Last week’s images of men burning an effigy of Wayne Kublalsingh powerfully illuminated how poor governance and manipulative political leadership can turn citizens against each other, and how we become our own vulnerable bobolees by failing to focus collective attention to our common cause.
Yes, the Debe to Mon Desir dispute is over a highway extension, and it has been emotive, frustrating and vexing to those of different views, but that is not the issue that deserves citizens’ anger. The issue is how state officials and institutions’ failure to be transparent and trustworthy creates and legitimizes blame, intolerance and violence as modes for public deliberation. Beware.
Without full information, different stakeholders resort to accusation. Without a sense of the connected ways we are affected, we deepen popular division. In attacking one another, we undermine necessary national pressure for state accountability.
Some of those desperate for improved transportation are angry with the HRM, as if their struggle lacked legitimacy. Why not also be angry that the UNC, including Roodal Moonilal, Jack Warner and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, first supported the Highway Re-route Movement protestors, then turned against them? They stepped beyond the law while invoking it conveniently. They failed to provide the planning, hydrology, cost-benefit and impact-assessments that were due. They mystified their own and state institutions’ irresponsibility, knowing this non-tendered project lacked the necessary studies. Our current leaders caused escalating confusion and conflict among citizens by saying one thing and doing another. Should they feel the heat of a match and gasoline?
As Justice Aboud concluded: “It seems to me that what runs through the evidence is the absence of a clearly formulated policy statement in response to the HRM activities…When a person no less than the Prime Minister promises a review she must be expected to understand what that term means and to have said it with sincerity. Instead of dealing with the HRM in a straightforward and consistent manner…she took a series of steps that are now made out to be half-promises – or no promises at all – to appease, or defuse, or otherwise deal with the activities of the HRM….In the end, the promises of a review and a consideration having been made, the claimants were entitled to believe that the process would have been meaningful and that they would have been consulted. Their expectations were therefore legitimate.”
Public debate over aluminum smelters, quarrying and more is how we sort out what is in our best interest. In each of the struggles ahead over what that means, whom it will cost, and what our rights are to know and decide, there will be sides. Do we then hang by the neck, hack into pieces or set each other’s bodies on fire, even symbolically? Don’t all legitimate expectations regarding citizens’ rights deserve the protection of due process, even if we disagree?
Tacarigua, Chagaramas, Point Fortin, Chatham, La Brea, Toco and Debe, what if one day the government considers your rights annoying, wrong or inconvenient because they are pitted against others’ rights, needs, kickbacks or votes, should you have no defense?
Development is more than infrastructural. It must include democracy. Progress is more than economic. It must be founded on state officials’ credibility and state institutions’ conformity to regulations, policies and law. Citizenship is more than a vote. It must protect our right to challenge all forms of state domination.
I got worried seeing that effigy. It normalizes violence. It conveys fear to neighbours. It sends the wrong message to another generation. It entrenches elite access to conveniently explosive behaviour. Be careful. Citizens will always need each other.