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Institutions the source of our woes'

■ Verdel Bishop

POORLY developed institutions are the root cause of many of the problems Trinidad and Tobago face.

This was the general consensus yesterday during a panel discussion at the Old Fire Station in Port of Spain which focused on race and equality.

Independent Senator Sophia Chote, journalist Sheila Rampersad, activist Attillah Springer, former finance minister Mariano Browne and mediator, activist Colin Robinson, brought various issues to the fore in a panel discussion that was part of a series of activities put on by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Browne said one of our biggest issues is that this country has not spent time developing its institutions, adding that more time should be spent on this. 'We have to look at the strength of our institutions because we have difficulty understanding or putting trust or faith in our institutions and that is the fundamental issue. It's one of the issues that deals with the sense of belonging and sense of trust.

'We make decisions on a rational basis, and we respond to things from an emotional perspective, from the point of view of identity, from the point of view of race which brings us to the fundamental concept of belonging. The development problem ought not to consider race. It is about how we improve citizens in a way that allows society to function and grow. One of the critical issues of doing that is actually to remove the concept of race and treat each person as an individual,' Browne said.

Rampersad said another issue which is at the root of race and equality is the misuse of power. 'At the root of it is that we as a people have not confronted the uncomfortable reality that as individuals and as a people we have a dysfunctional relationship with power because the way in which power has been exercised has not been legitimate.

'We have not respected or have not had experiences of power being legitimately exercised in the service of the people and that sort of manifests in every way, so that the tunic officers in Parliament exercise power that is oppressive and every security guard exercises power in a certain way, executive secretaries to CEOs and chairmen exercise power in their little bubbles because they don't have it otherwise and when they get it they exercise it in that way. When people get authority the first thing they want to do is to fire someone, so our idea of power is generally brutal and antagonistic,' Rampersad said.

Hostile environment Chote said people do not feel free to approach institutions that are set up to serve them. 'We have archaic procedures. You have a court system that is supposed to be open to all citizens but people that have to go there for services are not happy to be there and generally speaking until they face a magistrate who is willing to hear what they have to say, it is a completely hostile environment,' she said.

Springer said many institutions are irrelevant. 'What is the vision that is pushing us towards development? I feel like we are imagining scenarios for a world that no longer exists and the education that our kids are receiving is preparing them for a world that no longer exists. Our institutions continue to be in this sort of fossilised state where they are not relevant to the people or to the environment. They are relevant to nothing and nobody. I keep asking if it's not for us, who is it for?'

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