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To vote, just how we party … Towards culturally relevant representation for T&T

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‘How we vote is not how we party.’
At ‘all inclusive’ fetes and other forums, we nod in inebriated wisdom to calypsonian David Rudder’s elucidation of the paradoxical political vs. social realities of Trinidad and Tobago. Then we go back to sipping – rum, Guinness and Puncheon if one is UNC and believe in the Prime Minister, and if one is PNM – something else, yet-to-be-named by Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s united Opposition camp.
Our cultural repertoire has for long upheld our social underpinnings in unity, tolerance and camaraderie evident in part in Carnival, the ‘greatest show on earth’; while our political pundits continue to pronounce that voting in Trinidad and Tobago has largely been along ethnic lines, because the two major parties have largely ethnic bases.
We have accepted the validity of each posture and their nauseous compendium of evidence, giving little effort to understanding or explaining the paradox.
Absent in the political analyses is the fact that our politics makes us reluctant brides and bridegrooms of the PNM or UNC. Whether one is or wants to be one or the other, it stereotypes IndoTrinidadians as affiliates of the UNC and Afro-Trinidadians as loyal to the PNM. Any aberration to this – non-IndoTrini support for UNC and non-Afro Trini support for PNM – is dubbed the ‘cross-over’ vote of the ‘mixed’ population and the ‘floating’ (‘intelligent’) vote that is looking for a third party to latch on to whether it takes them into government or not (implying too that intelligence does not characterize either the PNM or the UNC, and if there are such elements, they too are aberrations).
Those (third) political parties that have failed to win seats have also dismissed the population as racially-driven on this basis of our two-party mentality, with little studied attempts to seriously identify why they failed to make the political grade, or seriously analyse their failures to adequately identify with and reach out to the populace in a manner that can swing voters out of the traditional, unappetizing, offerings.
The simple reality is in the two-party system that has developed in T&T, one is almost forced (so much for democratic right) – to choose one of the two political offerings. The alternative is to abstain, and deny oneself the option of franchise – only an option if one does not subscribe to the right to vote as the ultimate power in a democracy.
The National Alliance for Reconstruction’s victory in 1986 seemed poised to break the two party mould. Riding on its all inclusive ticket of ‘one-love’, the NAR – a coalition government – promised to prove that how we vote can be how we party with its overwhelming sweep of 33-3 seats. Unfortunately, it collapsed unto itself before it could so do.

It’s the Constitution, stupid!

Various other analyses tell us that the culprit is the T&T Constitution and there is an indisputable need for Constitution reform, given evident flaws in T&T Constitutions past and present. Both the 1961 (Independence) Constitution and the 1976 (Republic) Constitution were clearly already obsolete from their inception, with their unworkable British import of the first-past-the-post/winner-take-all-model and evident failure as they disenfranchise large numbers of voters as occurred in the 1981, 2001, 2002 and 2007 general elections.
The alternative, proportional representation, which offers each party numbers of seats in parliament according to the proportion of votes they command, has received some attention, but, like first-past-the post, it upholds a party-based system that gives politicians divine status and places them at the centre of decision-making, which we have seen, with demands for a bottoms-up approach, itself cannot hold.
The Wooding (1971) and Hyatali (1974) Commissions set up to explore Constitutional reform, proposed another, a mixed system drawing from first past the post and proportional representative models. This has been rejected by the PNM’s Williams and Manning, though all – PNM and the Commissions – premised their arguments on our diversity which they define largely as ethnic diversity.
Manning put forward in 2006 a ‘working document’ on Constitutional Reform, drawn up primarily by a one-man Commission (former President Ellis Clarke) and after-the-fact staged some public ‘consultations’ – an approach interpreted as paying lip service to public opinion. His draft provided for an executive President as in the USA which would give even more executive powers to an already maximum leader of the first-past-the-post system, without correcting (but rather further emasculating) those instruments and institutions that provide checks and balances on such ‘Massa’ power. These include the judiciary and the legislature, and others as the Ombudsman, the Director of Public Prosecution, the Commissioner of Police, the magistracy, Commissions for Integrity, Judicial and Legal Services, Police Service, Public Service, Teaching Service etc. It also proposes to restrict the principle of Freedom of Expression (the the Media) by altering the Bill of Rights.
Another Constitution, drafted by the self-assigned 2006 Fairness Committee of four leaned on a further amalgamation – of the Manning model (though produced before Manning’s) supporting an Executive President, along with a mixed system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post as recommended by the Wooding and Hyatali Commissions.
One challenge after the other to the Constitution has surfaced since the NAR to show that the Constitution is not just dog-eared, but coming apart at the seams and irrelevant in a rapidly changing world:
• The PNM’s challenge of Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters dual citizenship
• The 2002 18-18 deadlocked elections which were not catered for in the Constitution;
• Other challenges, mainly related to cockfighting by Panday and Robinson – appointments through the Senate of persons who had been defeated in the polls;
• The chicken-and-egg crisis precipitated by the Standing Order for electing a Speaker before convening the House when neither party wanted to propose a Speaker
The Constitution, say the experts, has outlived its usefulness.
To justify his quest for an Executive President /US styled governance system, PNM leader Patrick Manning has sought to justify his high-handed approach to decision-making with arguments that the extremely diverse nature of the society and their many competing interests made it difficult to govern and needed ‘strong’ leadership.
But at the risk of sounding like a prophetess, the diversity of T&T is indeed its primary character, and anyone who cannot manage our diversity is doomed to failure! Anyone who wants to govern effectively must unite the diversity rather than seek ever more exclusive power to overrule it; (the consequences of ignoring the public over an extended period have been graphically illustrated by the events of recent weeks).The experts tell us that the Constitution – and the West Minster styled parliamentary system it establishes cannot accommodate that diversity; others, like the PNM – undeniably the most experienced party in T&T – argue that neither could proportional representation. Both, it seems are partly in the right; but wholly wrong.


Leadership crisis – single party and coalition

The search for the ideal model has been around the debate of whether the single party or coalition government is the better model. Both have been tried and tested and found wanting. As analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath observed, the three occasions when our governments prematurely collapsed have been as single party governments – Panday’s in 2001 and Manning’s in 1995, and 2010. Majority rule by a maximum leader with powers equivalent to the Divine Right of Kings in a single party is losing sway on a population becoming more astute and unwilling to continue as blind, unquestioning sheep-like followers. Governance by any one majority ethnic group is become unsavoury to growing and more vociferous elements, demanding recognition of our cultural and other diversity, denied in Williams ‘No Mother India, no Mother Africa’ maxim which seemed not to grasp the complexity of the identity issue.
Nor have coalitions worked either; not two examples, the alliance governments of 1986 and 1991 – both of which evolved out of forces opposing the PNM and including Panday’s UNC, Robinson’s Democratic Action Congress, Karl Hudson-Phillips’ Organisation for National Reconstruction, Lloyd Best’s Tapia and various others.
They failed not because the structure of the coalitions was tested, nor because of challenges of managing our complex diversity – they never got a chance. They failed because – as with the maximum leader mode of single party politics – managing the diverse egos of a man-rat driven political culture, continuously tested the Constitution and the governance model, promoting the eminence of constitutional lawyers and legal messiahs.
They failed because of unenlightened or misguided leadership that failed to respect the needs and wishes of its people.

Kamla’s People’s Partnership option

Now, Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s bid for the premiership proposes a People’s Partnership, in which the partners acknowledge and commit to her leadership. It presents another option for development and progress.
The People’s Partnership seems neither of the winner-takes-all, nor of the proportional representation models, nor a mix of both. It appears to be a significant departure from all the models discussed above, no wonder many are still trying to come to terms with it.
By making all the diverse elements of the population potential winners: civil society, NGO, labour, youth, academics, opposition forces, the elderly, women, with the potential that they can all be represented in the Government, even without changing the Constitution , it has presented a platform closely representative of our diversity.
It seems a bold way of circumventing the limitations of the Constitution’s winner-take-all modem, without the need to undertake the labourious and time-consuming Constitutional change or reform being posited. It answers the call for a new political paradigm in which people have a central and more active voice in governance; of a government driven from the ground up, rather than the top down. It is an expression of political will guided by the will of the people, which speaks directly to the leadership void. With each partner expressly, publicly and emphatically committing to recognising her as leader, one envisions she will rule the roost as a mother would her nest of clamouring, sometimes self-absorbed, chicks. She has proven herself not incapable of the task, having manoeuvred through the UNC’s macho-driven shenanigans of the last two decades, and obviously also out-manoeuvred her formidable competitors to inherit the coveted crown of leadership of the party while defying her predecessor’s threat that ‘none shall escape unscathed’ by effectively emerging ‘unscathed’ herself.
Where this will go, remains to be seen, but meantime, anticipating revisions to the strains of Rudder’s ‘how we vote is how we’ll party, I’ll drink to new directions.

Dr Kris Rampersad is a Media Cultural and Literary Consultant
kriscivica@yahoo.com;

Call for election observers

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Bring in Election Observers, says Network
2010 election process should be transparent and indisputable

The Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women is calling on the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Government to request the presence of international election observers and expert teams from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organisation of American States and CARICOM for the May 24 General Election.
“We anticipate that this would help to ensure that the integrity of our election processes is sound and indisputable,” says Network Director of International Relations, Dr Kris Rampersad. “It would also reinforce our Government’s commitment to transparency and democracy.
“Already we are hearing sounds on the hustings of fears of gerrymandering, voter padding and interference and it would be useful that measures be taken to assuage any such doubts that may arise over the election results.
“Trinidad and Tobago further committed to the sound governance practices set by the Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States (OAS) last year. We can now request the presence of election observer teams from these institutions to verify and certify the integrity of our election processes so our democratic record will not be tarnished by questions raised during or subsequent to the 2010 Election. It will help ensure that human rights are observed during the conduct of the election.
She explained that as a member of the OAS, Trinidad and Tobago subscribes to the Inter-American Charter, Article 24 of which provides for electoral observation missions on the request of Member States.
The Charter states that the member state shall guarantee conditions of security, free access to information, and full cooperation with the electoral observation mission” and such missions shall be carried out “in accordance with the principles and norms of the OAS … in an objective, impartial, and transparent manner and with the appropriate technical expertise,” which “shall ensure that these missions are effective and independent and shall provide them with the necessary resources for that purpose.”
The OAS, as do the Commonwealth and CARICOM, have set guidelines for preparation of observers’ reports and presentation of recommendations, as well as the conduct of Electoral observation missions. Missions must be requested by the Government or the electoral management body, with broad support from civil society and political parties.
According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, “the observation of elections is one way in which the Commonwealth Secretariat works to strengthen democracy. Observer Groups are asked to report on the credibility of the electoral process, whether the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the election results reflect the wishes of the people. Each Group’s report also contains practical recommendations to help improve election arrangements for the future.”

BBC’s Ros Atkins continues his Caribbean journey …. listen to status of Lion House among other views on tourists – Peter Minshall, Gerry Besson, Kris Rampersad….

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Ros continues his Caribbean journey …. listen to status of Lion House among other views on tourists – Peter Minshall, Gerry Besson, Kris Rampersad….
BBC World Service – Documentaries – Living with Tourists
http://www.bbc.co.uk
Ros Atkins looks at attitudes to tourism in Cornwall, England and the Caribbean nations of Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas.

Note to Culture Stakeholders: Strengthening TT Culture Sector

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Background
Despite our rich cultural diversity – an area in which it has tremendous repository of knowledge and experience while much of the global community is now coming into awareness – Trinidad and Tobago is absent from intense discourse on cultural diversity in the international arena.
At home, it has no cultural policy. As a result there are perceptions of wide discrepancies and inequities in the treatment of different cultures and groups.
Internationally, it has not ratified the UNESCO Cultural Conventions: The Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) and The Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). As a result:
T&T has no access to the UNESCO Fund for Cultural Diversity, launched earlier this month, March 2010 which helps support development of the culture sector.
T&T is deprived of access to many of the mechanisms for cultural exchange and trade because of lack of ratification. For example, the Cultural Protocol of the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement was used as currency to buy public approval for the EPA-EU agreement – but to access these benefits the country must ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the establish cultural policy.

The Gaps

There is need for widespread consultation on a National Cultural Policy, using the current draft as a basis to identify and define:

i. T&T National Position(s) on culture, the cultural sector, and cultural industries

ii. National priorities for culture, the culture sector and cultural industries in Trinidad and Tobago

iii. Directions for culture, the culture sector and cultural industries in Trinidad and Tobago.

Actions

The International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity (IFCCD) has been actively promotion ratification of the 2005 Convention and establishment of cultural policies internationally, and specifically in the region. After several meetings throughout the region, the Caribbean Coalition for Cultural Diversity (CaribCCD) was announced at the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2009 to support the lobby for ratification of the UNESCO Conventions, promote national cultural policies and national priorities, as well as identify and promote regional cultural positions as they relate to heritage conservation, cultural co-operations, harmonization of policies, and copyrights among others. Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica are among the 108 countries who have to date ratified, and other Caribbean countries are working towards this. Trinidad and Tobago remains virtually invisible in this conversation. This is to invite Trinidad and Tobago culture sector to make its input for national priorities that can be carried forward by the CaribCCD to the regional arena, the IFCCD and others to the international arena.


A. Please indicate with a tick/Yes/No and you may elaborate:

i. I/my organisation support these objectives

ii. I support ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) and the Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH);

iii.I/my organization support public consultation towards a national cultural policy.

iv . I/my organisation support establishing national priorities for the culture sector.

B. Please submit what you/your organisation identify as priorities for consideration and incorporation into the objectives and advocacy agenda of the CaribCCD that may be carried forward to international meetings of the IFCCD and others.

C. Please identify contact person for your organisation and submit contact details – email, phone, address – of a person within your organization who can participate in discussions and consultations on these issues.


Send queries and submissions to:

Dr Kris Rampersad, krislit2@yahoo.com.

For further information see:

http://www.coscap.org/news/35/caribbean-coalition-cultural-diversity-formed

http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/news/17041.html

http://cdc-ccd.org/Ha-sido-creada-la-Coalicion

http://www.ifccd.com/sites/ifccd.com/files/CaribbeanCCDpressrelease.pdf

Growing journalists from agriculturalists: Restoring culture in agriculture in T&T

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In Trinidad and Tobago, not unlike many other parts of the Caribbean and the developing world, agriculture and development are inherently contradictory terms. Deeply rooted in the regions labour history of slavery and forced indentured labour, children are educated away from agriculture; their ambitions nurtured to aspire to life in industry or professional services that are as far away from the land as is possible in the belief that agriculture offers only limited life chances.
This attitude to agriculture – as a peripheral activity translates into the policies and practices of the adult world. In Trinidad and Tobago where there is an abundance of alternatives to agriculture in the country’s energy resources, policy planning ensures that there are sufficient incentives for the private sector to invest in the exploitation of more oil and gas reserves. At the same time the private sector is berated for not investing in agriculture although it is offered little inducement to do so. Support for farmers and agricultural interests is not viewed as viable and economically-sound investments. There is no real link between the products of agriculture as core to personal survival as there are with the oft-reiterated links between energy as core to economic survival. The quantity of food on one’s table from the outside world is believed to signify the level of development. Import labels imply that the household is on its way, like the national policy agenda, to developed status. The household with mainly local products on its table is considered to be on the lower rungs of the social and economic ladder.
National media replicate and perpetuate these perceptions of and attitudes towards agriculture with – perhaps not deliberate – inadvertent, negative imaging of the sector. It is not unusual to see or hear feature and news stories in print and electronic media that tell of “the once sleepy agricultural village is now awakening to development (read: non-agro based industries). In effect, there is no culture of agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago.
The media is one of the most powerful modern engines for creating, nurturing and sustaining tastes, perceptions, habits and beliefs. As a creative catalyst, an agent of culture, and a stimulant of public opinion, it is recognizably best positioned to reversing such attitudes and approaches that have worked against the sector. But the limitations on media as an institution in the region are not much different from those of the agriculture sector. It too views itself as disempowered and functioning with limited capacity, resources and investments in its professional development. Perhaps we need to turn the spotlight not just on what journalists can do – which has already received considerable attention – but what agriculturalists can do to empower themselves by increasing their capacities to use media in their outreach.
It is a fact that the media is attracted to power and success like insects to a source of light. Empowering the agriculture sector to utilise the wide array of media tool and opportunities is key to attracting media attention to agriculture. The agriculture sector has to develop and establish strong bonds with conventional mass media as well as explore the potential of expanding outreach and impact through new (e.g internet) and alternative (performance arts) media. Agriculture must reach out to create understanding and awareness and then a one-to-one approach – reporter to agriculturalist – rather than trying to convert the entire media. The sector will also benefit if it develops its own expertise in journalism; package products, feed articles and stories to media outlets and filter its expertise through the system as editors, producers, reporters and opinion leaders, for example. In addition it should draw on the opportunities for citizen journalism and the kind of target community the online social and professional networking channels provide.
Such a proactive approach will help project an image of an empowered sector and help counter negative imaging. Support by new technology and with the objective of gaining fuller control over content and message will enable the sector to target its audiences and readership in a more systematic way and emerge from the niche into which it has been squeezed by the conventional media. One particularly effective mechanism for stimulating media interest and awareness is the outdoor outing. Taking journalists away from the daily grind of the office to field projects. At the same time, there is enormous potential in training and using the sector’s ready cadre of extension officers – already experts in transferring technical scientific information accessible to lay farmers/communities – to be effective conduits of information, potential media liaisons, and agricultural stringers and journalists.
In an ideal world, the media may train or seek out journalists with expertise in agricultural reporting, but given its own resource limitations, and the reality that media managers have not yet seen this as a necessity, the agricultural sector can well capitalise on and create its own opportunities for public outreach by growing its own journalists.

Skewed development vision in CHOGM concept paper …Imbalanced attention to key drivers: culture, gender and rural development

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Despite its very clear identification of Commonwealth challenges, and its theme Partnering for a More Equitable and Sustainable Future, the CHOGM concept paper gives unequal focus to its three key words, ‘partnering, equitable, and sustainable.’ The paper is heavily slanted to climate change, almost to the oblivion of all else, and even that is skewed to the perspective that all the world’s ensuing problems will arise from the climate change phenomenon. This constitutes a business-as-usual, plaster-on-the-sore approach that holds the symptoms for the cause.
It ignores the reality that anticipated challenges from changing climate patterns are really manifestations of the continued imposition of culturally alien financial and other systems on many of the world’s communities, unbalanced economic development, neglect of the contributions of women and girls, and inequitable investments in the largely rural-based agricultural sectors in favour of close-to-the-nose urban sectors.
The paper’s approach is analogous to the get-rich-quick models that spiraled the financial crisis in the first instance; the failures that have arisen from focus on economic security at the expense of food security; and the disrespect for home-grown, culturally evolved modes of coping with life’s challenge that have excluded large segments of the world’s peoples from an equal share of development — spring-factors that will exacerbate the impacts of climate change, not the other way around!
The concept can certainly benefit from strengthened emphasis on the need for integrated and multi/cross sectoral approaches that promote balance and equity and that recognise different notions and cultures of development that can add enormously to solutions for the current crises of finance, food security, water and land management, soil conservation, rising temperatures and ocean levels.
As it treats with climate change, there is need in the concept for dedicated attention through paragraphs that:
1. recognise that peoples’ cultures are central and pivotal to development around which all else orbits if there is to be widespread buy-in-to the Millennium Development Goals;
2. account for the conditions of and contributions of two-thirds of the Commonwealth—who are women and children—as key starting points (not endpoints) to reversing the horrifying imbalances of poverty, malnourishment, child and maternal mortality that will be aided and alleviated through – not token – but revisionist priority positioning of agriculture, food security and rural in the Commonwealth and others’ development agendas.
This would go a long way to help right the lopsided vision in the concept, clouded as it is by climate change as the looming tsunami bearing down on the world, by sharpening its focus on the real subjects of the MDGs: the neglected communities that huddle on tsunami-endangered coastlines, farmers who are squeezed onto precarious hillside to produce the world’s food as concrete encroach on prime agriculture lands and the plight of the disadvantaged, including women and children.