, under the watch of our eminent leaders, lawlessness was tolerated, even encouraged. Today it straddles all strata of society, from the enclaves of the wealthy through the nation’s schools, from ghettoes to Parliament. We voted for that, over and again.

There is no work ethic in this country—among managers, menial labourers and everything in-between. The few diligent workers in the system must feel like aliens or traitors that their “regular” colleagues brand them. Why work for pay when the government will pay you not to work? “Larhaying” is embedded in our psyche and “lochos” abound in the society. I have long argued that if 75 per cent of our people maintain a productivity level of 75 per cent of their capacity, we would leap past Singapore and similar success stories. But say what? We voted for that.

High officials and politicians have always stolen from the public purse. All that has changed from the “Lockjoint” era is that the thieves have grown bolder, the loot got bigger, and their safety net more secure. Covered in and by the cloak of officialdom, they must have stolen 10 to 20 per cent of GDP over 50 years on independence. You try to work out that sum because you voted for that.

Under the guise of democracy, we have given near-dictatorial powers to prime ministers and cabinets to rub it in our faces. Our only right is to vote them in or out once every five years. What happens in-between is their business, not ours. Instead of insisting on radically reviewing the constitutions that have imposed on us slavery-light, we praise the damn documents, hold them as models others should emulate. So we elect maximum leaders and dictators who preside over eunuchs that carry ministerial titles, and together they shaft us…and all we do is march, or mark time, until the opportunity arises to install and empower a new Caesar. We look for that.

I know all the ills and evils I have noted above, and hundreds more, apply to or exist in most countries. I am not looking for the perfect society—that is an elusive dream. What I expect is that my fellow citizens would realise as much as the politicians, we have been part of the problem. We have helped create this unholy mess. Now, we must be part of the solution. We must change not just the faces in power, but more powerfully, the face of power.

7 Responses to “Changing the face of power”


  • very good story raffique

  • Raff the root problem lies with three words: Bitterness, Iniquity and Greed that we (from the top of the hierachy to the bottom)all espouse in our quest for ego massages. The euphoria that resonates during election time for either party is basically time for changing khaki pants and nothing else. Lee Quan Yew the charismatic and brilliant leader of Singapore told Eric Williams that we (Trinbogaonians) cannot prosper despite our material wealth because of our carnival mentality. This is compared to Singapore without any mineral resources but astute leadership has placed strategic thinking and visionary skills at the helm of survival and success for Singaporeans. That carnival mentality has imbibed itself into nearly all of our cultural values. It always take an outsider to remind us of who we are because a prophet is never recognized in his own kingdom.

    • Loyal Trini,
      May I: Lee Quan Yew was not charismatic, brilliant of course, leader of Singapore “Elect”. Mongering Racist Bullie,and Authoritarian.
      Carnival mentality, take a good look at the World today-its all about people being at ease or in the lest a sense of happiness and comfort and that’s not how I would describe Singaporeans, in the same token Thank God! we Trinis have and inculcated that much happiness.
      You have no idea, I wouldn’t want to trade Singaporeans success for our Happy ways though I’d love for a Balance of their hard work and what we have that makes us Trini.
      More importantly Singaporeans didn’t came from where we started and that my Dear Loyal Trini have everything to do with who and what we are.

  • Very good article. Change is so often bandied about in this country but there must first be an acknowledgement that something is wrong and then a willingness to actually make the change. I believe that we in this country would wholeheartedly and unanimously agree that things are wrong BUT we will forever be apprehensive of who the agent provacateurs should be

  • Raffique great article as usual and from some of all we thief Politicians and crash program citizens nothing has changed but time. If this isn’t Paradise tell me where is. Trinidad and Tobago 50 years of Independence how you Feel?

  • it real funny oui, that despite the fact that we have five senses(some say six), we increasingly depend on those, who we deem superior, to tell us how to sense things.

  • Excellent article.
    Its time for change. As a child of our beloved country it pains me to see what we have become, and are quickly falling deeper into the stench that is brewing.
    Its time for us to stand up and take responsibility for what we have allowed to occur. We are all children of Trinidad and Tobago, and while we must respect and acknowledge our ethnic backgrounds we have to release ourselves from its strongholds and focus on us as a united country for true change to begin.
    The authority figures seem to care only about their welfare and that of its contributors. To simply put it, they need to go, and quickly at that, both leading parties as they have no more to offer our country and are backward thinking.
    Some may say that is naive thinking, but i think most people realise this and just don’t want to try for one reason or the next.
    We have to start or demise,and vanish as a thought of paradise.

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