Interview: President Paula-Mae Weekes
How will further regional integration be achieved, and what role will Trinidad and Tobago play in this?
PAULA-MAE WEEKES: For historical reasons, T&T has traditionally positioned itself as a leader in the region due to a higher degree of economic development. When you are in that type of position, you have a responsibility to move things forward. It is my firm belief that the region would do better working together, rather than as individual island states, especially in the business and economic spheres. Thus, T&T should be constantly looking for opportunities to cement regional associations to ensure that things move smoothly.
In addition, T&T needs to keep an eye on regional development, and make sure that strategies are developed and adjusted as needed. The most obvious example is CARICOM, but I think that we must consider the other countries in the region that are not already part of the organisation, and consider how to bring non-CARICOM states into the fold so that we can leverage our strengths when dealing with our larger neighbours.
What role should women play in the structural transformation of the region?
WEEKES: Running a country is not that different from running a household; there is a budget, urgent needs that need prioritising, and one must do one’s best to satisfy all the members of the household. The kind of multitasking that your average wife or mother has to achieve gives women a particular skill set that men sometimes lack. Men have had the luxury of coming through the system in a very unfocused way, while not being called upon to pay attention to all the peripheral things that are happening and figure out how they are going to work that successfully into the whole picture. I think that is a woman’s strength.
I think women must now take the opportunity to achieve gender balance in all aspects of life. When all else is equal, women in positions of authority should look to put other women in posts of high responsibility in order to accomplish some sort of equivalence. On this front, I have no doubt that the region will undergo substantial change after Mia Mottley’s election as prime minister of Barbados. We now are coming into our own, and the doors to power are open a little wider. Women will be taking their rightful places in organisations – and it will no longer be a surprise to persons in positions of power – which will help in moulding our societies.
How can the ethnic and religious heterogeneity of T&T be fostered and leveraged for the country’s development and advancement?
WEEKES: We see all the fruits cross-culture has brought to this nation: the food, the music, the art and the festivals. I have always said that what is best about T&T can also be the worst about us. Our great diversity allows a richness of culture and experience that is unique. It is true that some decades ago there was much less awareness about ethnic and religious differences. However, we seem to have started catering to differences in the country, so that people who would have lived together harmoniously before no longer do so. We suddenly find ourselves starkly divided into factions. Ethnic terminology has become bitter and acrimonious – unnecessarily so.
I do not think that we can get away from the role that politics has played in that division. It has been convenient for some politicians to call upon what we now speak about as “tribes”, which we had never spoken about before, and unfortunately we have a hyper-awareness and hyper-vigilance of what makes us different. Therefore, politicians have a role to play in fixing this problem. This issue starts to arise when Trinbagonians get the right to vote in their late teenage years. Whether politicians or not, we all celebrate every holiday and festival together. Despite this continued level of interaction at the micro-level, the issue as it stands now plays against the interests and the general development of the country. This must be addressed.