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Democracy: responsibility of the government to its citizens

Tomorrow, thousands of citizens will cast their ballots in the August 14 local government election.

To say that this election has been mired in controversy is an understatement but nothing new to the political landscape as we know it in Trinidad and Tobago. The fact is that far too often those on the political platforms, on all sides of the political divide, seem far more intent in scoring political points against each other than in taking seriously the real victims of their political shenanigans- the people, who should be their priority.

In this campaign, all stand guilty of paying more attention to political gamesmanship than the business of the people.

The platform talk left much to be desired and at the end we expect that the small percentage of people who will vote will again do so on the basis of either red or yellow and not on national issues.

This country is reeling under a spiralling crime rate, unemployment, countless infrastructural and other issues and yet when our politicians get on a platform, we seldom hear about the things that matter to us. Like for example how can our national security systems be so lacking after billions of dollars spent that drones could be used to provide illegal items to prisoners. Who is turning a blind eye?

How is it that a proliferation of guns continue to find themselves in the wrong hands?

In the past eight years, this country’s national budget has totalled close to half a trillion dollars. That’s a huge amount of money and invariably a large slice of that pie goes to national security. Why then are we in the state that we are in today where murders, home invasions and other crimes are on the rise?

This election saw the head of government Prime Minister  Dr Keith Rowley in a public wrangle with the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, accusing the eight-member Council chaired by Dr Bishnu Ragoonath of lacking ethics and being biased, because the Council dared to raise issue with something Dr Rowley said on the political platform.

It was irresponsible of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to advise citizens “when the criminals invade your homes, you can draw your licensed firearm and light them up, empty the whole clip.” We hope in retrospect that Persad-Bissessar realises that what she is advocating would be a recipe for madness and mayhem.

That is just not good enough. Politicians, no matter who they are, must be called to a higher standard. This country has for far too long accepted and endorsed mediocrity. It is why 61 years after attaining independence we are yet to reach the level of political maturity that will see our leaders together in an election debate where issues of national interest can be dealt with in a transparent manner.

Trinidad and Tobago requires sound leadership at all levels. Dr Rowley and the Opposition Leader must understand that under the Westminster system a government comprises both the majority and the minority.

At times like these when things seem to be falling apart more than the centre can hold, the people need their leaders to come together in the national interest and not just ‘ramajay’ on each other.

In his Independence Day address on August 31, 1962, this country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Eustace Williams stated, “democracy means responsibility of the government to its citizens.” But he also offered this piece of advice which we hope all of us will take to heart and that is that democracy “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.” The strength of the nation, he said, depends on the strength of its citizens.

Let us not fool ourselves that by casting a vote we have done our democratic duty. We as a nation must demand and hold our leaders to higher standards keeping in mind Dr Williams’ closing words on that night we gained independence, “let us then as a nation so conduct ourselves as to be able always to say in those noblest and inspiring words of St Paul ‘By the Grace of God we as a people are what we are, and his Grace in us hath not been void’.”

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash