The recent noisy contestation between TT Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria and Dr Keith Rowley exposes how the two-edged sword today’s communication technology can be.
This includes WhatsApp, Facebook, even e-mail accounts.
The conflict between Mr Faria and the PM raises serious issues, three being the relationship between business and politics, freedom of speech and the changed nature of mass media. Each one, like the right to privacy itself, fluctuates between limits.
The Faria-Rowley contest should be used as a lesson for shaping government-business relations even if the business organisation feels strong enough not only to withstand political pressure but help effect a change in government.
This has happened before, especially with election financing. A government depends on the private sector for its development programmes. And as well, large parts of the business sector depend on government for operating or developing business.
What political consequences the Faria-Rowley contestation will have remain to be seen or not seen. These are crossroad times, with Rowley biting the bullet and Kamla Persad-Bissessar courageously striving to correct her “past mistakes” by corruption-free candidate selection.
Using WhatsApp, Mr Faria expressed strong opinions about this county’s party politics. Questioning the “responsible and ethical behaviour of politicians,” he said they have “no interest in treating either the citizens or business with respect or fairly.” Their one interest is "to win the elections at all cost.”
His firecracker conclusion: “I am disgusted with the behaviour/disdain/apathy displayed by both parties,” meaning the PNM and UNC.
WhatsApp privacy got broken, such that Faria’s views reached Dr Rowley who replied with his own bombshell, accusing Faria of “trying to influence voters with his dismissive shallowness whilst being very disrespectful to the country’s leadership.”
He described Faria as “a disrespectful mouth with precious little value," etc.
The sideline dispute was whether or not Faria was entitled to his “private views” as Chamber CEO. Rowley said no. Ms Persad-Bissessar gave no response except once again to question Rowley’s temperament.
Publicly pressured by the PM, Faria apologised with the excuse that he experienced “growing frustration as a key advocate of business.” The Chamber refused to accept his resignation.
Dr Rowley should have captured the opportunity to talk about private-sector contribution to the national economy. However, there seemed more on his mind about the business sector than Faria, for example, his disappointment with the business partnership he sought for housing.
Similarly, Faria’s “growing frustrations” should be packaged and presented as a business-sector position. Given the very serious problems facing this country after covid-19 and elections – from increased taxes, overloaded loans, broken infrastructure, a failed education system, etc – the business sector will have to play a major part in reconstruction.
Facebook gives you a fair measure of the convictions and embedded loyalties existing among the different parties. The political exchanges in addictive Facebook, far beyond what mainstream media provide, operate as underground intelligence. Its content uncovers much of what mainstream media either miss or refuse to publish. Facebook provides instant right or wrong opinions, news, disrespectful cross-talk, prejudice and stereotyping, even an obscenity now and then. You also have holy advice, entertainment, humour, enticing rumours and gossip, advertisements, public relations overdose that stifles real problems. It’s fascinating.
Hear attorney Clyde Weatherhead on Facebook: “What really going on at the THA? THA bought 2 failed hotels at $32m. Now the Chief Secretary wants to spend another $10m to fix the Manta Ray lodge the THA bought for $8m. Why did the THA intervene and then do nothing for years incurring more expenditure for security?”
Other Facebook warriors noted tourism as “a failed, heavily subsidised project,” the missing $8 million for airline payments, etc.
Then there are repeated complaints about praedial larceny and police failure. Satu-Ann Indira Ramcharan sometimes tries to “correct” Vinda RamSingh’s anti-PNM comments.
Among the other lively warriors are Joel Julien, Dave Surajdeen, Niala Maharaj, Darryl Heeralal, Lily Ramgarib, Teresa White, Diana Newsam – a lot more keeping the momentum going.
Take it or leave it in the new world of untamed democracy. The Facebook threat to mainstream media is seen in the extent to which they seek to absorb social media into their publications. Dr Rowley and Mr Faria got caught.