On September 24, we will celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago gaining Republican status. We gained independence in 1962 and Republican status on August 1, 1976.
Daily, as I drive to Archbishop’s House around the Savannah, next to White Hall, which is once more the Office of our Hon Prime Minister, my heart fills with pride as I see our national red, white and black colours adorning these two majestic edifices.
As usual, the buildings were “dressed up” for Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations.
From 10-12 September, I attended the second joint regional dialogue with parliamentarians, faith leaders, civil society leaders, National AIDS Programme managers and youth leaders, to reflect, inter alia, on progress to end HIV and AIDS by 2030.
One of the speakers asked us to close our eyes and imagine that it is the year 2020 and our region and the world have achieved the 90-90-90 targets which state that by 2020:
• 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status.
• 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy.
• 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. (See: https://pancap.org/ for further information and for the media release regarding the three-day session at the Hyatt).
As my eyes were closed, I could not help but imagine also what success for our democracy in T&T would look like.
Today, democracy is the world’s predominant form of government, and although the concept takes many forms, there are certain key features that we in T&T say we embrace, e.g. “Respect for basic human rights; A multi-party political system paired with political tolerance; A democratic voting system; respect for the rule of law; democratic governance; and citizen participation” (www.civicsacademy.co.za).
With my eyes closed, I envisioned living in a democratic T&T in which these checks and balances are fully operational and everyone is working in the best interest of all the people; a democracy in which all three branches of government —the executive, the legislative, the judiciary—as well as other institutions in T&T, are working as they are meant to be, e.g. those elected are not “kicksin” in Parliament but are competent visionaries who are about the people’s business, e.g. seeking to build a robust economy, ensuring that our crime prevention/reduction strategies are working; that our prisons are not warehousing people due to the inordinate delays in our justice system; that Government ministries are not working in silos and have a common vision about the kind of citizens we wish to develop—remembering Dr Eric Williams’s Independence Day address to the nation — “the strength of the nation depends on the strength of its citizens”.
I envisaged living in a T&T democracy that is underpinned by values that respect the innate dignity of each person; one that promotes authentic integral human development—working to eliminate poverty and social exclusion, building the common good, and creating conditions that will enable individuals, families and organisations to flourish.
And, in my role as secretary of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, I remembered the media release that the council recently released informing the nation that the council has commenced its monitoring and evaluation of political parties’ and candidates’ adherence to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct in relation to the 2019 local government elections.
I envisaged living in a T&T democracy in which political parties/ candidates/followers maintain the highest moral principles and ethical standards with respect to their conduct during campaigns and uphold the integrity of the electoral process—with no one playing the dreaded race-card; a democracy in which, for the most part, those elected will: keep the promises made during campaigning, work to serve all the people, put in place systems to root out corruption and abuse of power at all levels, promote innovation, creativity, productivity, and diversification, ensure that there is equity in the distribution of the resources of the nation and that these resources are used to improve living conditions/standards in T&T—thus living up to John McCormick’s view that people living in democratic nations typically have a “…high standard of living when measured by the availability of jobs, education, health care, consumer choice, and basic services”.
Our republic faces real problems that require real solutions—including constitutional reform. It’s time to act. Each of us has a critical role to play. Let’s discharge our responsibilities to avoid becoming a dysfunctional democracy.
Happy Republic Day!