Trinidad’s post- election politics

Nearly sixteen months since the People’s Partnership (PP) swept the polls in Trinidad & Tobago with a majority of 29 seats to 12 over the People‘s National Movement (PNM), there is still much discussion in the country as to whether Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s government has settled to smoothly running the country. The Prime Minister’s conduct of things – she having already undertaken one, though relatively minor, reshuffle – is constantly being subjected to discussion as to whether the government is sufficiently coherent in either actions or speech. And there is concern about whether the government has laid out a sufficiently persuasive picture of its economic policy given the need for the country to combat the gloomy external economic picture characterized by the major economic downturns in the United States and Europe.

The euphoria over what seemed to be a successfully organized coalition against the PNM has somewhat given way to uncertainty over changes in the status of some ministers who originally seemed to be dominant in the Cabinet line-up. Minister of Finance Winston Dookeran, leader of the Congress of the People (COP) grouping in the PP, has since felt the need to leave the post, in the face of what some members seemed to feel was a too docile approach to the PP’s dominance. Party Chairman Jack Warner, credited with putting the PP together, but now faced with the continuing saga over the FIFA World Cup affair, has had the transport element removed from his Ministry of Works and Transport. This followed, also, a continuing dispute over responsibility for Caribbean Airlines with the Chairman of the company, George Nicholas, scion of the prominent Issa Nicholas family, said to be strong supporters of the PP in the last election.

The Prime Minister seems to have cleansed the government of the last of the Panday influences by dismissing Basdeo’s brother Subhas Panday as Minister in the Ministry of National Security. And the COP has also felt itself to be damaged by the dismissal of two of its leading members, Mrs Mary King and Mrs Carolyn Seepersad Bachan, from the high profile Ministries of Planning and Energy respectively, the latter going to the Ministry of Public Administration. In turn the chief representative of the labour movement in the Cabinet, former President-General of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, has been kept fully preoccupied by the recalcitrance of important sections of the movement, and not least by the resistance of his own union, to accept a government offer of a 5% wage increase. But the government has scored an important victory by the acceptance of the wage offer by the public service union, creating a breach in the workers‘ barricade.

It would appear that the Prime Minister’s currently closest, or at least most voluble allies, are among the younger elements of the  United National Congress (the leading partner of the PP), namely the Attorney General (non-elected) Anand Ramlogan and Minister of Housing and Environment Moonal Roodilal. Ramlogan has been strong in combating the record of the PNM and has gained even greater prominence with the Declaration of the State of Emergency in the country. But he, and by extension the Prime Minister and the government in general, have had a hard time seeking to give an acceptable justification for the calling of the emergency. To some persons, the relatively small number of persons charged after having been apprehended, and the number of weapons found, do not seem to justify its draconian nature.

In recent days, a prominent attorney, and President up to 2010 of the Law Association of Trinidad & Tobago, Mr Martin Daly, has felt it necessary to warn, after the release of 21 apprehended persons, that “the State of Emergency should not be misused and employed simply as an adjunct to normal police work. It is not to be employed unless exceptional circumstances warrant it.” Concern has also been expressed that since the drug trade seems to have been an important reason for the implementing of the state of emergency, too much emphasis has been placed on persons at the bottom of the trade. The emergency is not, in Daly’s words, netting “people at the top.”

The state of emergency has also brought in its train dissatisfaction on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions who has expressed the view that the Attorney General, in employing a number of senior private lawyers to pursue cases arising from it, has seemed to usurp his own authority. The not directly expressed, but implicit, complaint seems to be that the government may be tainting the process of prosecution by being over-anxious to procure convictions.

As we have indicated, however, a rising concern, beyond the state of emergency, is the state of the economy and government’s management of it in the context of the recession among the Western world economies. Symbolic of this for many ordinary citizens of the country is the long period that has elapsed before government has brought forward a solution to the CLICO affair. Minister Dookeran finally went to the Parliament last week with a solution that goes some of the way towards resolution of the issue, including an offer of shareholding in the shares held by CLICO in the Republic Bank. But there is a view that the crisis also demonstrates the need for some changes in public administration and oversight responsibilities, the feeling being that the country’s central bank was somewhat lax in undertaking its due diligence responsibilities; and that the Ministry of Finance itself was somewhat overawed by Mr Cyril Duprey’s overall dominance in the economy – too big to touch.

Of even greater concern to the wider region however, is the continuing turbulence in the management of Caribbean Airlines with constant changes in the top leadership, attributed to unilateralist behaviour by the current Chairman. With the removal of Jack Warner from ministerial oversight has gone, in the last 15 months, the dismissal of the regionally-known Chief Executive Office Ian Brunton and more recently the chief communications manager. The period in between has seen the recent resignation of Chairman Nicholas, followed by a withdrawal after what seems to have been a frantic intervention by the Minister of Transport. And in between those events, there is concern that a reasonable response has not yet been given by the company to concerns about the crash at CJ International, Timehri.

Interested governments  beyond the region will have been concerned with a to-and-fro over appointments in the intelligence institutions, and allegations over corruption in the regional security arrangement, IMPACS

But the general picture would seem to be that of the new government still not sure of either the extent of the post-election make-up of its general governmental arrangements; and an uncertainty, in spite of the Prime Minister’s personality, about who are the guiding hands in the conduct of governance in the country today.

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