Every bypass of rules slowly chips away at our institutions’

If we are interested in an equitable and just society, we have to be interested in governance which begins with having a shared vision of the future based on common values and aspirations. 

Ideally, when citizens are engaged in developing that vision, they feel committed to its realisation. The last time we had a vision which I understood was under the late Patrick Manning who had led the development of ‘Vision 2020’ on the basis of wide consultation amongst citizens. Since then there has been some reference to a revised Vision 2030 but it remains an unclear aspiration.

Photo: Prime minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley (centre) observe the Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Trinidad and Tobago, like many developing countries, is a work in progress, so we must have some tolerance for our stage of development. If I use the analogy of a human being, the country has reached middle age while not exhibiting the maturity that accompanies that stage. 

By middle age, most of us recognise that playing by the rules is the right thing to do and is in our collective best interest—that the rules are not there to ‘keep us down’. 

Many of us talk about obeying the rules but easily look for the workaround when faced with a challenging situation. We forget that every bypass of rules and regulations slowly chips away at our institutions and contributes to wider systemic failure. 

Worse yet, our systems allow the workaround because there may be a deficiency in the system due to the absence of accountability and the slackness of persons charged with the responsibility of monitoring. It may also be because correcting the system requires an onerous procedure which in itself leads to the need for workarounds.

The old saying children learn what they live is applicable here. We see unaccountability in every aspect of life from parliamentarians to policemen; there is no systemic framework for accountability, so citizens are left to believe that accountability is not important. 

Image: Cutting in line…

We learn the path of unaccountability because that’s what we live. We were recently regaled by a three-hour budget presentation which provided very few instances of accountability in comparison to the previous budget.

By way of example, I reviewed the PNM Manifesto 2015 which reported that the Integrity Commission had: ‘no less than six commissions in the last 10 years and in reality, the Commission has had a minimal impact on reducing corruption since its formation. Our ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index has continued to slide, especially since May 2010’.   

A review of the 2020 Manifesto showed that it included neither a reference to the Integrity Commission nor any reform of the institution. Further, a look at the annual reports of the Integrity Commission reveals that there is an allocation of TT$200k to be spent on reform of the Integrity Commission in 2020.

Surely if there was a serious concern about the Integrity Commission in 2015, there would have been some accountability or continuation in 2020.

We must do something different if we are to change the way we do business. It is clear to me that citizen involvement and active participation is the only way to impact our systems and force our politicians to act in the interest of the greater good of our society. 

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago supporters pose for a photograph during a break in Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action against Costa Rica at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 11 November 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

We all need to invest the time to understand what is needed to make our society operate in a manner that is just and equitable. Justice and equity must have no correlation to race, political party or position of power. It must have no correlation to economic status. 

Justice and equity must be seen as fundamental pillars of our society. It is time for us to engage in civil conversations about our under-performance and how it will impact our future. 

The devastation caused by Covid-19 is an opportunity to begin anew and to really adopt the view that we are each other’s keepers. It is no cliché that we have inherited a beautiful country and we have a responsibility to preserve and improve it for future generations. 

Our current politicians have demonstrated that they do not have the desire or capacity to act beyond their own self-interest. It is time for each of us to play our part in realising our collective potential, and it can begin by holding the government and each other accountable.

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