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Fairness Agenda Demanding
Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

By Stephen Kangal

During the recent UWI Conference (Guardian July 31, p. 5) held on the Principles of Fairness (POF) I represented to Mr. Ken Gordon, Chairman that this private sector- driven POF Committee may have bitten off more than it can chew comfortably and effectively. I based this conclusion on the evidence that the original 28 signatories to the POF had now exceeded 200. I suggested that this expanded signatory base would now rely heavily if not exclusively on the POFC to embark on the requisite sustained pro-active and leadership action to prosecute its broad demanding public agenda for fostering fairness and justice in T&T. I stated that the POFC as currently organised and constituted is neither engineered nor equipped to deliver the goods that are essential for the POF to earn the necessary credibility, continuing support and national validation.

Accordingly in the full page print advertisement taken out on behalf of the Syrian-Lebanese community by Dr. George Laquis (Guardian July 29, p.41) Dr. Laquis accused the POFC of hypocrisy by failing to defend this minority business-oriented community in the face of the alleged ethnic disruptive attack mounted by PSA President Mrs. Jennifer Baptiste-Primus during Labour Day Celebrations. That disappointment expressed by Dr. Laquis on the paralysis of will of the POFC runs deeper and wider after one year of its launch.

The multicultural community is eager to see the dismantling of the ethnic tension that can delay the growth to nationhood and economic progress. Hitherto there are four committees entrusted with the mission of promoting fairness and harmony in T&T but without the necessary secretariat and budgetary facilities to facilitate undertaking the meaningful research into many of the myths and misunderstanding that underpin ethnic relations. But I propose to develop this point in another trinicenter offering.

Let us look, inter alia, at only two areas of concern outlined in the Principles of Fairness document; that is to say elimination of discrimination in the allocation of public housing and equitable geo-racio distribution of poverty reduction and infrastructural development programmes.

Housing Minister Rowley continues without any let or hindrance in undertaking a public funded, political patronage-based, housing programme beneficiaries of which are almost exclusively East-West Corridor urban sub-urban Afro-Trinbagonians. Some of these settlements are clearly motivated by the imperative of achieving electoral security targets via altering the ethnic balance in the marginals. They are also being located within established middle-class neighbourhoods clearly intended to disrupt their legitimate peace, quietness and security needs and create ghettos. They will also drive down the real estate values of these properties. They will cause the former residents to locate elsewhere to avoid potential burglars and bandits. He also proposes to establish a Housing Corporation Company to replace NHA. This public company will reduce the obligation to observe the requisite tenets of accountability, transparency and ethnic fairness as reported by the IMF visiting mission to T&T recently.

Not a word on this galloping practice from the POFC even though the fair allocation of housing is a major plank of the POF. But you can be sure of one mitigating factor- that such NHA settlements will not encroach on the vicinity of the Landdate Housing Scheme in Tobago to reduce the real estate value of the houses that are been built and diminish Mr. Rowley's windfall.

The CEPEP and URP infrastructural building/training/poverty reduction programmes are concentrated almost entirely in the East-West Corridor and in other PNM political strongholds. The vast majority of the employees are PNM supporters or those resembling natural PNM constituencies. The rural heartland is neglected, isolated and undeveloped on all counts. The Prime Minister told the Nigerian President that there is no discrimination in T&T. That is telegraphing that the victims of discrimination are fools. That includes the four race relations Committees, the Judiciary and the several UWI/Ansa Mc Al Psychological Research Centre Polls that concluded that politicians are responsible for 80% of the racism in the society (Sunday Guardian March 27/05, p. 32).

Yet the POFC maintains a stoic silence of indifference and telegraphed acquiescence in the face of their commitment to fairness and justice in the distribution of Government's poverty-reduction and development initiatives.

When I convey the above concerns to my friends they advise me to scale down my expectations in respect of the POF initiating any fundamental changes in both the allocation of State rewards in particular as well as in the racio-cultural landscape in general. In their view the POF is perceived as a private sector driven demarche. The POF is funded by the T&T Chamber of Commerce. It is geared to achieve social and industrial peace and stability that is exclusively conducive to and consistent with profiteering and sustained business expansion, consumer confidence and the consequent spending spree and ballooning credit card credit.

Others have said that Mr. Ken Gordon is intent on sanitising his image through the POF agenda having been branded a "pseudo-racist" by Mr. Panday. Additionally they allege that he was the prime instigator for the ethnic convulsions that corroded the ONE LOVE platform of the NAR in 1988 by producing the article in the Express entitled "The Indianisation of the Government" in late 1987.

I cannot understand why with limited supporting secretariat services and a monumental task set within the POF document, the Committee wants to get involved in time and manpower-consuming constitutional reform initiatives that it can ill afford. It may well be advised to establish working synergies with the Constitutional Reform Forum (CRF) on this issue. It must get its many priorities right.

A Guardian editorial ("Fairness in Principle and in Practice") accurately pointed out that the POF mandate implies by definition the need to articulate political positions on a wide range of issues for effective implementation of its fairness manifesto. Some analysts have even predicted that the Tiwari-Gordon-Lok Jack-Hosein quartet constitutes the catalyst for the re-incarnation of the Liberal Party of the late Mr Peter Farquar to adequately and politically represent the capitalist interests in our midst. That is a legitimate business group aspiration. But please do not piggyback on the idealistic aspirations of prosecuting a fairness agenda with a clandestine political motive. The Concerned Citizens of T&T, a third political party initiative headed by Dr. Garvin Nicholas wants to link up with Gordon's POFC because it sees the political potential and synergy inherent within that Committee (Guardian Aug. 10, p. 9).

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