The post second world war period marked the beginning of the end of the British empire, however reluctantly. Paying for two wars and rebuilding infrastructure whilst catering to the needs of returning servicemen were incompatible with the demands of managing an empire. The political mood demanded that the State accept greater responsibility for civil society.
In 1945 in the first election after the war, the aristocratic Conservatives, led by Winston Churchill, were defeated by the Labour party. The social contract between the governing and the governed had changed.
Under a Labour government Britain embraced “state capitalism.” Hence British Rail, British Gas, British Transport, British Airways. Austerity lasted many years and until the change ushered in by the Thatcher “revolution” and the repudiation of union dominance and the emphasis on “free market economics.”
T&T’s independence leaders matured in this post war period influenced by Fabian socialism and explains why a newly independent state accepted much responsibility in the early years and beyond. First, by buying the departing BP and Shell companies to protect jobs and now by the sizable transfers and subsidies which account for 50 per cent of the State’s expenditure.
Small wonder that most citizens believe that the state is responsible for virtually everything and why politicians contesting the 2020 elections are so “stingy” in outlining the enormous task facing T&T after the election. It will require a mature approach and burden sharing, tasks for which the country is ill prepared.
We have been building roads and buildings since 1962 but have not spent enough time building citizens. Writing in the Financial Times on July 6, Martin Wolf, former World Bank Chief Economist noted that “a necessary condition for the stability of any constitutional democracy is a thriving middle class (people in the middle of the income distribution).
In its absence, the state risks turning into a plutocracy, a demagogy, or a tyranny.” People may be employees, business owners, savers, or investors but all are citizens. Citizenship is the tie that binds people together, regardless of their station in life, with the common objective of preserving the stability of the country.
Citizenship therefore demands four things of us. First, that we be loyal to the democratic political and legal institutions. Second, that we value and defend the principles of open debate and mutual tolerance that underpin these institutions.
Third, that we be concerned about the ability of all fellow citizens to lead a fulfilled life. Fourth, that we create an economy that allows the citizens and their institutions to flourish. The more unequal the society, the lower its social mobility. The lower the social mobility, the greater the possibility of social unrest.
Unfortunately, most people in T&T believe that the state owes them, without understanding that citizens make the state possible, make the system work, politicians included. Politicians campaign promising goodies, not responsible government.
Political responsibility requires self-imposed limitations which cannot always be expressly articulated in a written constitution. For example, experts could find no provisions in the T&T Constitution that required Jack Warner to shed his FIFA responsibilities on assuming office. His prime minister ought to have prevented this obvious conflict of interest. Dr Rowley, despite his integrity badge, thrice appointed and dismissed Marlene McDonald while there were still lingering, unanswered charges. Neither citizens, nor party exercised authority over either leader.
Indeed, to be a maximum leader, the first institution to bend to the political leader’s will is the ruling party not the judiciary, civil service, or free speech. The party appoints its leaders and it is the party that will unseat them.
Corruption is about personal greed, but also includes deliberately undermining our institutions. For example, the Police should not be announcing impending arrests, far less politicians on a public platform. “One does not have to be cynical to be suspicious about the fact that supposedly damning information contained in a police-compiled ‘status report’ has been placed in the public domain on the eve of a general election…” said the Express Editorial on the July 20.
Lloyd Best labelled T&T politicians as “unresponsible,” meaning they did not know how to be responsible and explains why “community leaders” get state contracts from both parties. In that sense, crime and corruption are the two sides of the coin of unresponsiblity.
Because of this, campaign finance, procurement or indeed, any government reform is so hard to achieve as adequately resourced institutions will force both the governed and the governors to behave differently. Citizenship matters only if we demand that our leaders, regardless of party affiliation, understand these unwritten limitations.