With less than a month to go, the Government’s outline of its commemoration programme for the country’s 60th anniversary of Independence is beginning to emerge.
From the few details available, it would seem to mirror the national mood. It is rather tentative and subdued. This is not surprising. There is a sense of uneasiness and even foreboding across the land related to, among other things, the state of uncertainty arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic that has not yet let us go. Add to that new uneasiness over the prospect of monkeypox in our midst.
In terms of the economy, while the boom in oil and gas prices has put significantly more money into the Government’s coffers, it is yet to trickle down into the society and lift the mood of anxiety. This could soon change with next month’s reading of the national budget. It is worth noting here that this will also be a precursor to local government elections.
Social and economic storm clouds are visible up ahead, with the industrial relations tug of war now in session. This involves the Chief Personnel Officer and the range of unions representing the majority of employees and workers in the expanded State sector.
Hundreds of thousands of workers in this vast theatre of employment activities have not had a salary or wage increase going on close to a decade. What is being negotiated at the moment, if indeed the process can rightly carry that label, stops at year 2019. Having moved from an initial offer of two per cent, the CPO’s latest offer of a four-per cent increase has been flung back in his face, with labour leaders decrying it as essentially a cut in existing pay.
A combination of international events and developments of one kind or another has seen serial increases in the cost of living, with food price inflation near double digits at the moment.
The murder rate continues to spiral, unchecked against the best efforts of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Crime remains dominant in conversations at every level and in diverse communities across the length and breadth of the country.
At the launch of a book last month by a retired Chief of Defence Staff, former Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister on the role of the Defence Force in putting down the attempted coup of July 27, 1990, one of the speakers likened current developments to the socio-economic situation which purportedly led to that misadventure.
Notwithstanding all of this, however, we have reason to celebrate this Independence anniversary as a milestone achievement. Our democracy has endured and we have gained, among other things, significant control of our natural resources and deployed them to improving the lives of our citizens.
This state of affairs has been realised through a regime of a free public health system, free education for all, including for a while, up to tertiary level; a vibrant democracy even if it is yet to achieve maturity; and a national unity at the level of the people that continues to survive assaults on many levels.
While the celebration may be muted, it offers a valuable opportunity for sober reflection—not only at the national level, but also at the level of communities, organisations and individuals. Independence, after all, is about all of us.