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Raffique Shah


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Stop partying, start governing

By Raffique Shah
May 06, 2012

The People's Partnership government is seemingly stuck in the self-destruct mode. It appears to be stricken with a series of minor collisions, with the driver preoccupied with averting a major, fatal crash. Its second anniversary in power is mere weeks away, but the five-party coalition appears to be overcome with fighting a spate of internal fires rather than being focused on delivering good governance. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar would tell us otherwise, as she did last Wednesday, when she emerged from an emergency Cabinet meeting to say, repeatedly, "All members of Cabinet have expressed full commitment to the principle of collective responsibility..."

Was that what the special marathon meeting was all about? If it was, why did it fuel wild speculation about firings and resignations? The PM and her partners must have been aware of the rumours that ran rife across the country as they sat comfortably ensconced in the Diplomatic Centre.

As the media remained at bay outside, feeding frequent snippets to their audiences, much of Trinidad and Tobago wondered if the government was about to collapse. Yet, for several nervous hours, no one on the inside had the decency to face the media and scotch the damaging rumours.

One can only conclude that they took delight in what was happening, which is an indictment against those charged with running the affairs of the nation. Such irresponsibility was characteristic of the behaviour of authoritarian rulers. These tyrants, and others like them, thrived on keeping their people on tenterhooks. But it has no place in a modern democracy, especially in a world that has shrunk with high-speed global information technology.

Discourtesy aside, what really is happening inside the People's Partnership? When she came to power two years ago, the Prime Minister enjoyed the kind of mandate politicians would salivate over. The perception that in her coalition we were witnessing a kind of national unity that a people long divided yearned for, rallied the masses in a kind of avalanche we had witnessed only in 1986. In the aftermath of "Hurricane Kamla", there was much hope not just for deliverance from a creeping dictatorship and squandermania, but most of all for the delivery of good governance.

Sadly, Kamla seems to be blowing the universal goodwill she generated when she came into office. While the challenge of keeping her five-party coalition together is important, governing the country is a greater priority. People are fed up with the weekly squabbling in the Partnership, much of which is triggered by issues that have little to do with them.

For example, other than Roodal Moonilal and Prakash Ramadhar, who cares about Marlene Coudray? Is she some Helen of Troy over whom the COP or UNC would go to war? Or whose face can "launch a thousand ships"? Luckily, I don't have a lisp! Seriously, though, why would the UNC and the COP, the two senior partners in the coalition, wage a savage war over Coudray?

Maybe a faction in the UNC sees in her some kind of ethnic foil to the dominant Jack Warner, whose long reach into the innards of the ruling party they would like to terminate. Perish the thought, fellas: like him or hate him, Jack has special qualities that no Coudray or cunumunu could bring to this country's politics. He has embedded himself so deep in the body politic of the UNC, without him the party would hardly thrive. Basdeo Panday all but created him politically. He later slaughtered Panday, and since then, he has stood like a giant Rawan towering over Banwaas and beyond, easily deflecting the arrows of the mini-Rams in the party.

While I understand the COP's chagrin over the UNC's breach of principle, it's time to forget Coudray, make peace with Jack, and move on to attend to the business of governing the country. Which is why it was distressing to hear the PM say that the meeting last Wednesday also discussed the Partnership's plans for marking its second anniversary in power. Jeezanages, I thought, not another fete! The PP and the UNC have hosted more celebratory parties than all previous governments cumulatively held in 50 years of independence. True, this is a five-party coalition. But that is no licence for its principals to sanction Her Majesty's birthday party, ascension-to-leadership party, anniversary party, parties' party...

The Prime Minister and her partners must realise, sooner rather than later, that George Chambers's 30-year-old maxim, "Fete done, back to wuk!" applies now even more than it did in 1981. This is a nation in near-crisis. For all the bravado coming out of the mouths of ministers, all of Stephen Cadiz's boasts about how many billions of dollars have been invested in the past two years, there is nothing tangible to show that the economy is striding one step ahead of sluggishness, that we can expect to post growth at the end of this fiscal year.

Indeed, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, the eternal optimist, must be quietly crying as he sees his budget projections recede before his eyes. In spite of buoyant oil prices and "big finds", stubbornly low oil production is denying us decent earnings. LNG prices, too, have been below par, and while downstream energy products' prices are okay, they may not make up for other shortfalls. Manufacturing has coasted over the past five years and small advances made in food production hardly put a dent in our huge import bill.

Outside of these and taxes from citizens and corporations, there is nothing to add hope to Dookeran's revenue column. It is past time to halt the Coudray-kangkatang and the perennial partying. Stop the partying and start governing.

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