WE as a people are quick to trigger the refrain, “It doh matter, dem politicians eh go implement anything we suggest.”
This is the universal cry which we use to exonerate ourselves and deflect the responsibility for undertaking issues of a “national nature”.
Civic leaders, captains of industry, labour leaders, inter-religious leaders, NGO leaders, community leaders, media moguls, academia principals et al do not seem to recognise and/or accept that their respective roles require that they must take the lead on “national issues”.
These leaders do not acknowledge that their established positions demand that they step forward singularly and jointly to press the politicians on matters of national importance.
This is truly unfortunate and must be addressed with urgency.
Yes, we are a fragmented people, but it is incumbent that these said leaders bring their groups together to address the political directorate with a singular voice, representing hundreds of thousands of persons. If you want to be transformative, as we must, this provides a very real avenue for so doing.
So how do we get them to hook up, to galvanise their collective strengths to push for meaningful change. We must ignite their passions through transformational initiatives that are developed within an integrated strategy for national development.
To make the point, I will use the example experienced in meeting with and understanding the many roles of the Living Water Community. The Living Water Community, under its astute leadership, provides economic empowerment, education, family, generalist legal services, labour and employment services.
It also has a ministry for migrants and refugees. The official Government database shows the refugee number at approximately 16,000-plus. It is generally believed by many others that the true number of refugees in Trinidad and Tobago is significantly more (50,000-plus).
It is my considered opinion that we as a country should have a significantly better understanding of the magnitude of this problem than we have at present.
Many refugees do not register for all types of reasons. Over the last three to four years (pre-Covid-19), countless hundreds of disenfranchised individuals have been lining up outside the Living Water premises on Frederick Street on a daily basis, seeking sustenance and other forms of assistance. A remarkable challenge that they have met with conviction.
How they garner the requisite numbers of human and other resources to manage this task is beyond me.
The salient point here is that the numbers seeking support are huge and unless we recognise this as a “national issue” that must be addressed with transformational solutions, the likes of the Living Water Community and the other exemplary NGOs throughout Trinidad and Tobago will be burdened for the next 100 years without a solution in sight.
They will never be able to solve or come to terms with this problem unless we give this problem “national status”.
This represents a perfect opportunity for civic leaders to find common cause. They must utilise their leadership roles to actively coerce their own groups to get involved, impress the other powerful civic leaders to do same, and then diligently work towards a permanent solution.
It’s time for the civic leaders to spring into action.
There are numerous issues of national relevance and importance that civic leaders need to take notice of, understand in detail, and take a personal interest in finding transformational solutions.
The newly-established Strategy Institute of Trinidad and Tobago is well positioned to support civic leaders in this endeavour.
Which leads me to the budget! It seems that most persons, or the ones who I have recently encountered post-budget, are of the opinion that the budget was temperate in nature and not too bad, so to speak. It was delivered without the usual dose of arrogance and, hence, agreeable to many. The reality is it lacked spark and had very little to offer by way of transformation.
The Trade Minister is quoted as saying the divestment of gas stations owned by National Petroleum, incentives for small and medium enterprises, and opportunities for manufacturing and construction are some measures to transform the economy.
Whilst positive in nature, these measures are hardly transformational in nature.
The Government is promoting that we tighten our belts whilst simultaneously expending many billions of dollars on the expansion of the Tobago airport and the Toco port project. What are these two projects going to do for us? Where is the value added, the benefits to country and people, and the needs assessment to substantiate the billions of dollars our taxpayers will fund?
Have these projects and spend been evaluated from a value and benefits perspective, comparative to other national priorities and value? Decision making on projects of a national nature must have the proper checks and balances. A useless project will always be a useless project regardless of whether we have procurement legislation or not!
For the record, I am a supporter of the Afra Raymond-championed procurement legislation. It is an important component in ensuring transparency in Government business. Where is it? Why aren’t our civic leaders clamouring for it?
Where are our civic leaders on all of the above? Why don’t they step forward and take positions on these issues? They can no longer remain silent on national issues.
Is political backlash a concern? This is unacceptable! It’s time for our civic leaders to step forward, be counted and bat for Trinidad and Tobago.
Civic leaders represent significant numbers, and the energy force that can be created through a meshing of these leaders on national issues is compelling.
Civic leaders should have the ear of the Prime Minister on issues of national importance. They should have a mechanism to collectively make their pitch to the powers that be.
Civic leaders can no longer abdicate their responsibility to country. They must step up and drive issues of national significance. Civic leaders need to be called to account.