Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Statement on World Humanist Day 2009
The importance of empiricism and ethics in public policy

21 June 2009 • 456 words

The recent ruling on the smelter issue is an apt demonstration of the importance of empiricism and ethics in public policy.

One might think that no reasonable person would object to such standards, yet influential groups in the society regularly put political interests or superstitious beliefs as better bases for policy-making. As the smelter judgement illustrates, however, such an attitude, while it may lead to short-term gains for some people, can harm all of us in the long run.

The residents of Chatham took a sustained and scientific approach in protesting against the Alcoa smelter being established in their area. The residents of La Brea, by contrast, were split by political promises, and the Alutrint smelter plan has gone ahead until stymied, at least for now, by a court judgement. And it should be noted that, in her ruling, Justice Mira Dean-Armorer basically accused the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) of flouting both empirical and ethical standards, when she stated, “I hold that the decision of the Authority was procedurally irregular, irrational, and made without regard to a relevant consideration.”

Unfortunately, the EMA’s modus operandi in this case is all too representative of other boards and bodies in Trinidad and Tobago. Imagine, however, what this country would be like if individuals and authorities followed procedure and applied rationality, ethics, and compassion in all decisions. In that scenario, would Udecott ever have been allowed to spend billions on gleaming but useless tall buildings? Would more billions have been spent on a lavish but ultimately non-productive Fifth Summit of the Americas? Would CL Financial have collapsed? Would the farces of the last two Integrity Commissions occurred or, having happened, would George Maxwell Richards still be allowed to hold on to the Office of the President?

As we mark World Humanist Day (June 21), we ask citizens to think seriously about these questions, and to consider what standards they wish Trinidad and Tobago to be governed by. And we implore everyone to apply these standards to the latest tragedy to rock the nation, with the murder of a 10-year-old girl. What has been the ineffectual National Security Minister’s most immediate response? Mr Martin Joseph held talks with 24 religious leaders to get them involved in the fight against crime. But our Association’s empirical analysis predicts that such involvement will have no effect in reducing crime (though we would be happy to be proven wrong – by measurable standards, of course). Instead, as a starting point, we recommend that Mr Joseph and the Government would more effectively reduce the daily murders if they stop talking with the “community leaders” whose involvement in the URP programme has financed and fuelled the crime wave of the past eight years.

T&T Humanist Association
www.humanist.org.tt

See A dose of Darwin (Charles Darwin 200, Origin of Species 150 )

See Myth, not history, from UWI academics

See Statement on TT Humanist Day 2008

See Should a leader impose belief over reason?

See TT Humanist : News : Launch : The Virtues of Secularism (PDF)

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