By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 22, 2019
All you guys have done is reference to us getting jobs. I do not want a job. I want change, I want a future….You are ignoring our future….What are you doing to give us a voice?
—Stefan Lander, student, St. Mary’s College
To hear Colm Imbert, Minister of Finance, tell it, the 2020 budget has nothing to do with the upcoming local elections or the 2020 general elections. It emanated from the government’s genuine interest in the welfare of our people.
The words had barely come out of Imbert’s mouth when Rohan Sinanan, PNM’s campaign manager, declared: “I am very pleased; I think my job as campaign manager was made significantly easier with a wonderful budget” (Express, October 10).
Sinanan believed the budget measures touched “between 300,000-400,000 people in the middle- and low-income wage brackets, given the increases to the minimum wage and a 15 percent increase in CEPEP and URP wages.”
Local government bodies also shared in the largesse of this non-election budget. They received more than $75 million in additional allocations. The Port of Spain City Corporation was given $20 million more, San Fernando Corporation $11 million more, Arima $9 more, Tunapuna/Piarco $14 million more, San Juan/Laventille $12.4 million more, and Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo $9 million more. The Express surmised that these monies were given out “in anticipation of their expanded authority under the proposed new [local government] legislation” (Express, October 9).
One should not look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet, the younger people are not as impressed with the gifts proffered as their elders. Stefan Lander, a Sixth former at St. Mary’s, expressed his disagreement. At a forum at his school, he informed the ministers of government who were present that all they had done “is reference to us getting jobs. I do not want a job, I want change. I want a future….You are ignoring our future….What are you doing to give us a voice?”
This is the dilemma: The government gives us things, and more things, but does not offer us or these young people a vision to which we can aspire.
Our students know what they want. They realized this budget said little about their future. Stuck, in the past, Imbert repeated the same outmoded incantations without offering our youths a path out of the darkness of the present.
On May 8, 1982 I delivered a lecture “The Village Council as an Organ of Popular Democracy” at the Tacarigua Community Center. After outlining our people’s historic struggle for independence, I noted: “If we are to recapture the historic destiny of our people, we must return to the village structure of governance as the most democratic and popular expression of the people’s will” (Cudjoe, Movement of the People).
I emphasized the crucial role of villagers in the building and restructuring of our democracy. I argued that our strength as a people came from our collective endeavors at the village level. Eric Williams, our esteemed leader, defined the village “to include all localities and districts, including urban areas, with their own distinct identities and individual problem[atics]” (The Nation, May 28, 1965).
I also drew upon the wisdom of Amilcar Cabral, leader of FRELIMO, who reminded us, “It was not so much the economic base that led us to respect the tribal structures as a mobilizing element in our struggle, but its cultural aspects, the language, the songs, the dances, etc.” (Cabral, Towards Final Victory). It was from this perspective that we leveraged our social and cultural capital to achieve our liberation.
In this day when we emphasize the sovereignty of finances over and above social and cultural capital, we forget that our mothers and fathers who lived in more depressed conditions than ours mostly relied on their social and cultural practices to see them through. They lived a more integrated life with their natural and social communities, spaces in which they remained true to themselves.
We ought to listen to our young people when they characterize the 2019 budget as an election ploy, plead with their elders to think of their future development, and ask for a voice in shaping it. Instinctively, they understand that “financial capital” is not the only measure of value when they come together to talk about their future.
They also understand that we only build communities when we allow people to participate in their own development. So that even as we construct bigger and bigger buildings and aspire to acquire bigger and slicker cars, our people still yearn for a deeper fulfilment that only a vocation and community involvement can give.
Therefore, when a bearer of gifts comes to our community, displays an ignorance of our history, and tells us that we must accept what s/he is offering, we are not wrong if we conclude that s/he is more interested in community destruction than in community development.
Our young people want to see meaningful changes. They do not want to be stuck in the darkness of the present. They would rather contemplate the bright horizon of our tomorrows; cherish those things that money cannot buy; and cultivate the spiritual qualities that guide their lives.
After all, it was Christ, the King, who reminded us: “Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word [logos] that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
We cannot turn our backs on the 21st century. At the very least, we can face the challenges this era presents, with dignity and pride, drawing on our moral and social capital, and doing the best we can. We owe this to our young people.