Are we a failed state?

Let me answer at once: no, emphatically not. People who mindlessly hurl this accusation — and many of them know better — are almost always in the political opposition (whichever party it be) and seeking to demonise the government (whichever party is in office) for perceived or actual weaknesses.

They have never seen a failed state. I have, more than one, and they’re not a pretty sight. I agree with Hamid Ghany (Sunday Guardian, August 27) when he says “we are (nowhere) close to that when compared to the reality of failed states in other parts of the world.”

But don’t take my word or Ghany’s on this. The Washington-based Fund for Peace publishes an annual Fragile States Index (it used to be called the Failed States Index). The fund calls the FSI “a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are outweighing a state’s capacity to manage those pressures.”

The fund uses 12 conflict risk indicators “to measure the condition of a state at any given moment.” The 12 are placed three each under four headings. They are cohesion (security apparatus, factionalised elites, group grievance), economic (economic decline, uneven development, human flight), political (state legitimacy, public services, human rights), and social (demographics, refugees and internally displaced people, external intervention).

The 2017 FSI ranks 178 countries from the worst (South Sudan at No1) to the best (Finland at No178). Trinidad and Tobago is tied with Mongolia at No128, rated as better than a slew of Eastern European countries, including Russia, and two Western European, Cyprus and Greece. (We’re also better than Israel and Turkey.) Among Caribbean countries, we’re better than Belize, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica, but worse than Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Barbados.

No, we aren’t considered a basket case, but we could certainly improve. Rather, there are worrying signs of decline. If you judge by the indicators mentioned above, you have to be concerned about, say, our security apparatus, uneven development, economic slowdown, and public services. I don’t propose to analyse all those areas now, but I join Ghany in the one he delicately calls “functional institutional challenges.”

It’s something I’ve been writing and speaking about for a long time now. I published my first article on the subject in April 1995, inspired by then Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s assault on the service commissions system, which he described as a creation of imperialism foisted on all Britain’s former colonies; it had outlived its usefulness, he fumed.

I described his charge of British imposition, at least where TT was concerned, as “bereft of historical accuracy.”

On the contrary, I said, it was our then PM-designate, Eric Williams, “who made sure that the provisions on service commissions were included in the Constitution being drafted for the impending independence of the country.”

Why? Because Williams understood that “one major way to help defuse (the) tension (that existed then in TT) and lessen accusations of political interference was to make it constitutionally clear that politicians were not going to be directly involved in the transfer, promotion etc of public servants; there should be a buffer which should be independent and seen to be so.”

In other words, Williams saw the importance of the institution as one of the indispensable bases of the nation-in-making.

Yes, there are deficiencies in the service commissions arrangement, and they must be corrected. But the decline of many of our other institutions has been public and palpable.

We’ve all been witnessing the recent cock-ups: the Judicial and Legal Service Commission ole mas, with its negative impact on the Judiciary; the apparently deliberate denial of natural justice by the Defence Force to one of its former chiefs; botched Cabinet appointments; a Parliament which revels in finger-pointing, to the detriment of the people it is supposed to be representing; government bodies which parade incompetence and callousness regarding crucial inter-island sea transport; and so on.

It is particularly frightening that many of the people directly responsible for maintaining and strengthening our institutions are the very ones whose actions are damaging those institutions.

Without strong institutions, and consequent good governance, we may eventually slide into the fragile-state category.

We should learn from today’s USA. That country’s institutions are standing up to, and pushing back against, the incoherence, bullying and egoism coming out of Washington DC.

If we are not careful, if we do not recognise that, as citizens, we have responsibilities as well as the rights we are always so quick to proclaim, and that, as part of those responsibilities, we must constantly monitor and guard our institutions, we open the road to further and more rapid descent.

And that would be our fault, no one else’s.


"Are we a failed state?"

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