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Ethics, Unity and Politics
Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2005

By Stephen Kangal

New politics is based on a participatory, consultative and consensus approach building geared to implant a new political culture in the psyche of our cosmopolitan community. It is this new modus operandi that will effectively contribute to the process of change and transformation. It should facilitate the emergence of a new political and social order that we must now foster and promote in T&T if we want to make a difference to respond effectively in establishing the mechanisms for delivering the rising expectations of our citizens. New politics is needed to respond to the changed character of the electorate.

However when the electorate complacently abdicates its right to be consulted at every important step along the way in defining and shaping good, effective and people-centred governance, that is what breeds and encourages the emergence of creeping dictatorships. It is that which creates the conditions for the birth of maximum leadership that we in T&T must no longer encourage. Indeed we must frown upon and reject this outdated, undemocratic practice and reserve our right to be heard and to define the way forward in every important step. Accordingly the electorate must make the change by the application of its societal standards of moral, ethical and spiritual values in determining the individuals or organisations that hold the reins of governance.

Addressing the Change Factor

Change is a fact of life.

No one is or must act as if one is politically immortal or has the monopoly or the exclusive right to suggest that without them things will collapse or; that our common political future is in jeopardy without their inputs.

That is tantamount to saying that we as a society are ethically and politically bankrupt- that we do not know what is good for us.

God fulfills himself in many ways. He calls and selects you and me to be his agent for change, transformation and enlightenment.

That is why succession planning in the new political culture must be fundamental to ensuring organisational growth, development and longevity.

The pre-condition to sustaining progress and introducing the necessary positive changes requires that our society must renew and perhaps re-invent itself constantly. Our society has to respond and adapt constructively to the rapidly evolving triggers of our interactive political environment. These triggers manifest themselves at critical stages in our evolutionary process as a nation-state. That is not to reject the past. On the contrary it is to build upon the collective wisdom of the past in order to chart our common political future. Political leaders have to function as vectors to effect change and renewal of society. That can be one expression of the imperative of getting the politics right.

The New Political Conjuncture

T&T has arrived at a very delicate conjuncture in our evolution as a democratic society. That has been result of both rapid technological and socio-economic advances as well as the internal (3 persons per vehicle) and external ( number of passports) mobility of our peoples. Our peoples are becoming politically empowered and articulate from:

* Mass education and training opportunities at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels;
* prompt access to the information super highway and;
* the omnipresent and mushrooming media to express themselves.

Accordingly we have no choice but to be politically responsive to the new hopes, higher aspirations and rising political expectations being harboured by the members of our ethno-cultural diversity. While we pay homage to and appreciate the accumulated collective political wisdom of the past, there are radically reforming political challenges that we must mediate/negotiate to effect the transformation and the total mobilisation of the society for the benefit of all our peoples. Diversity is not only a socio-cultural but also a politico-economic asset. This challenge has been referred to previously as the politics of real, meaningful, credible and a sustainable policy of inclusion- leaving no one behind in word and deed.

The Limits to the Policy of Nationalism

While we can apply the tenets of nationalism at the political and economic levels the varied richness and uniqueness immanent in our cosmopolitanism prescribes the adoption and effective implementation of policies, programmes and priorities relating to diversity conservation and management. That is called a multicultural policy that is completely different from the tenets of ethno-nationalism. This is the sensible approach adopted by India, UK, Canada, Estonia, Australia and some Scandinavian countries.

Code of Relevant and Functional Political Values

Having established the prevailing ecology in which we conduct our politics, we have to individually and collectively forge a new code of relevant ethical values and behaviours in governance. These values will enable us to get our politics fine- tuned to deliver the increasingly sophisticated demands being made by our complex society relating to socio- economic progress and welfare. We have to make this qualitative leap in a time frame that no other group or individual previously has done. That is the nature and urgency of the challenge that faces us if we are to capture and exploit the political opportunity.

That is the underlying imperative of the new political philosophy that will underpin the brand of new politics geared to take our country forward on the path to wealth creation and management, justice, equality. That is the prescription for creating a new janaam T&T.

The Diagnostic Approach

There is need to undertake a diagnostic overview of the political path we have traveled thus far as well as of the contemporary state to enable us to chart a new way forward geared to reconstitute and redirect our common political future. That is essential to re-engineering, renewing and transforming the society. That is not to say that we reject out of hand the past but see it as the necessary launching pad to explore new political vistas and horizons. We need to set our visions higher. We cannot ignore the past lest we repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We have to forge a political culture and future that is devoid of personal arrogance and the tenets of maximum leadership.

We must factor into the new way forward and respond adequately to the unmistakable indicators of a more politically alert, vigilant and discriminating population as well as a justice and fairness driven democratic culture. In the words of a popular jingle governance must increasingly become People-Centred.

I outline my own political vision and philosophical considerations for driving what I call the politics of relevance and timely delivery of increasing standards of living while at the same time maintaining the dignity of the human personality.

Inculcating Cohesiveness in T&T

We cannot lose faith in appealing to and harnessing the good and virtuous that is inherent in all of us. We must pander to the eternal principle of the brotherhood of humanity that connects all of us;

* to the achievement of unity in diversity at the political and economic levels and diversity at the cultural level;
* to the practice of mutual respect and appreciation across and within the ethnic and social fences;
* to the common history of colonial exploitation, of bringing port and plantation together to carve our legitimate economic space in the emerging highly competitive globalised village.

That is the only way that new politics will stay the course and receive the requisite increasing endorsement, validation and support -that the final arbiters- the people will buy into it.

Reconciling Togetherness with Cultural Distinctiveness

The emergence of the new politics pre-supposes that we have arrived at a new conjuncture of convergence where we must now more than ever aspire and achieve as a nation together. Such consensus building must not pre-empt and/or reduce the unfettered enjoyment of our fundamental right to the preservation and practice of our distinctive and rich cultural and linguistic traditions and mores. The fruits of such convergence must be shared in an equitable and balanced manner to gain credibility and transparency. Ethics must not be used as a fašade merely to gain political ascendancy and then to be discarded once this objective is achieved. That would be a form of deception.

The Pre-Condition to the Unity Concept

It must be appreciated that should any one group or community in T&T reasonably feel or is made to feel:

* excluded from the mainstream culture;
* marginalised and living on the periphery
* the victim of unbalanced economic, infrastructural and social development
* that he/she does not benefit from equal opportunities to facilitate the full development of their talents and monetary reward for expertise;
* that the state is full of talk and no walk about guaranteeing equality and fairness as espoused by our National Anthem.

In spite of promoting The Principles of Ethics in Governance we cannot and will not achieve cohesiveness and solidarity within Mother Trinidad and Tobago when people feel discriminated. That explains why the society is ethnically polarised.

That is why I take umbrage at those who oversimplify, monopolise and trivialise the challenge of realising real and genuine national unity. They never divulge the details of which they never seem to know although it appears to be politically correct and idealistic to say so in order to promote their own image and their narrow, self-serving political agenda. National unity like beauty sometimes lies exclusively in the mind of the speaker. Unity must be issues-based and a common philosophy driven. It must not be based exclusively on personalities or a marriage of convenience. It must be sustainable, viable and credible.

The Will of the People

The critical and determining factor in the getting the politics right equation is the willingness of the electorate to buy into the code of political conduct in public office. We must insist that all political aspirants rigidly adhere to the standards of decorum and integrity.

There must be confidence- building measures and institutional arrangements for verification (e,g. Integrity Legislation) in place in this regard. The electorate must individually and collectively via political parties, citizens groups and NGO's consistently and uniformly make adherence to the moral and political standards of this social contract conditional to their political support at all times including at elections.

Our political representatives alone cannot willingly buy into and forge this new political order. There will be no merit in our commitment to the new set of values were politicians to regard exclusively them as part of their personal manifesto and solemn undertaking. Such standards of ethical conduct must colour all aspects of our lives in order to move to a new plane- a new higher plateau from which we see higher and nobler peaks in our constitutional and political ascent.

The Primacy of the Individual

In the emerging new political order the individual takes pride of place. These principles are not however hierarchical. We can make a difference if we insist that the new morality of politics is not different from societal values. We must debunk the myth that political morality is and can at times be different from general morality. For example, as a people destined by God to dwell in this part of his luscious and verdant vineyard we cannot close our eyes to acts of unfairness, favouritism and nepotism even though we may be the prime beneficiaries. That is the qualitative political leap forward in a society that respects fundamental individual rights and freedoms as enshrined in our Constitution.

The Flowering of the People's Sector

The free and unrestricted expression of the will and aspirations of the people manifested via NGO's, voluntary organisations, interest and professional groups and churches etc on national issues as separate and distinct from individual participation within the restricted confines of political parties is essential to consensus building and functioning of the new national political order. Political parties that turn out to be the exclusive preserves of maximum and charismatic leaders cannot and must not be allowed to monopolise and drive the process of reform and regeneration.

If there is one target that must be identified it is the full and effective empowerment of the people's sector to serve as an antidote to the ruling party's monopoly over the skewed allocation of the resources of the state by the winner-takes-all system of the Westminster system of government. That is a political anachronism in plural T&T especially where geography coincides with ethnicity. We must also not allow the penchant for always being politically correct to supersede moral uprightness, personal integrity and the common good.

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