By popular demand, the Express yesterday reintroduced its once-popular Action Line column, which had gone a great distance in addressing the frustrations expressed and experienced by ordinary citizens in their search for answers on various issues affecting their everyday lives.
We mention this in the wake of the New Year message to the nation issued by President Paula-Mae Weekes.
For the second time in a matter of months, the country’s Head of State felt obligated to advise and warn members of Parliament in general, but government parliamentarians more particularly, about where and how she felt they have been falling short in their commitments to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
President Weekes referred to a question asked of her by a citizen, as to whether and to what extent we the people can trust those we have put in office and into power. This was at the opening of the 12th Republican Parliament, following the general election on August 10, 2020.
In her New Year message, Her Excellency appears again to be scolding those in office, calling attention to the cries and the pleas of people. She has responded by first pointing out the limits to the office she occupies, while passing on nevertheless, genuine concerns and cries for help. She buttressed these with her own requests for action and attention where this may be possible.
Going further, including that there is need for a greater level of openness with the population from the holders of public office, President Weekes stated as follows: “Public officials have to stop being so secretive (except in the interest of national security), paranoid and dismissive of the anxieties of our citizens. They make decisions and take action under our authority and on our behalf, and we are therefore entitled to be kept in the loop about relevant developments.” She went further, questioning the extent to which “open communication and total transparency” are at work and in practice.
What she is clearly alluding to here is a sense in which there exists a public information gap, driven by paranoia and dismissiveness of some of those in office, in the face of continued crises for help, response and clarity, from members of the public.
The President cautioned against what she described as “the repeated distractions, obfuscations and outright lies by successive administrations,” which may have led to a jaded and sceptical population. She makes no distinction between the current administration and the ones which have gone before. She calls out “procurement, border security and the exemption policy”, this last relating to requests by nationals seeking to return home in an era of pandemic-induced closed borders.
Herein is conveyed a sense that the President is herself not as comfortable as might be assumed on these issues, and is calling for greater attention to be paid to them, consistent with the appeals from members of the public.
She has called for urgent action in the holding of national conversations, “followed by the necessary action,” if the country is to avoid being haunted in 2021, “by the ghosts of 2020”.
We can conclude here that whatever else is at play, this latest message from the Head of State represents her own conviction that there is much work to be done to convince a disenchanted segment of the population that those in office and in power, are doing enough to meet the genuine needs of the people.