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The habits of responsibility

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The late CLR James once remarked it was a feature of Caribbean societies that though we are the product of a convergence of ancient cultures, we do not yet exhibit their longstanding civic habits and practices.

I looked and could not find the exact reference and so risk the possibility of some bookish hack providing more precise words. But I believe this interpretation, in essence, captures his sentiment.

It may also appear to run counter to James’ assertion that our (now prior) mastery of the game of cricket closely matched the aesthetic of ancient Greek sporting culture. I think it might as well have been that through our penchant for mimicry we splendidly outdid ourselves for a period of time … but not anymore. To compare the fall of West Indies cricket with the collapse of Athenian hegemony would be to stretch the metaphor to the extreme limit of self-delusion.

Incidentally, I am also of the view that cricketing affairs constitute a costly anomaly on the Caricom agenda and are almost absolutely irrelevant to much of what confronts us as independent states jointly making our way in the world. Consider, as well, the estrangement of countries such as Belize, the Bahamas, Haiti and Suriname from the high-fiving, backslapping old boys’ club. But, more on that on another occasion.

Increasingly, nowadays, this observation about habits and practice by the late, great Caribbean thinker comes to mind any time I consider the ease with which we transition from fiasco to fiasco in T&T and indeed in our regional neighbourhood.

The bacchanal list is long and spans every single political administration over our 56 years of declared independence. It appears that while we have been able to construct the civil service and physical infrastructures descriptive of institutional functionality, we have exhibited a patent inability to get them to work as they should.

Last Sunday, I asked Lennox Grant about the curious use of quotation marks around the word “institution” in his newspaper column when used to describe the judiciary, the police and others. The music was loud, but what I think I got from him was that use of the term served as linguistic validation for a status such arrangements did not quite deserve.

I still believe though that the civic structure to distinguish us from savages exists to the extent that we have been able to only begin the modelling of the institutions of a coherent state. But it is still true that these institutions are best known for dysfunction rather than their ability to meet constitutional obligations and that the missing ingredients for success are those intrinsic habits of a mature culture.

Had we reached the point of anything more than routine functionality, there would be no question about the fate of inept and crooked politicians, incompetent and corrupt police officers, incapable senior public servants and government officials and, dishonourable members of the justice system.

So, our Port Authority displays incompetence and only now has its chairman resigned. And this has nothing to do with who is specifically to be blamed for the travesty delivered on the people of Tobago. It has to do with the habit of taking responsibility and, through longstanding practice, following what ought to have been honourable precedent.

It’s there, as well, with the sabbatical issue and the chief justice. How could this ever have become the stuff of fiasco and confusion? An “institution” founded on an ability to interpret law and regulation becoming the subject of amateurish imprecision and a lack of clarity on a single rule to govern its own conduct.

I also had the misfortune to witness the recent proceedings of the Joint Select Committee of parliament on the process for selection of a Commissioner of Police and recognised the same thing. Fiasco piled upon fiasco involving a process criminally delayed by close to six years.

Newness as a nation together with our slave and colonial past cannot be used interminably as a reason for not being able to build strong, functional state institutions occupied by capable and responsible human beings.

Grant’s quotation marks merit critical examination.


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