By Phillip Edward Alexander
A lot that has been said into the public domain about the purpose of the gathering that became the Round Table that was deliberately skewed to sell an agenda and, as one who was present right up to the collapse, I thought I would document that brief bit of history so that other things could be seen with more clarity. Even though I refer to the end as I know it as 'The Collapse,' the Round Table in name attempted to continue on after that break, but all that was left was the PNM and the unions pretending to be what they could never be, a representation of a diverse cross section of society. Theirs was a literal gathering of special interests, but more on that as we go on.
Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
This is the first of a three part series 'Why the Round Table Collapsed,' aptly entitled 'The Beginning.'
There will be two other installments – 'The March,' and the 'Collapse.'
There was an almost palpable unrest in the society when it was learnt that the noble Section 34 of the Indictable Offences Act that was created as a pressure valve to release the poor and forgotten trapped more than ten years in the justice system, who still had no end or conclusion for their matters in sight, was also going to benefit former financiers of the government wanted in connection with crimes committed in the construction of the Piarco Airport project. Caused due to either the accidental or deliberate omission of white collar crimes from the Schedule that listed those crimes that would not be covered by Section 34 (rape, murder, etc), this 'error' galvanized the public against the government and led to two noteworthy events.
The first of these two events was the government's immediate response in that the Parliament was convened and the law repealed with retroactive intent, demonstrating conclusively the power of the voice of the people.
The second event was more subtle, and it is only in hindsight can one recognize the conspiracy that attempted to harness this people's response using subterfuge to turn it over to the political opposition desperately in need of life support. Everything I am about to say can be verified by published history.
When David Abdulah of the Movement for Social Justice called me for a meeting I, like many others (as I have since learnt), never suspected that he was functioning as an agent of a People's National Movement coalition created in secret, nor was I aware of that group's bigger intentions. The picture he painted for me was one of a 'coming together' of civil society groups to guide the nation to a better place, and as one of the strongest voices currently active in that realm he thought that I should be part of it.
Naïve and flattered by the recognition and the accolades, I agreed to assist in the stroking of my own ego and to attend. The first meeting felt like what you expect the gathering of heroes in a movie to be like, the greeting of 'names' never before gathered in one space and to be honest it felt like it really did have the power to do good. See why I referred to myself as naïve?
Recognizing and being recognized, hands were shook and embraces returned as we all milled around the lobby of the Normandie Hotel in full glare of the gathering media throng, and while some of us were uneasy over the presence of the political leader of the People's National Movement (dressed down in shirtsleeves like the rest of us), his presence was so subdued and underplayed so as to render him and them (his team) almost harmless.
With a voice elevated above the hum of the room the leader of the MSJ summoned us all to the convention room where we all took seats around a square round table, with the MSJ taking central control of one table, the unions to the right of them, the PNM to the left of them, and the rest of us in the remaining space. A sheet of paper was passed around cementing our 'togetherness' in the harmless camaraderie of the exchange of names, addresses and telephone numbers, and the conversation was led off in earnest.
Most notable in that first meeting were two civil society groups who immediately rang an alarm bell that some of us failed to heed, and looking back I realize now that there are always guides for those who want to be guided.
Be sure to tune in for Part Two - The March.