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Why I am voting today

Trinidad Express / IT was a supplement in another newspaper the previous Sunday, highlighting the performance of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation over the period 2013-2016 that made me aware, for the first time in three years, that one Hyacinth Johnson was my electoral representative on the Corporation. Back in 2013, Councillor Johnson may have come to my area with a PNM entourage, appealing for my vote in the local government elections, but after that she disappeared into wherever, only to re-emerge in that newspaper supplement claiming that she has represented my area. The story of the “invisible local government councillor” is not peculiar to my area: throughout the country it is the same—persons, with the support of their political parties, appear at your door, appeal for your vote, then disappear, only to re-emerge again at the next election, with spurious performance credits. This is not to single out Ms Johnson. Frankly, at the point of writing, I do not know whether she is in the electoral contest, because so far no contestant from any party has held a meeting in my area, or come by to solicit my vote. Yet, I am being asked as a responsible citizen to exercise my civil responsibility to cast my ballot this morning for some unknown figure in the hope that over the next three years he or she will represent my interest on the Tunapuna/Piarco Corporation. In a moment of sheer cynicism recently, I told a friend that I really did not need any electoral representative; in fact, all I needed was “my garbage to be removed, as promised, couple times a week”. I will admit that her response to me was severe; she verbally cut, sliced and diced my outburst, asking that I apologise for my thoughtlessness. I will admit that I did so quite humbly. I guess my cynicism expressed my historic impatience, with our local government system, which Dr Paul Singh describes his book, Local Democracy in the Commonwealth Caribbean as “piecemeal transplanted British models”, that the plantocracy, the Church, the autocratic Colonial Office, and other forces conspired, in their early formation, to make “weak, corrupt and inert”. In Trinidad and Guyana, he writes, local government models, based upon the English municipal reforms of 1835, were adopted, almost before their effectiveness had been tested there. In the post-World War II period there was what Singh calls “a curious intermixing of diverse forces”, which included the Colonial Office’s hastened attempts to democratise Caribbean local government systems, as a first step towards independent statehood in the islands. But since independence, nothing much has changed in Trinidad; all succeeding governments, through the dominance of their strong political leadership, have centralised power in Port of Spain, which has meant that our local government system has remained “weak, corrupt and inert”. Against this background I will still vote today. I will be voting not for an invisible candidate, who did not respect me and hundreds in my electoral area enough to canvass for our vote, but for the proposals of local government reform. My vote will be, not for my garbage collection, but in the hope that I will see sweeping changes across the national landscape—away from the discarded plastic bottles, bags, car parts, food boxes, rubble, dead dogs, and the filth that we face, every morning. My vote for electoral reform is very specific. I am voting for proposals to reform the system, with a sincere prayer, that those elected would recognise their responsibility to have a clean Trinidad. I sent texts to former works minister Fitzgerald Hinds many times, appealing to him to clean our highways; he promised politely, but never performed. Today, I publicly appeal to the new ministers—Works; and Local Government: “Please clean our country”. The PNM’s reform proposals, as outlined, promise to give executive authority and autonomy to the regional corporations. On paper, this is attractive to the electorate, because it offers devolution, or “development from the ground up” but the question remains whether the persons, who so far have been attracted to office in the regional corporations possess the capability to take those long steps into the 21st century. Nonetheless, I will vote today, because I have faith in the people of T&T. I guess it was the same faith that Comrade Fidel Castro had when he said, after his first failed coup, that “History will absolve me”. Thank you, Fidel, for the example; may your democratic socialist revolution live on!

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