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Senator Mahabir's Priorities
Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2002

By Stephen Kangal MOM

I wish to pledge my unconditional support and appreciation to Independent Senator Parvatee Anmolsingh- Mahabir for immediately sounding the right chords and giving clear, unambiguous signals of her urgent priorities that she outlined so lucidly during her maiden contribution on the Budget debate held in the Upper House on Wednesday 30 October.

Senator Mahabir must be commended for prosecuting and defending the inalienable, fundamental human rights of our marginalised rural heartlands to development, equity and equality of employment opportunities. Hers was a breath of fresh eastern air sanitizing the Senate. There is already a surfeit of MP's pandering to and vying with each other to promote the exclusive interests of urbanism aka urban renewal. It would appear to be fashionable to do so.

Her proposal for an expanded Art remit and reformation of the Performing Arts/Cultural Centre announced in the Budget to be located in East (Trincity) or Central Trinidad (Chaguanas) instead of monopolistic-prone POS is a clarion call for adhering to the imperatives and principles of equity, inclusion and balanced development on behalf of the hitherto rural dispossessed.

MP's cannot continue on the basis of parochial party political solidarity to preside over and perpetuate an anachronistic, lopsided, colonial legacy endemic in the hitherto discredited centre- periphery paradigm having regard to those rural marginal constituencies that now exercise the critical balance of voting power in T&T.

Governments can only continue to prosecute a policy of imbalanced development to their political peril, UNC-style. It only takes 1200 strategic registered voters to achieve a run-away victory and change Governments. Ask the UNC.

This proposed cultural facility has potential not only to act as a new gravitational pole to stimulate further development, for employment at construction/ operating stages but also for access to a state-of- the- art, economical performing infrastructure for all our artistes geared to condition themselves for performing to international audiences in the T&T diaspora and elsewhere. In fact the establishment of the ACS Headquarters/ Airport hotel on which the Budget is silent, should constitute mutually- supportive modules of this project and be sited in Orange Grove, Trincity. Please see my position (Guardian Oct. 24/ 01, p.16; Newsday Sept.21/01, p. 20) when the UNC Government proposed to locate the Performing Arts Centre within the ill-fated POS Waterfront Project in their 2001/02 Budget.

Senator Mahabir wisely premised her position on the concatenation of performing facilities currently hosted in POS, notably the $40m refitted Queen's Hall, the arena- type theatre at the QPS, The Haseley Crawford Stadium, Jean Pierre Complex, The Central Bank Auditorium, The Little Carib Theatre, The St. James Amphitheatre, The Brian Lara Promenade etc. Naparima Bowl, San Fernando is to benefit from another lavish $40m refit.

To persist, in the face of the above-mentioned list of performing centres, to site the facility in POS is nothing short of an obscenity. It is also subscribing indiscriminately to the traditional and deliberate tyranny of the town; urban renewal (monopoly) being foisted on unsuspecting Trinbagonians at the cost of rural decay/neglect and further segmenting and dividing mother T&T (Dharti Mai) between the customary, infrastructural urban haves and the rural (country bookies) have-nots. Decision-makers should recognise that in T&T ethnicity correlates with geography and geographic alienation may be perceived as ethnic-based.

The 2002/03 Budget Statement as well as the 2002 PNM Manifesto, constitutes a solemn concordat unilaterally concluded with the people of T&T.

Read the nice-sounding underpinnings that the Budget postulates:
"This Government will visibly change the cultural landscape with the establishment of an Academy for the Performing Arts on the Princes Building Grounds."

The cultural landscape will not change, Honourable Prime Minister. It will only be cluttered, monopolised and defined by POS-centrics to the unfair detriment of the rest of cosmopolitan Trinbago. The Budget concludes:

"Every citizen at every level must have the opportunity to find individual fulfillment and to contribute to the progress of the nation. All must be brought into the mainstream of national development. All our citizens must benefit from the wealth of the nation."

The above is full of rhyme and reason, sound and fury, chapter and verse but signifying nothing on the ground.

Locating the proposed Cultural Centre in Trincity, as Senator Mahabir advises, will be walking the talk and telegraphing the right message to the national community that it is business unusual for the PNM Government. It is this new strategy that will fundamentally and structurally alter the POS-centric cultural landscape in radically departing from the past. The UNC had previously earmarked the location of the Millenium Arts Centre for the abandoned Caroni Racing Complex where the appropriate physical foundations had already been sunk at enormous cost to Central Government to accommodate a Grand Stand. This site is also conveniently located and well served communications-wise.

Let me challenge and encourage, in all humility, if I may, Arouca-based Senator Anmolsingh-Mahabir to continue to configure her senatorial mission to serve as a welcome protagonist dedicated against further lopsided, inequitable, national development and geared to promote national cohesion and unity.

It is to be noted that the Honourable Minister For Culture and Tourism (Arima) Mrs Pennelope Beckles and her Parliamentary Secretary (Tunapuna), The Honourable Edward Hart, have been maintaining a posture of stoic indifference with respect to articulating the clear and compelling interests of their constituents of East Trinidad in respect of providing them with a long over-due, economical, international cultural facility at Government's expense.

The barn dubbed a Centre of Excellence and the proposed HCL Trincity Amphitheatre are poor substitutes for the arts, that is to say the culinary, plastic, literary, creative and performing arts.

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