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PNM: Avoiding the Pitfall of Decline

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 19, 2021

Two weeks ago South Africa's Constitutional Court sentenced Jacob Zuma to 15 months in prison for contempt of court. He refused to appear at a government enquiry committee that was looking into the corruption that took place during his nine-year rule. The party (ANC) began to run the state as though it was just another arm of the party, and therein lay its downfall.

Within a week of the court's decision, South Africa saw its worst public violence in decades. Two hundred and twelve people were killed, and about 200 malls around Johannesburg were ransacked. Stock valued at an estimated US$1 billion (was stolen... with at least 800 retail shops looted. On Friday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the riots "were an attempt to hijack South Africa's democracy" (BBC News, July 16).

While things are not so dire in T&T, a once-proud PNM is letting its guard down as it intertwines the roles of its party leaders with the offices of the State. Although the party is not looting the State, its leaders have become so embroiled in running the Government that they can hardly carry out their party duties.

A few quick examples will suffice. Colm Imbert is the Minister of Finance, one of the most demanding positions in the Government, yet he is the chairman of the party. Foster Cummings is the secretary of the party and representative of La Horquetta/Talparo, the most populous constituency in the country. Camille Robinson-Regis, Lady Vice-Chairman of the party, is also the Minister of Planning and Development. Rohan Sinanan is a deputy leader and Minister of Works and Transportation; Fitzgerald Hinds, a deputy leader, is Minister of National Security, the most consequential ministry.

While I do not wish to impugn the integrity or the hard-working ethic of any of these gentle people, these ministers cannot do their party work and yet carry out their Government functions efficiently. They have little communication with the ordinary party member, which led one member to complain: "The only way a MP will be in the field is if there is a major problem in the constituency which may be highlighted by the media. Then he or she is there."

The demands on these ministers place a lot of responsibility on Dr Rowley's shoulders. Other than Dr Rowley, no one is left to defend the party. Occasionally, the Women's League comes out in his and the party's defence. While the public relations officer is a faithful party member and possesses an ebullient personality, she does not have the gravitas or political skills to command the attention of the party or the public. The chairman's voice is silent on these matters so that everything political is thrown back into the hands of the political leader.

Understandably, the pandemic prevented the meetings of party groups, constituency groups and the General Council. Today, enthusiasm is lacking in the party. The chairman of a political party group told me that s/he could not get a quorum of five people to hold a regular meeting. Such a gap leaves the door open for the leaders to make unilateral decisions. Since the communication between the Government and the party is at a low level, everything is left to Dr Rowley who acts as the czar of the party.

There needs to be a greater separation between the party and the state so that the party can get back into the business of listening to its members and advocating on their behalf. The leaders and the members should think seriously about reorganising the party so that it reflects the realities of the present time. The party leaders should not hold so many top positions in the Government. It prevents them from carrying out their party functions and weakens the cohesion between party members and their leaders.

This is Dr Rowley's last term in office as the political leader. Needless to say, there is "cut throat galore" going on to replace him. One correspondent suggested: "Dr Rowley must take the bull by the horns and put an end to the fighting among egoistical, power-hungry members who cannot fit into shoes of past stalwarts like Patrick Manning, George Chambers, Bunny Padmore, John Donaldson and Cuthbert Joseph."

Recently, one of my best friends reminded me of Kwame Ture's distinction between mobilisation, organisation and people's involvement in deepening the process of democratic engagement. He noted: "Mobilisation concerns an event; organisation is an eternal process," by which he meant an ongoing process. More important, there can be no sustainable change in an organisation if the ordinary person (or the ordinary cadre) is not involved in the fundamental thinking-through of this new order.

When the ANC ousted Zuma from power in 2018 and replaced him with Ramaphosa, it felt that it had begun a process of weaning the post-apartheid nation from what had been described as the "state capture" or the systematic looting of the state by its former revolutionary leaders. When Zuma refused to participate in the enquiry into the state capture by his party, we knew he had forgotten the role of the individual in developing a democratic state. The individual, no matter how gifted, is not bigger than the party. At this point, hubris becomes the undoing of the individual. Every member has a right to vie for the leadership of the party. However, s/he must have a vision of where she/he wants to take the party, an ability to lead and to organise the party in the third decade of this century. Reorganisation, therefore, is the key to a successful regeneration of the PNM.

One hopes the party can embrace this challenge to move in that direction. Therein lies its future greatness.

Prof. Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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