PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes has said the public is tired of politicians’ “hackneyed excuses, promises of action and sob stories of doing one’s best…with nothing to show for it.”
She said the population is naturally optimistic, and the only reason many people have become jaded is the “repeated distractions, obfuscation and outright lies” by successive administrations.
She made these accusations in a forthright New Year message to the nation on Thursday, saying it allowed her to speak for and on behalf of citizens who have “entirely reasonable” concerns, since: “While the government of the day may well have some of these matters in its sights, those in the kitchen are feeling the heat daily.”
They are fobbed off, she charged, and are “not sympathetic” to the excuses, promises and “sob stories of doing one’s best, which they have heard ad nauseam.”
As well as telling the truth and taking action, she insisted, except in the interest of national security, public officials must stop being so secretive, paranoid and dismissive of citizens’ anxieties.
“They make decisions and take action under our authority and on our behalf,” she declared, “and we are therefore entitled to be kept in the loop about relavant developments.”
As a result of the politicians’ contrary approach, she said, people have become “jaded and sceptical” about public matters.
Some occurrences of this behaviour in 2020, she said, included (public) procurement (the legislation on which was recently amended), border security and the exemption process for nationals stuck abroad by the covid19 pandemic.
But like Caesar’s wife, she said, “Those in authority must be above suspicion and reproach in all their dealings.”
Promises, she said, like Stalin’s Better Days are Coming, ring hollow “without some demonstrable proof that those who are charged with the responsibility of improving our lives and addressing our issues are on the job, working assiduously to formulate and execute plans, policies and programmes that redound to our benefit in the short, medium and long terms. Open communication and total transparency are integral to any such approach.”
She called on public officials to give the public a reason to look forward to the new year.
“The term ‘talking turkey’ means engaging in honest and frank discussion and now that the season of eating turkey is past, it is time to talk turkey as we move into 2021, dragging our problems behind us.
“Let us with urgency have those national conversations followed by the necessary action, or else…we will still be haunted by the ghosts of 2020.”
Each year, she said, she receives “countless letters” from citizens, some of which are philosophical, while others are “commentative or side-splitting.”
One was from a writer identified only as “Robert,” who “just this week e-mailed me with the subject line: A Date, inviting me to have dinner with him.”
But not all of these letters are pleasant.
“Of greater concern, however, are the plaintive, angry or desperate letters, whose writers are sometimes incoherent in their pain.
“Invariably, they are asking me to provide them with relief from adversity, ranging from the perennial issues of crime, racism and joblessness, to the new challenges on the block – illegal immigration, stranding abroad, and closure of businesses.”
She said she could not provide solutions to the issues those people were facing, owing to constitutional limitations.
“I cannot direct the Minister of National Security to open the borders, nor instruct the HDC (Housing Development Corporation) to supply housing for a single mother with six children. I cannot unilaterally pardon a convict and Commander-in-Chief or not, I cannot give anyone a job in the TT Defence Force.”
Instead she said, “I empathise with the authors, for which many express their gratitude, inform them of my constraints and let them know that I will forward their correspondence to the relevant authority with a request for due consideration.”
She said one of the President’s roles is to ensure people’s problems remain “front and centre of the national agenda.”
In this context, she explained, “I do not consider the office a soapbox for my personal views as much as a platform from which to speak truth to power.”
Looking forward to 2021 and the prospect of vaccines agsinst covid19, Weekes also said it was an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and to raise an optimistic toast to a safe, health and happy New Year.