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IN THE CANDID CORNER – Profound mouthings

Matthew D. Farley

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The Caribbean has creative capacity . . . . What is required is the political will . . . . The question is, will the will come before the catastrophe? – Sir Ronald Saunders, Caribbean DiplomatWhile many countries across this region prepare for the revelry associated with their major festivals, this is taking place against the backdrop of two key comments made by a former Prime Minister and the region’s most recently elected female leader. Given the options of commenting on the futility associated with the regional festivals characterised by gay abandonment and lewdness of the lowest kind or on the continued failure of West Indies cricket, my choice has been to focus on something that has greater potential to take the region forward. The first relates to comments made by the recently elected prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad Bissessar. Described as the tough-talking, sunny-smiling, stylish and nimble dancing new “kid on the leaders’ block”, she is credited with having dared Caricom leaders and for “cutting big men down to size” (T&T News, July, 15). Her comments are being interpreted in some quarters as speaking to a different agenda for Trinidad and Tobago in the region. She put it: “A lot of money has been shelled out by T&T with no accountability, no transparency. We just cannot continue to do things that way and each time there is a shortfall, we cannot continue like T&T is an ATM card . . . . You come in, you put in the card there, and you come back with cash.
It just cannot happen anymore.” I am not too young to recall the days when regional governments borrowed money from the coffers of Trinidad and Tobago to pay their civil servants in hard times. The relationship between the Errol Barrow regime was so close and good that a telephone call was all that was necessary to seal the deal. Whether or not the lone female regional head of state understands the profound nature of her mouthings is not yet clear, but time will surely tell. While addressing a luncheon in Miami, she is reported to have said that “previous promises perpetuated dependencies rather than promoting accountability, responsibility and independence”. A former leader, who should know, P.J. Patterson of Jamaica, was quick to distance the country which he led from “lining up” for Trinidad’s largesse. In the Trinidad Express, the newly appointed Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley slammed Bissessar’s comments as an “insult” to Caricom leaders and projects that they could even cost Trinidad citizens their jobs. Whatever might be the implications of her comments, Kamla Persad-Bissessar was certainly a breath of fresh air at the Jamaica summit. Only time will tell whether her “ATM” comments will leave anything on which regional leaders can draw or will simply be nothing more than another “puff” of “hot air” blown at the region’s most prestigious “talk shop”. The second comment that attracted my interest was attributed to our immediate former Prime Minister Owen Seymour Arthur. Arthur was speaking at the Caribbean Development Bank, Wildey, St Michael, on Wednesday during the launch of Don’t Burn Our Bridges: The Case For Owning Airlines, a book by LIAT chairman Dr Jean Holder. Mr Arthur cites the problem as that of “insular nationalism” which he said has “become so embedded and institutionalised”. Mr Arthur believes it is “a deeply emotional issue . . . standing in the way of serious progress”. In fact he feels “the region has retreated” and that this state of affairs represents “a modern crisis” and might be the price we are paying for independence. It is perhaps ironic that while Kamla Persad-Bissessar is speaking about holding the resources of the twin-island republic “close to her bosom”, Barbados’ former Prime Minister of 14 years is deeply concerned about the extent to which our region has retreated. In terms of a regional airline, we continue “to fly all of eggs in one basket”. West Indies Cricket is a global embarrassment and not even the distinguished regionalists can fix the “the pitch”. Ironically, the CCJ is headquartered in Port-of-Spain, but Madame Bissessar has given notice that Trinidad’s participation it is not a priority. The great regionalists, including William Demas, must be turning in their graves as the regional integration movement continues to totter at the knees. In 2008, Dr Ralph Gonsalves lamented that Caricom was “shackled by the ghosts from the federal referendum”, and that unity “remained a distant dream”. Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s mouthings might have driven a further nail in the coffin that will see the “engrained insularity” of which Owen Arthur speaks spell the death knell of the indispensable regional integration movement. The fact is that the mathematics of the regional integration movement has remained unchanged in 37 years, as one from ten will continue to leave zero.•Matthew D. Farley is an educator, a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and a social commentator