As the nation approaches the annual celebration of Independence Day, no one doubts the strides we have made since 1962. And no one doubts the tremendous challenges we face as a people.
One person who is in a prime position to understand those challenges is Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who, over the weekend, sought to set a more relaxed and jovial tone as we approach this week’s Independence Day commemorations. The Prime Minister attended a book launch for the latest publication of calypsonian Chalkdust and spent a few hours as a guest DJ at i95FM.
The last time a Prime Minister stormed a radio station was in 2008 when then Patrick Manning decided to visit Radio 94.1FM to complain about a broadcast. This time around, however, the “storming” comprised only good vibes.
In a sign of how times have changed, on Friday night Rowley praised Manning for establishing the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), the body that has published Liverpool’s latest book. Then, at the radio station on Saturday, the Prime Minister spent two hours taking calls from the public and co-hosting ‘The Barbershop’ program with John Benoit.
It is good that the Prime Minister has shown us a relaxed, positive side. The transmission of optimism by the head of the Government, who holds the grave responsibility of steering us through difficult times, inspires confidence that all is not lost. Indeed, now more than ever we need to be reminded of the good things that are happening in our country. Amid the serious global issues facing us, we need to have hope in order to be inspired to move forward to address the matters that call out for attention.
The Prime Minister’s endorsement of Chalkdust is an endorsement of the artform the nine-time Calypso Monarch embodies. That is an art-form that is truthful and unbiased, holds no punches, and that sees the small man hold those in power accountable. Or at least that is what calypso, at its finest, should be.
It is also notable that Rowley – the author of his own memoir From Masonhall to Whitehall – has supported a local book publication. His call for citizens to support Chalkdust’s UTT-published book should be just the start. He should similarly endorse other local publications and, if he is so minded, continue to support aspects of our culture by attending further events and even co-hosting radio programs on a diverse range of radio stations.
It is hoped the Prime Minister, who in April committed to possibly considering a review of VAT on books, will in the next Parliamentary term disclose the result of this review, if it has taken place. Perhaps this is a matter that Finance Minister Colm Imbert will speak to come Budget Day.
Though he struck a jovial note over the weekend, the Prime Minister was also candid in his assessment of the biggest challenge facing the nation. In his estimation, corruption at all levels of the State, from the highest to the lowest, remains deeply problematic. This is a startling admission from the head of the Cabinet. With lingering questions over matters such as the Marlene McDonald affair and the sea-ferry matter, how the issue of corruption will be tackled is one citizens will be monitoring carefully.
In relation to the fraught sea-bridge issue, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan has already said heads will roll if any wrong-doing is found. Rowley has made clear his view that all indicators point to something crooked.
We wish the Prime Minister well as he embarks on his regular medical checkup. It is clear he will need all his strength to lead this nation, not only through the good times but also the challenging days ahead.