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Republic Day wake-up call

Monday, September 25, 2017

Today T&T celebrates our 41st anniversary as a Republic. My father was an MP in the first Parliament of independent T&T. After we gained Independence in 1962, we gained Republican status on August 1, 1976. Pa died in December 2016 and, in assisting him in writing his autobiography, I recall how much it pained him that although we have made some progress, we are not living up to the fundamental principles outlined in our Republican Constitution.

Like him, I am concerned that we continue to act like ostriches and ignore the need, eg for Constitutional reform; to deal with our failing institutions; to develop effective plans/strategies/policies to address crime and violence, including corruption which divert resources from the people.

Former president of India, Dr Abdul Kalam said that, “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the Father, the Mother and the Teacher.”

Pope St John Paul II often reminded us that: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” It is in the family that children learn values and virtues. The family is the bedrock of our society.

In his Independence Day address to the nation on August 31, 1962, Dr Eric Williams stated clearly that “the strength of the nation depends on the strength of its citizens.” We need to strengthen family life. Strong families build strong communities which in turn will build a strong nation.

Sadly, though, while many of those in T&T’s prisons may come from broken homes, one-parent or dysfunctional families etc, many of our white-colour criminals come from privileged backgrounds and they have no qualms about stealing from that which belongs to the people of T&T. While more than 500 student nurses are protesting because they have not been receiving their monthly stipend of $800 for more than a year, citizens are aghast at the alleged acts of corruption in the country. As Joe Biden said: “Fighting corruption is not just good governance, it’s self-defence. It’s patriotism.”

At all levels of society we are moving away from the values that our parents tried to inculcate in us. Murder and mayhem continue apace and the nature of the murders is becoming more and more brutal. We are indisciplined in so many ways. A few minutes of rain leads to floods in key parts of T&T, partly due to our own actions of wanton littering.

As a Republican state, power rests in us, the citizens. We must act responsibly. We elect representatives whom we hope will be visionary, competent and courageous; who will learn how to work across party lines to build the common good, creating conditions which will “enable individuals, families and organisations to achieve complete an effective fulfilment” (Pope St John XXIII).

This year the Catholic church celebrates the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical: On the Development of Peoples, in which he elaborates on the concept of integral human development. If T&T is to progress, we need to ensure that people are at the centre of development and that development should include every dimension of a person and of each person. No one should be left behind.

After 41 years, there are too many on the margins of our society; too many who don’t have basic amenities. We need an overhaul of all our systems—healthcare, education, social services etc. And, as we engage in the budget-making process for next year, let us not forget that effective diversification takes years.

Although we know that we can no longer rely on oil and gas to fill our coffers, we are not taking urgent steps to diversify. Again, effective diversification takes years. We have a yoke of growing debt around our necks because of years of Budget deficits. We continue to use the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund for recurrent expenditure. This is a recipe for disaster. In June 2017, Dr Rowley had discussions with Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary, who made it clear that there is a need for the English-speaking Caribbean island states to reduce their debts.

No Knight in shining armour is coming to our aid. Let’s “band our own belly” before our politicians go to the IMF for loans which will lead to real austerity in T&T.

In spite of our social ills, remember Dr Abdul Kalam’s words: “We should not give up and we should not allow the problem to defeat us.”

Leela Ramdeen is Chair, Catholic Commission for Social Justice


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