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When did democracy disappear?

Published: 
Sunday, November 26, 2017

Whither democracy? It seems to have morphed into something that is deceptive and destabilising. Inherent to properly functioning democracies are engaged and informed citizens who elect their representatives and government in a system of free and fair elections, protects their rights, and paramount is their right to equality before the law.

However, is that the reality? If we were to reflect on those principles and the earliest progenitors of a very rudimentary system of democracy—hunter-gatherers who made decisions by consensus to satisfy their basic needs for food, shelter, and security—one thing becomes clear: Consensus by the majority of the electorate is a fundamental principle in decision making. While the system has evolved over the ages to satisfy the needs of modern humans, what passes for democracy today is like fake oil, a fake.

Some political scientist brand the system that has emerged neo or new-liberalism, the progenitor of a new-globalisation that integrates markets facilitated by deregulation and technology. The roots of globalisation hail back to the fifteenth century with the spread of colonialism when empires had managed commerce across their colonies through common laws, right up to the middle of the twentieth century. After independence, citizens got the full franchise to elect their governments.

The ubiquitous technology of today that makes borders porous, information instant, and interference in the elections process relatively easy, did not exist then. However, distortions in the process are nothing new, although not as insidious as today because of the

Naparima College, led by principal Dr Michael Dowlath, left yesterday for Antigua where they will represent T&T in the Regional Drama Festival which starts tomorrow. Naparima College were crowned national drama champions with their performance of The Inspectator.pervasiveness of technology and the growth of social media.

With new liberalism, deregulation has fed corporate greed and recklessness especially in financial markets and was culpable in the 2007 economic meltdown. It fuelled exportation of wealth, the growth of offshore havens and tax evasion. The Panama papers revealed the tip of worldwide fraud.

Similar to earlier eras, wealth remains in the hands of a few. Indeed, we should applaud entrepreneurs who risk their capital and make significant contributions to the economy. However, when they leverage their capital to support political campaigns and without transparency, the elections process becomes contaminated, and invariably, governance becomes corrupted because politicians are indebted to their financiers. Is the process free from stealthy influences, and fair?

In our name governments make decisions, but in whose interest it is when projects are awarded to a supplier alleged to be a member of a cartel? Cost aside, as a matter of principle; if a company accuses an employee of fraud, it will suspend the employee, even fire him or her because of loss of trust.

No wonder people are cynical and suspicious of the wealthy one per cent. They are wary of the means of wealth accumulation. The “fake oil” scandal, alleged cartel, and the bailout of financial institutions with no consequences to those who had failed in their duty of care to investors give traction to distrust.

As said earlier, the right to equality of treatment before the law is an essential aspect of a well-functioning democracy. When the law is applied selectively, the system is effectively undermined. The police wreck vendors’ stalls at the roadside, but no one is held culpable when public service workers break the industrial relations law, with impunity. Public services are essential services. A youth caught with marijuana is held to account but casinos that are operating illegally and owing to the treasury “$450 million in taxes” are free to make demands to reduce their taxes.

Millions of people live in poverty, made worse by natural disasters, horrible wars, ethnic cleansing, corporate greed and corrupt governments. Our country produces 10,000 children annually with developmental problems most of whom don’t have access to specialist help. This year alone, reportedly, 13,000 children have been abused. Would they get justice? Is there adequate safe-housing for children at risk? Where are the holistic systems conducive to the rehabilitation of delinquent youth? Indeed, justice is not only blind but deaf and dumb. Whither democracy?

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