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Leela Ramdeen

On August 31 we will celebrate 57 years of Independence. Firstly, let us give thanks to God for leading us out of the bondage of colonialism. Give thanks, also, to those intrepid men and women who sacrificed and fought for our independence, our political emancipation, and for the many gifts and blessings that God has given to us.

I am in London at the moment and have been listening to the suggestions of friends and relatives about what we need to do in T&T to build our nation; to take us out of the morass of crime, corruption, poverty, social exclusion etc. I dare say that many of these suggestions have been shared by citizens in T&T, in the glossy manifestoes of our various political parties and in policy statements. Our greatest challenge is in putting our best foot forward and acting in concert to achieve our common goals. And yes, we do have some common goals; if only we could overcome the ethnic/racial divisions which continue to stand as a key obstacle to progress.

Let Patrick Castagne’s words in our National Anthem propel us to do better: “Forged from the love of liberty, in the fires of hope and prayer...” Our indigenous people, those who endured the indignity of slavery and the traumas of indentureship, as well as those who came to these blessed shores from many other lands, all yearned for liberty. But, as George Bernard Shaw rightly said, “liberty means responsibility.” Pope St John Paul II reminded us that: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Are we dedicated to democracy and full nationhood for all? Do we love our liberty enough to do what we ought, for example, to ensure that every creed and race has an equal place? In an age of rampant individualism and moral relativism, have we lost our moral compass? It is not too late for us embrace and to instil in our people values such as love, integrity, discipline, production, tolerance, responsibility, hospitality, courage, and compassion/respect for the dignity of each person.

These are values that will inspire us as we seek to build a nation in which the dignity of each person and his/her human rights are respected; one in which equity, equality, the common good and ecological justice will underpin legislation, policies and practices; and truly human conditions will be created so that all God’s children can benefit from the abundance of resources that we have been given by the Almighty.

The words of people like Nelson Mandela are instructive. Mandela said: “...to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” We fail to do so when, for example, we collude with wrong-doing by our silence—at all levels of society. One of the many hats I wear is Secretary of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, which is charged with monitoring and evaluating adherence to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct. The election campaign seems to have commenced. I urge all political parties, their followers and citizens in general to remember the objectives of the code. Read the code alongside Dr Eric Williams’s Independence Day speech.

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Inter alia, Williams rightly stated that: “The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age...Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only representatives of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence and public spiritedness...Whatever the challenge that faces you, from whatever quarter, place always first that national interest and the national cause. The strength of the nation depends on the strength of its citizens.”

The national interest is “rooted” in the values one espouses. If the values that form the character of our people do not include having the spiritual/ethical/moral strength to do what is right, even when no one is looking, then we will fail to build a nation of upright citizens. Happy Independence Day!

—Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

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