Monday 19 March, 3:54pm. Charlotte Street. The shrill screech of a siren assails shoppers, motorists and pedestrians as a lone Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force vehicle bores a hole through the two-way traffic, forcing drivers to hastily squeeze to the far edges of the road, making room where there is none.
I have experience of questionable use of the siren by politicians, both newbies and veterans alike. I have experience of police drivers going for doubles, siren on full blast. I have experience of Fire Service officers with civilians in their vehicles clearing a path with their sirens.
But this is my first experience of a vehicle with a TTDF license plate being driven in this manner. I had always thought that the TTDF did not engage in such shenanigans. The scales have finally fallen away from my eyes.
Is this chaos desirable, I wonder, inevitable? How are drivers supposed to respond, especially in standstill traffic where there is really no room for them to make way?
How does a citizen know that the use of a siren is legitimate, justified? Where can (s)he find a listing of the conditions under which sirens are to be used? Does one exist? Is it merely at the discretion of the proud politician in the back seat or the peewat policeman, fireman or soldier who happens to be behind the wheel, uniformed or not?
If no such listing exists, are we not allowing—not to say encouraging—the blatant abuse now almost routinely visited on the road-using public?
I remain unconvinced that Monday’s Charlotte Street episode was necessary, legitimate or above suspicion. Well aware of the systemic necessity for what was happening across town at NAPA, as I viewed the tangle left in the wake of the siren-blaring TTDF vehicle, I found myself focused instead on the widespread systemic collapse we in T&T are experiencing.
Most—if not all—of our problems, have their roots, I heard myself thinking, either in the absence of appropriate systems, processes and procedures or in the shocking uncensored disregard for the ones that do in fact exist.
In general, citizens will follow where their leaders lead, will pattern their behaviour after the behaviour of their leaders. In Trinidad and Tobago, it appears, those in charge are blissfully unaware of the concept of leadership by example; they seem completely incapable of providing the good examples that our citizens desperately need.
It must be clear to all and sundry that, if the people you lead see you taking advantage of your position to enjoy some benefits, it becomes easier for the (wo)man-in-the-street to rationalise his own indiscretions, to decide that, in comparison to what the big boys are getting away with, what (s)he does is small potatoes, “small t’ing” and, therefore, okay.
And so we have the upward spiral, which sees the once minor indiscretions working their way consistently towards the top. And the instances of inappropriate behaviour are exacerbated by the absence of consequences; people are so convinced that nothing will come of any of their indiscretions that bandits no longer feel the need to conceal their features by wearing masks.
Even if we can’t arrest the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes we see ritually reported in the media, we might at least attempt to arrest the negative trends. The bandits, after all, are in the minority—still!—and the majority of the population is as hungry for positive change as we are for honest, decent governance in all spheres.
The dissemination of vital information is a good place to start and our leaders would do well to level the playing field and let us all know the rules of the game.
So, I think I can safely say on behalf of the road-using public, we will all welcome some clear guidelines about the use of sirens, whether they be on black official SUVs or TTDF vehicles or Fire Service appliances or police cars, marked or unmarked.
Not condemning, just commenting.