Society cannot change if the status quo is maintained. That is a simple but profound truth that goes to the heart of social, political and development theory.
There have been varying levels of social, physical and economic development of T&T over the last six decades. Compared with our less fortunate neighbours, we appear to be very "developed" as a nation and even so, some of our neighbours put us to shame. The problem is that we always seem to go after the lowest common denominator to make a comparison. That is a common ploy of failed leaders. A classic example was the recent statement made by the Minister of National Security that he was working on not letting our national murder rate reach the level of Jamaica or that made by the Minister of Finance that he saved the nation from losing free education and healthcare by not going to the IMF.
The reality is that, based on the level of oil and gas production that we have had as a nation, we should be comparing our development with that of Norway and Qatar. By so doing, we can then put our progress into perspective.
Citizens in T&T in 2019, still feel that they are granted favour when on the eve of an election, they get their roads paved. We continue to mark time with road paving politics when the debate should be evolving to how we make T&T the top five: best places to live; countries to do business; safest countries; cleanest countries; happiest countries; most educated populations; lowest maternal rates; best public healthcare; most productive agricultural sectors; best tourism destinations; most efficient public transport systems; greenest and most equitable societies on the planet.
We need to be more aspirational but the politics have led to a preponderance of hopelessness, made manifest by the varying levels of voter apathy at both local and general elections.
Instead of focusing on sustainable development objectives, the Government of the day is focused on taxation, trying to extract as much money from the population without a corresponding increase in service delivery.
There is also an arrogance that suggests that the Government is entitled to deny citizens of rights and privileges on a whim. This behaviour is totally at odds with the most fundamental tenants of democracy. It runs afoul of the social contract where citizens only give up rights and privileges by consent, for the general good and increased security of the nation.
Even when policies are meant to benefit the population such as the decriminalisation of marijuana, it appears to be implemented in a haphazard, cynical way. While decriminalisation will free up the average citizen from the inequitable prosecution for marijuana use, it does nothing to prevent or ease the gang turf warfare that leads to the national insecurity we are all subjected to. In addition, I have heard nothing about education and health support that must go hand in hand with such initiatives.
Laws and policies will always be made to benefit those who make them, as such, the status quo of laws and policies will be preserved unless there is a fundamental difference of influential thought at the decision-making level. This cannot be overemphasised.
Influential thought is different from thought. One can be a member of the decision-making team such as the Cabinet but not have the required influence, which is usually reserved for an inner circle of people surrounding the Prime Minister.
The politics of T&T, which have traditionally depended on the clear divisive lines of ethnicity and religion, have become more blurred over time. This is because the younger generations have broken down these traditional barriers of communication and social interactions, leading to a larger third constituency of thinking. As a result, the traditional parties are finding it more difficult to capture an outright majority of seats. Examples of this include 17-17-2; 18-18, which led to an increase of seats and even the present configuration of 18-23. Even the local government elections have resulted in a virtual dead heat of 7-7.
This, I would argue, presents a genuine opportunity for the third constituency to make a real impact on the national agenda. The thinking that has emerged from the local government elections is that smaller parties can focus on regional constituencies that comprise large segments of the third constituency thinkers who have traditionally not benefited from the traditional grab for the marginal seats.
The region of Diego Martin is one such grouping. It is my belief and that of those of us in the MND, that the ethnic, religious and socioeconomic mix that is Diego Martin, allows for the blossoming of transformational politics that can impact not only the residents of Diego Martin but those of the entire country. It is my belief that in order to get influential thought at the heart of the decision-making process it must be accomplished by strong coalition partnerships.
I encourage smaller parties to adopt this strategy to force a change of the status quo, whether it is the PPM in Port-of-Spain, the Tobago parties or the Movement for National Development (MND) in Diego Martin, Trinidad and Tobago is witnessing a quiet but significant political revolution.
Garvin Nicholas is an attorney and leader of the Movement for National Development.