Building an ark
My first article stated that Trinidad and Tobago is undergoing its most fertile period since independence, having destroyed the centuries-old cult of the maximum leader. This was a system where a “big personality” leader centralised all decision-making powers in Cabinet, and where institutions throughout the country were gutted of visionaries and independent thinkers.
Everywhere in charge were mediocre talents whose job was to follow orders and maintain the status quo.
At the present moment, the nation finds itself in a new frontier where it now has absolutely no protocols to govern itself and advance its agendas. This article examines the paralysis and neuroses that have taken its place—and the opportunies that lie after that.
We all must confess: without a daddy ordering us around, the system is at sea. Even for those who hated daddy! We need to understand that this is not how other countries work.
In other nations there are stand-alone institutions led by genius specialists who lead teams of gifted individuals. These institutions independently go about their work with clarity of intention and purpose. Despite whoever is in power! These institutions can even prosecute the leader without fear, if he or she betrays certain protocols! Witness one arm of the State moving to impeach a standing president during the Clinton years. These things can happen in a healthy society where independent thought is valued, where centres of excellence are encouraged.
There are no such institutions in T&T, certainly none in government. Everyone here is waiting for orders. On top, what has replaced the gaping hole left by maximum leadership is a Cabinet of individuals. Whereas the previous administration was ruled by one man’s psychosis, this government has no central intelligence, no unifying dream. It is all petty appetite, the miniscule jostle for position, personal agendas and some decent people at sea.
Meanwhile, public servants try to operate machinery by the book. There have been hundreds of statements and acts of individual vaps. Most of these have been uttered without a sense of history and lineage. Most of the ridiculous mistakes we have witnessed have come from this groping in the dark.
In the past, order was imposed by the fear of the maximum leader. For half a second, the country was humoured by this new, atomised decision-making. That honeymoon is over. People want results—results that come from history-based analysis and creative solution engineering.
So what is going on? Many NGOs have been groping for the solution to the paralysis for the last nine months. Hardly anything from the 2011 budget has been implemented. Without a whip, nobody understands how things are supposed to work. People have been exhausting past behavioural patterns in a futile effort to find one that fits. But the moment demands more.
For the last 15 years, ordinary people have exposed the excesses of the past two regimes—at great personal risk. These people have found levers in the country to get government to change course—commissions of enquiry and the Integrity Commission, for instance. In most cases the levers have been outside of government—exposes in the press, and mass action.
Many of these tactics are suited for a landscape at war. But what happens when we are at peace? What happens when we just want things to function well? What does that look like? None of these previous tactics really apply to the system at rest. At rest, all of the progressive groups in the country have completely stalled.
These groups form the vanguard of what I called the visionary citizen. It is from within this corps that the new architecture will come. What happened after the election has been instructive. Progressive groups immediately found themselves locked out of governance. Just as before. Within our Crown Colony system, there are no institutional mechanisms for citizen participation.
Many visionary citizens were unclear how to operate from that point. Some went back into old gestures of protest, as if the maximum leader is still there. They are trying to summon villagers to burn the Frankenstein monster. But there is no monster in the tower. The only one in the village is ourselves.
Others had frozen agitation when the government took office, thinking they would enact progressive agendas they magically learned by heart. These groups were caught flat-footed. The public has been in this camp. Waiting.
Part of this is the dependency learned under the maximum leader. People have not realised that, more than ever, their participation is needed. But this public inertia will not last much longer.
The other response has been open engagement for reform within the system, step by step. Two groups are engaged in this in a profound way. Both were central to the citizen resistance and overthrow of the Manning madness. They are the Joint Consultative Council, which includes architects, contractors and engineers; and the artists.
The engagements of these two groups to radically reform their sectors in the last nine months are instructive. Located in the painstaking engagements these groups have had with the State are the seeds of the revolutionary reforms that can transform the landscape.
To be concluded.