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The Trivialisation of Race Relations
Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

By Stephen Kangal

During his recent Indian Arrival Day address delivered to the Mahasabha His Excellency The President Professor George Maxwell Richards underscored his genuine concern for the current state of ethnic bi-polarisation in T&T. His Excellency then announced his intention to establish a Presidential Commission that would, inter alia, conduct research into and facilitate the exchange of information on ethnicity or race relations with a view to bridging and narrowing the persistent but uncomfortable racial divide.

The Office of the President in the face of the hitherto traditional political exploitation of ethnicity must be the most credible agency to drive this national issue.

His Excellency may have unintentionally but for a mitigating good reason stepped out of his Presidential prerogative crease. However, any responsible Government, especially the one that recently proposed and supported His Excellency's nomination, would have acted expeditiously to shore up the image and confer legitimacy on the President's proposal.

The Manning Administration should have proceeded to advise His Excellency to constitute the said Race Relations Commission in accordance with constitutional procedures to avoid unnecessary duplication and politicisation of the issue.

But lo and behold from the July 14 Local Government hustings Mr. Fitz Bapstiste is announced to co- Chair an alternative, competing, proposed Race Relations Initiative separate and distinct from The President's own initiative. I cannot believe that any Government would set out intentionally to upstage His Excellency The Head of State.

Furthermore, although the gullible national community as well as the media was knowingly misinformed that Dr. Brinsley Samaroo, who was then in Canada, was being approached via our High Commission in Canada to obtain his consent to co-chair the PM's Initiative no approach hitherto has in fact been made. Dr. Samaroo has long since returned to sweet T&T.

We also hear of the appointment of a Round Table/ Race Relations Panel that is intended to meet informally at The Prime Minister's Residence consisting of dubious representation. Ethnicity it would appear has been confused with religion and culture in the selection/ appointment criteria.

Why is this important national issue of race relations in cosmopolitan T&T being trivialized by being approached in such a scatter-shot, ad hoc, cavalier manner? Why is His Excellency The President being made to appear to be competing with/upstaged by the Honourable Prime Minister on such a vital issue as race relations. The subject should be addressed and treated in a politically neutral, non-partisan ambience. Why is Dr. Samaroo being made to appear to be debating whether he would accept the co-chairmanship of the Race Initiative when he has not in fact been approached to date?

Why is Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe, a Central Banker director, who now supports the race factor as the principal criterion for determining UWI admissions and possibly for admission to the proposed UT&T and who has demonstrated repeatedly that he is pathologically ill equipped to be able to sustain and participate in any decent, dispassionate and uplifting conversation/dialogue on race relations being foisted on a Round Table seance? Why is UNESCO not being approached to assist Gov't in conceptualising the format for the conduct of the proposed national dialogue on multiculturalism/ race relations?

Public perception and past experiences will exert a decisive role in determining the legitimacy and viability of the national dialogue to be conducted on ethnicity from the perspectives of the plaintiffs and the defendants. We should not appear to telegraph unwittingly that race relations would be prosecuted in Afro-dominated fora either by vaps or under the jurisdictional constraints associated with the presence of politicians who have traditionally exploited ethnicity for their own, unpatriotic electoral advancement.

What measure of credibility would underpin and inform the current race relations demarche when the Equal Opportunities Act passed in Parliament and promulgated by The President is being illegally shelved side by side The Integrity in Public Life Act and the Integrity Commission is allowed to lapse also illegally?

A weak dysfunctional Opposition has left Trinbagonians vulnerable to the ghosts of PNM past?

Trinbago must now awake from its deep political slumber before it is too late breds.

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