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Shifting the politics

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Third Force transformation of which I wrote last week is not about the formation of a scrambled-together party to fashion another coalition with one of the major tribal parties to secure office in 2020. It is about the gathering of the non-aligned and the non-tribal constituency to engender major changes in the way we govern ourselves.

Let us therefore call it the defining constituency to avoid it being mistaken for that attempted at the last minute before the general election of 2015, and to convey the intention of the constituency transforming the society, economy, and politics. On the march forward, this constituency will recognise that if given an opportunity to come off the margins, people and their institutions can begin to shape the forms of governance and development that are needed.

The defining constituency must not act as if the deep financial distress into which the revenue of the Government has been thrown is a fiction not to be believed—the Minister of Finance has given some appreciation of the ravages on the Treasury. We must, however, have the longer view and understand that hundreds of billions have passed through the economy since the early 1970s, and yet it remains open and dependent on high international energy prices. 

Beyond the appreciation of the immediate reasons for the financial crash, the defining constituency must understand that the fundamental problem is that the entire society, led by the commercial sector, has depended completely on revenue from gas, oil, and the petro-chemical sector. We must understand too, that this course has been pursued without studied, strategic, and sustained attempts to create industries and services to earn T&T a living in a world no longer minded to give preferences to former colonies.

All of us who constitute this defining constituency must recognise, too, that there are no quick fixes and one-time solutions to the problems. We must become agile in our thinking and doing, ready to shift into another mode as the world around us changes course.

As a push-off point, the defining constituency should not scramble into the political gayelle to make clichéd statements in reference to the 2017 budget; leave that to the Opposition in Parliament. 

We, the political and ethnic douglas not waving tribal flags and wearing party symbols to define ourselves, must develop firm proposals and programmes for agricultural production and agro-processing industry. There is a portion of the $4 billion food import market to be captured. 

Tied to the proposals must be the capacity and willingness on the ground to pursue implementation of the projects. This cannot be an academic exercise. 

The inventive and entrepreneurial minds must pursue projects. The holders/owners of capital, inclusive of the commercial banks and financial institutions, must begin to make it possible for feasible ideas to be turned into projects.

The trade union movement with its plans for an alternative development path must publicly outline the plans and programmes and begin to seek implementation. Investors in search of ideas and ventures must persuade themselves of the possibilities which exist and take courage to invest in productive ventures.

Those community groups, sporting associations, faith-based organisations, and individuals all over the country working with young people, must press on with the efforts to turn young boys and girls onto productive pathways.

Chris James, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, says the group is preparing a plan for the way forward to present to the Government and the Tobago House of Assembly. The assignment for the association is to go one step further and to begin implementation, where possible, of the plan and programmes.

But there must come a moment when, if the Government and THA fail to act, the hoteliers must force and shame the authorities into action.

One way is to make the plans and programmes available to the media for dissemination. This is a model I am advocating for all groups, institutions, and individuals. If it comes to embarrassing the Government and the hoarders of capital into action in support of plans and programmes, that has to be done. 

We have been attempting to fashion a political party to take power and do the work for us. I am advocating that the defining constituency has to begin to create the transformational conditions which can shift the politics out of its present mode. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is saying he and his government are about dismantling the welfare state; we must take him at his word and assemble the proactive defining constituency. 

At the level of the state mechanism to achieve transformation, real discussion on constitutional reformation to achieve quality governance must be initiated by the defining constituency. The track record of commissions appointed by governments is poor. 

Williams kicked out the draft of the Wooding Commission; Robinson and Manning ignored the Hyatali Report; while the Ramadhar Commission was organised to deceive.

Action by the defining constituency must move us from the sidelines of talk to action. We will be venturing into deep waters, but no better time to do so than when swimming in the shallow for decades has not brought change.

People-based and transformation-minded institutions must now take charge and set the agenda; governments have failed. The specifics of the how we have to work out. 


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