Trinidad government ministerial changes

With the acceptance of the resignation of Minister of Sport Anil Roberts by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the country has now seen the 11th minister of her government dismissed, or feeling it necessary to resign. For the most part, the resignations or dismissals have come following public pressure, as the ministers involved have been found to have committed acts felt to be unacceptable to the general public.

As will have been reported, in the case of Minister Roberts, his resignation, long publicly called for by the opposition, was the result of an investigation of a programme entitled LifeSport, meant to deal with the high degree of deprivation and lack of opportunity for young persons in various communities in Trinidad, and particularly in urban areas like those encompassed in, or surrounding, the capital city of Port of Spain.

The Trinidad & Tobago community has obviously been shocked by the revelations of an investigation, including minimal or no accountability, into the conduct of a programme estimated at $TT34 million, much of which appears to have gone into private pockets. But as appears to be her general inclination, and no doubt given her profession as a lawyer, the Prime Minister seemed to be reluctant to take decisive action until the almost inevitable conclusion of the evidence produced could no longer be resisted.

As a consequence, while, on accepting Roberts’ resignation, she declared that she had been “disillusioned, disappointed and distressed by the level of deception and dishonesty associated with the well intentioned LifeSport programme,” the general response of the Trinidad public appears to have been disappointment that she waited until she was virtually pushed to act by the widespread disgust of the electorate.

The Prime Minister’s hesitation in seeming to be willing to tolerate misbehaviour by her ministers until forced by public opinion or a formal public investigation, now appears to be almost a pattern of behaviour. In recent times she has waited for a resignation from former Justice Herbert Volney who had been elected in 2010. And she did virtually the same in the case of the resignation of Jack Warner of CONCACAF fame, even when the furore concerning revelations about his behaviour were not limited solely to Trinidad & Tobago, but had gone well beyond the shores of the country.

Of course, observers will have remarked on the fact that both Warner and Roberts were perceived by the Trinidad electorate to have played crucial roles in the 2010 elections. In addition, in the case of Warner, he had the reputation of playing a substantial role in manoeuvering the election of Mrs Persad-Bissessar to the role of Leader of the United National Congress, replacing Basdeo Panday, and then in strategizing the campaign of the coalition People’s Partnership to victory over Patrick Manning’s People’s National Movement. And in the case of Roberts, she no doubt felt that with his reputation in sports in Trinidad, he had had an influential role in attracting youth to the Congress of the People (COP), pulling in other than traditional UNC supporters.

No doubt, in Trinidad & Tobago there has been a developing sentiment that forms of unacceptable behaviour by a number of members of the government, were beginning to harm its prospects of reelection. First, the coalition has already been seeming to be negatively affected as an election-winning instrument, by what appears to be a gradual disintegration of the UNC’s COP coalition partner, from which there have been rumbles of disagreement and criticism. And secondly, it seems to have begun to appear to the general public that the Prime Minister herself has been unwilling to act decisively until accusations, or revelations, of misbehaviour on the part of either ministers or officials have gained substantial public support.

On the other hand, her defenders indicate that she wants to ensure that in accordance with normal legal procedure, revelations are proven, or those accused can no longer withstand public pressure and themselves decide to submit their resignations. And in such cases, she is able to appear publicly untarnished, proclaiming as she did in the case of the dismissal of Minister of Tourism Chandresh Sharma, that “there is no privileged escape, no allowance for arrogance, no forgiveness for indiscretion.”

To her opponents, and no doubt to her supporters, the Prime Minister would appear to have found a way of taking care of governmental indiscretion without tarnishing her own image to any great extent. She is aware, of course that, in spite of the loss, for example, of the seat formerly held by Jack Warner the public would appear to be reasonably satisfied with the performance of the economy. And that they have also been satisfied with the general external perception of Trinidad & Tobago, recently the recipient of visits by the leaders of China and Japan, in addition to an earlier visit by Vice President John Kerry, with Trinidad being seen as the centre of regional heads of government conclaves in the case of Japan and the United States.

In that context, the diminishing role of her coalition partner, the Congress of the People, seems not to be of much concern to Persad-Bissessar, her probable assumption being that she can withstand voluntary or forced resignations from her Cabinet if the electorate is reasonably satisfied that Trinidad’s prosperity, relative to the rest of the Region, continues on course. And her optimism probably extends to acceptance of the loss of the seat gained by the PNM, following her dismissal of then Minister of Justice Herbert Volney.

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