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Trinidad and Tobago: Face the real issues

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While it is not true to say that there has been a total breakdown of law and order in Trinidad and Tobago, the security situation there gives cause for serious concern. As a member of the Caribbean community, the twin-island state shares with us the collective pride in our democratic institutions, in the commitment to uphold the principles of “good governance” and to ensure the security of its citizens.{{more}}

All these are under threat in the Trinidad and Tobago of today. Given its economic, social and cultural influence in the wider region, the rest of us cannot afford to ignore or to turn a blind eye to what is taking place there. We do so at our own peril for while there are factors peculiar to that country, there are others which are also common to many other countries in the region.

In addition, Trinidad and Tobago has traditionally played a leading role in regional security, taking into account the fragility and lack of resources of its neighbours to the north. If its own security comes under threat, there must be implications for the rest of Caribbean society.

Logic would suggest that given the deteriorating situation in that Caricom nation, a sense of urgency would envelop decision makers, both there and in the wider Caribbean, triggering appropriate responses, at the national and regional levels. But then, logic seems to desert us all too often in times of crisis. That is true of the Trinidadian scenario.

Inertia and a sense of helplessness appear to be the responses to the growing security threat. Yet this is a country which has experienced a military rebellion, several states of emergency and a military coup in the last 45 years. It lies geographically along the ‘cocaine route’ from South to North America, with all the attendant consequences.

The leaders of that country, however, seem to have other priorities. At a time when clearly the State cannot guarantee the security of its citizens, the lure of corruption, the thirst for financial reward and the lust for power have the upper hand. So, with elections but one month away, political battles of a partisan nature are occupying centre stage.

Sadly, dark shadows loom over and are obscuring the critical issues of the day. The odious scandals in which fallen football boss ‘Jack’ Warner are embroiled and the possibility of his extradition to the USA to face corruption charges continue to make headlines. In turn, ‘Jack’ is spewing out all the bile he could to smear the Persad-Bissessar administration, alleging that it was an accomplice in his shenanigans.

But one must not lose sight of the fact that corruption seems to have overtaken the entire political class in T&T. If, as Warner alleges, ill-gotten loot was used to fund the UNC’s successful election campaigns, then should not the focus be on proper regulation of campaign financing, an issue not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but the rest of the region as well?

Both contenders for government have personalized their campaigns, around the leadership issue. The ruling party has gone for a negative “No to Rowley”, targeting Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, whom they believe to be vulnerable in terms of personal popularity. In turn, the Opposition PNM, and other active elements, including the Prime Minister’s former colleagues Basdeo Panday and Ramesh Maharaj, are hitting Persad-Bissessar, charging her administration with widespread corruption.

In the process, the critical challenges facing T&T and the rest of the region are being sidelined – the ongoing global economic and financial crisis, the global oil market and its impact on the region, the ned for a regional alternative energy policy, regional integration at a far deeper level, the CLICO fiasco, climate change and financing for development.

What will be the perspective and policies of the new Trinidadian government on regional air and maritime transportation, the role of that country in helping to spur truly indigenous regional development, using its oil-based resources for the benefit of all in the region and in so doing, propelling T&T’s own development at a further pace?

And finally, how will the fundamental social and economic issues, of enormous significance be addressed? How could oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago be harbouring the levels of poverty and destitution as manifested? Why are the natural resources only benefitting one segment of the population? How to arrest the drift to alienation, fuelling crime and drug abuse?

These, not Rowley, ‘Jack’ or Kamla, are the ones that matter most.

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