Disrespecting the PM

To his credit, Mr Shiraz Khan, President of the Sheep and Goat Farmers’ Association did call out for some respect to be shown to the Prime Minister. But this plea obviously fell upon deaf ears. The crowd began to shout and one person even called out “let we throw acid!”

As the Prime Minister was about to enter her car to leave the area, she courageously and graciously stepped back out and walked towards the protesters, holding out her hands. This gesture was greeted by the farmers and others surging forward and surrounding the Prime Minister, while continuing to shout abuse.

To the credit of the Prime Minister, and the obviously concerned security detail, she and they remained calm and composed and departed the area.

However, we consider that the Prime Minister was in jeopardy on Wednesday as she showed some form of consideration of the protesters. Certainly we know that there was abuse, threats of violence by at least one person, all grossly disrespectful to the Prime Minister.

Such abuse and disrespect, and the shouted threat of bodily harm, have no place in the issues facing the farmers and their crops. As a nation and a modern society, we have long learned to deal with our disputes and differences through dialogue. And indeed dialogue and discussion with the farmers were still ongoing, and all doors were still open, so to speak.

So what was the purpose of this behaviour? What were the farmers hoping to gain by this abuse and threatening behaviour? And to make matters worse, following this eruption of inexcusable and threatening action, the farmers are claiming that the Prime Minister had disrespected them! We must wonder why did they not use this clear expression of goodwill and conciliation to reciprocate, and hold open the door to some form of dialogue with the Prime Minister?

And in the aftermath of this regrettable incident, even as the farmers and their new supporters continued to claim that Mrs Persad-Bissessar was “disrespecting them”, she was speaking in another forum, calmly and graciously keeping all dialogue opportunities open.

We stand by our previous comments on the original issue, and while we believe that the government could have handled the whole matter with greater consideration and awareness of the consequences, we remain firm in our condemnation of the reaction to the matter at hand. We remain steadfast in our opinion that squatting is not an entitlement for anyone, whether homeowner or farmer. We hold that the farmers who have been illegally occupying the land should leave immediately.

If the farmers believe that they have some entitlement to the lands which the government has reclaimed, then there are processes for them to advance these claims. And these processes do not include the mobbing of the Prime Minister on George Street.

We call upon our institutions, churches, social groups, business and labour too, to condemn what we saw on George Street on Wednesday. And even those who may be in sympathy with the farmers must condemn their behaviour, disrespect and threats hurled so viciously at the Prime Minister. Failure to condemn this simply creates another step downwards in what we all acknowledge is our failing society.


"Disrespecting the PM"

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