Among the believers

POLITICIANS like to tell us the voice of the people is the voice of God. But sometimes one gets the sense they take this a little too much to heart.

In the last three months of the five-year Parliament, the State announced $30 million in grants to a slew of religious organisations.

It is true the ostensible context of these cheques was the covid19 pandemic, which shuttered churches, mosques and divers other sites of spiritual edification. Many were thus deprived of the philanthropy of congregants.

The fact that such bodies were presumed to have their feet on the ground and could identify and assist the genuinely needy meant the State was also asking them to do its job of distributing aid to the vulnerable.

And yet with an election on the horizon, the timing triggered scepticism among the faithful and agnostic alike about the State’s real intention.

Was public money being used to curry favour? Placate a voting bloc? What checks and balances are in place?

“God is watching them,” Minister of Social Development Camille Robinson-Regis told the Doubting Thomases.

“There’s nothing short on transparency here,” assured Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat.

Only blind faith, however, allows us to put aside the troubling matter of the uncomfortable nexus between church and State in TT’s public affairs. It is not just the recent grants, it is also the long history of subsidisation, with very little sense of more than a tokenistic accountability, under successive governments.

It is also the matter of the undue influence such groups have on public policy.

A good example is that the abolition of child marriage was held back for so long – it was finally abolished under the current government – in the belief that this was a sticking point for the three faiths that allowed it.

One prime minister even went as far as to allocate state land to placate a “spiritual adviser,” a gift that would make even the most forgiving public procurement officer blush.

Fast-forward to the current election campaign, brimming with photo opportunities featuring religious bodies and political party leaders.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s attendance at an event hosted by the Ummah TT Muslim Federation on Sunday is but one in a long line that shows just how much politicians value these kinds of organisations.

Meanwhile campaign finance legislation, which could help track favours, though mentioned at last during the Parliament just dissolved, is left in limbo.

Religious freedom is something TT does well. And it is only natural for parties to court believers.

But absent any real examination of whether these bodies are doing what the State wants them to do, it all amounts, in the long run, to what may be an unholy arrangement.


"Among the believers"

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