Justice Frank Seepersad says he feels Trinidad and Tobago is currently hanging close to peril. However, he also feels it is not too late to pull it back but to do so, both citizens and those in authority need to make urgent changes to some governance structures.
“Our ancestors’ paradise is in peril. Crime is out of control, many are struggling to meet their basic daily requirements and there exists an unacceptable degree of divisiveness, dishonesty and disingenuous discourse,” Justice Seepersad said yesterday.
“Far too often, issues and solutions are no longer addressed or formulated in a rational, logical or methodological manner. Instead, they are fashioned by considerations of class, ethnicity, lineage and affiliation. Our indentured forefathers overcame significant challenges, discrimination and prejudices but they persevered and in one generation, excelled.”
His comment came as he delivered the feature address at the Heritage and Leadership Conference hosted by the Citizen One Foundation at the Passage to Asia in Chaguanas, which coincided with the Indian Arrival Day holiday.
Seepersad said Indian Arrival Day should serve to renew society’s resolve to protect and preserve T&T, a “home in which our all forefathers saw tremendous and unlimited potential.”
“To achieve this objective, changes have to be made on an individual basis. This must commence by rejecting the rancorous rhetoric aimed at dividing us. The preservation of our paradise requires us to spurn the polarisation which prevails because this position pulverises peace, productivity, prosperity and progress and poses as our primary threat,” the High Court judge said.
“We are at a critical juncture and there can be no room for complacency, hatred, bias or inaction. Every civic-minded citizen must now put country first. If we fail to act, our comeuppance will be a cacophony of cries and the clamour of citizens as the society implodes.”
He said citizens must stop being delusional and pretending all is well.
“How we vote, is, with alarming frequency, how we now live. We have become, suspicious, unforgiving, mean, irrational and so divided that we are perched dangerously close to a precipitous edge. If we do not make a hasty retreat, heightened disaffection, dysfunction, distress, discomfort and disaster will definitely define us,” Seepersad said.
“As a body of many varied races, standing side by side and in deference to our ancestors who taught us that no obstacle is insurmountable, each of us, needs to understand that we must share this limited space and we have to cooperate and co-exist respectfully and responsibly. In defence of this our native land, we must pledge ourselves to the altering of our current course and elect to traverse a path which is defined by honest engagement which transcends the ethnic, political, religious and social divide in an earnest attempt to transform Trinidad and Tobago into a nation where every creed and race truly finds an equal place.”
He said every effort must be made to engage, encourage and empower the youth to reject a life of crime.
Providing some possible ways to find solutions, Seepersad said constitutional reform holds a central and pivotal role in the revitalisation and rejuvenation process.
“The Constitution needs to be relevant and relatable and the antiquated administrative and electoral processes which currently exist have to be replaced by efficient, effective and practical systems which are designed to reflect our unique plurality, facilitate ease of business, foster economic growth and curb corruption in its many manifestations,” he said.
“The metamorphosis must lead to the emergence of a performance-based society which demands accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty, empathy, selfless leadership and partnership to address our pressing issues.”
He suggested the formulation of a national development plan and that serious thought be given to forming a race relations commission.
“Such a body can explore and validate our varied backgrounds, help us to understand our missteps, identify the correlation between racialised power and our inherited colonial status quo and de-escalate the racial tension which is brewing. The commission, if formed, may wish to consult political parties, religious bodies, civic groups, business conglomerates and citizens so as to allay fears, alter entrenched perceptions, address cultural biases and identify the areas of engagement which require greater tolerance, equity and gender inclusivity. We have a lot to be proud about as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago but we have a lot of work ahead of us, if, we are to truly realise our fullest potential and preserve this paradise which all our ancestors cherished and revered.”
Also addressing the gathering was NGC chairman Dr Joseph Khan, who spoke about his experience as a person of mixed heritage.
Dr Khan said “I am what we refer to in T&T as a “dougla” – a rich cultural fusion of my East Indian father and my African mother. As a result of this fusion, I had the opportunity to have parents who worked in harmony to inculcate in me and my siblings, the values and principles of discipline, tolerance and production.”
Dr Khan said the struggles of the ancestors must not be in vain.
“We must reflect on the values and principles that they have taught us and demonstrated in their lives. We must remember that they have given of themselves in ways we cannot imagine, all for the betterment of their loved ones, and the development of T&T.”
Among the other speakers at the event were Mariano Browne, Dr Trucy Kawal and Senator Richie Sookhai.