12 Dec 2010

Dukes, Nizams and other rulers

I have always held that there is an indisputable link, at least in small countries like ours, between any perceived breakdown of law and order and the behaviour of the wider society, particularly those described by the late Lloyd Best as the validating elites.

The point is that it is difficult for our so-called leaders to prescribe appropriate behaviour for others and to preach about the lack of discipline when their own conduct is inappropriate and ill-disciplined. This phenomenon is neatly summed up in the Trini phrase "if de priest could play, who is we?"

In the course of a recent contribution to the American Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago's Annual Conference on the theme of Responsible Governance, I indicated that I personally do not like the concept of "law and order" because it suggests crime and punishment and detaches the question how law and order is to be effective from behaviour in the wider society.

At the Chamber, I chose a polite example. "If the society, including those who allegedly should know better, think nothing of slipping things past the customs every time they come from a trip abroad, then immediately we have a problem. It becomes difficult to say that we are an honest society if all of us are slipping things past the customs, and they may be small things, but it is a mentality thing. I regret to say that what has been described as lawlessness is as much a part of our mentality as it is part of the nuts and bolts of the administration of justice."

The Commissioner of Police, Mr Dwayne Gibbs, spoke before me and he referred to "driving while impaired". I took that as another example of something which is in fact widely accepted as an alright thing to do and typical of the contradiction that runs tight through the fabric of our society. I suggested that "it is going to be very difficult to bring people around to the idea that we must be a more sober society or indeed that our youth should be less sexually driven if we blindly accept that it is part of our culture to drink, to jock your waist and to jam she."

I insist that there is a link between culture, meaning the way we live, and law and order. Any solutions that we are going to fashion to make the society more law abiding have to address social and cultural context. This is where the Dukes, the Nizams and the other rulers, come in.

I had intended to attempt a satirical column this week called the Duke of Watson using Watson as a mythical country in which the Duke regularly prevents ordinary citizens from conducting their business in Government offices and the Government does not think it necessary to put some alternative service in place.

However I cannot expend too many words on the Duke of Watson because the Nizam of the Police Realm surpassed the Duke of Watson in grabbing our attention, while graphically exemplifying another unfortunate link between our culture and our indiscipline.

An endemic feature of life in Trinidad and Tobago is that moving up in society supposedly frees one from the restricted status of ordinary mortal. We have elevated such a freedom to the status of VVIP, the phrase VIP being an insufficient designation of rank and importance in what is sometimes a silly, small island society. Persons who "move up" to VVIP status feel insulted if they ever have to buy a ticket or park with the plebs when attending an event.

In the case of the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, whatever the rudeness he alleges he suffered, it was an abuse of the privilege of having direct telephone access to the Commissioner of Police granted by virtue of his office, to seek to have any member of the police top brass intervene in a dispute with policemen on traffic duty.

An account of the many inconsistencies between the bad examples set and the requirement that we should be law abiding citizens, which showed up in the last week, would not be complete without reference to the quarrel in the Parliament Chamber between Mr Anil Roberts and Dr Amery Browne about politicians being linked to the purveying of unsuitable lyrics to youthful audiences. This a valid subject for debate but will any intelligent person stay tuned when Roberts attempts to equate the use of Minaj with the use of Sizzla?

The fact is that most of our politicians uniformly follow, or lower further, the low standards which they themselves set.

One Sport Minister's flag is another one's dutty concert. One side shuts down Gopeesingh, the other side shuts down Browne. The kicksing in Parliament worsens and together with the Dukes and Nizams and the Minaj users provide loud encouragement to the growing number of anti-social elements in the Republic.

This week’s column from Martin Daly.