Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quo Vadis Trinbago?: Taking Ourselves Forward

The elections are over. Hopefully there will soon be a cleanup of all the campaign posters pasted up on every lamp-post and wall available. My wish for such a clean-up is not only literal but also symbolic. This is not to say that now we get to resume our affairs with a clean slate. It is simply that an election, like every transition, natural or contrived, in human affairs, marks a time when we can try to take a step outside ourselves and make assessments of where we are and where we ought to go.

Of course, some of the answers to these questions should have come up during the campaign season. Needless to say, for the incumbents, the PNM, we were doing fine and moving on to further glory. For the challengers, the UNC-A and the COP, we were in a sorry state, with the way to sure glory being attained only by the removal of the PNM. And somewhere betwixt these two divergent views lies the truth.

We all know now that the status quo has prevailed. The incumbents have returned to office; the opposition remains… well…the opposition. And what about the promised glory? It should be instructive to us that the term utopia, that ideal and perfect place conjured up in the mind of Sir Thomas More, was derived from the combination of two Greek terms meaning respectively ‘no place’ and ‘good place’ and was an island. I guess with a bit of wry wit we can wonder then, whether our promised glory is some ‘no good’ place: but then that would lead us to a dystopia, a place on the other end of the spectrum of mythical worlds, where surely none would like to go.

We are just over a decade from the PNM’s destined date for us of achieving ‘developed status.’ But what really is this concept of developed status that we seek? According to the WTO (World Trade Organization) there are no definitions for the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries for its member nations. Members have the prerogative to declare themselves as any of these descriptions as they wish.

However, under the Agreement to Establish the World Trade Organization, developing countries are singled out as targets to be the beneficiaries of international trade. So if in just over a decade’s time we declare ourselves 'developed' this is one privilege we will lose. Although arguably some may ask, “What privilege?”

Also without a ‘developed nation’ definition, the OECD's (Organization for Economic Development ) Glossary of Statistical Terms (last updated Oct. 2005) simply presents the well known list of developed countries as:

“Japan in Asia, Canada and the United States in northern America, Australia and New Zealand in Oceania and Europe are considered “developed” regions or areas. In international trade statistics, the Southern African Customs Union is also treated as a developed region and Israel as a developed country; countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia are treated as developing countries; and countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR countries in Europe are not included under either developed or developing regions.”

Glaringly absent from the 'developed' list is China, which was listed as the world’s fourth largest economy according to a Reuters Sept. 2007 report.

But development as we all now recognize, is not essentially about money but about people and the quality of life they enjoy; hence the HDI or Human Development Index, a "way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index." ..."The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called goalposts, and then shows where each country stands in relation to these goalposts, expressed as a value between 0 and 1." (Trinidad and Tobago ranks at number 57 out of 177 nations on the UNDP's - United Nations Development Programme -world HDI lisitng).

Some of the 'quality of life' bugbears that are on the top of our list include the high crime rate, the need for more and improved health facilities and traffic congestion. Surely there are others, but perhaps tackling at least these three in a thorough fashion can put us on a firm footing on the glory road to development. For development, a thriving economy with money overflowing from our tills and pockets, is untenable, if we are constantly ever fearful of bandits and kidnappers. Development is untenable, without healthy citizens, healthy in mind and body. Development is untenable, if we are all choking from the exhaust fumes of our vehicles on equally choked roadways.

We should all start thinking of what we want our ‘developed status’ to look like and perhaps establish some district repositories for citizens’ ideas for later retrieval and implementation by our local and central government leaders . This seems akin to what the Community of Democracies (CD) countries is about. “The CD is an intergovernmental coalition of democracies and democratizing countries with a stated commitment to strengthening and promoting democratic norms and practices worldwide” (Trinidad and Tobago is a member of the CD) and whose theme for its Fourth Ministerial Conference to be held in Bamako, Mali, November 14-17, 2007 is Democracy and Development.

One of the more recent and acclaimed books on development is Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems, by Canadian author Steve Waddell. (Of course, I have ensured to include the book's subtitle here to make the point of my mentioning it more self-evident) Mr. Waddell’s thesis is essentially that through change in ourselves as individuals, and change in the way the three key systems that make up our societies — the political system (government), economic system (business) and social system (civil society) function, there can be a new framework upon which change can be initiated and flourish.

The book makes the argument that for change to come about “The critical contribution is creating new relationships between people and organisations that traditionally would not interact but in fact have common interests.”

‘Change in ourselves’ and ‘creating new relationships’ certainly seem like good starts toward 'developed status.' And while we choose governments and rely and look to them to help take us to such a level, these are activities we can each commence for ourselves, without awaiting new and recurrent promises of roads toward glory, every five years.

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