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Reform yourselves!

Trinidad Express / Blasted for their deficiencies, both major parties made belated attempts to bring substance to their platforms. Had they done this at the start, their campaigns would not have been characterised by emptiness.

Because it has held power for the last fifteen months, the People’s National Movement’s (PNM’s) inadequacies were more glaring. The plank of their campaign was local government reform as though it depended on tomorrow’s elections, the subliminal message being, should they win, life would be heavenly with the transformation wrought by reformation. This is deceit, because reform must be driven by the central government and had they been ready, this administration could have already started the process. But after having campaigned on reform in 2015 and spent more than a year in power, they are far from ready and have been campaigning again in generalities about autonomy and devolution. Dr Winford James calls this “shameful” and “unmistakeable incompetence”. Further still, if they follow proper procedure, the government must first present its ideas in a green paper, and after national discussion, produce a white paper before they can move to drafting legislation and bringing a bill to parliament. So we are some distance away from knowing exactly what the government proposes, they themselves now knowing their intent beyond the vaporous ideas they mouth.

Therefore, until its last days, the campaign was based on nothingness. No wonder it was not making the front pages until the PNM resorted to vituperation against the United National Congress (UNC), giving life to the latter’s floundering campaign as Kamla responded to Rowley’s calling her “an embarrassment”. Thereafter, we were assailed with salaciousness and sensationalism, mischief and misinformation, at the end of which the government had the worst, “rotigate” revealing the Prime Minister was not truthful, the cost of the roti a mere $65 or $75 each, for 2,500 guests, but Rowley employing mocking hyperbole, reported as saying, “the actual roti on the plate was a quarter million, $250,000, and to put it from the plate (cutlery, etc) to the mouth was another $138,000.” It is bewildering why, in a society politically bifurcated along racial lines, the PM chose to demonstrate Partnership profligacy in this way, Winford James saying Rowley’s message of “excessive expenditure” was clouded by the “way he presented it, making people wonder if he has something against roti…”

Indeed, more than anything the UNC offered on the campaign, roti could galvanise some sleeping supporters to the polls tomorrow. Sat Maharaj says “the word ‘roti’ has been politicised. People are now linking it with the Calcutta Ship statement; there is a subliminal racist expression.” Maharaj who attended Kamla’s function said “there were thousands of people there…I am not surprised it cost a lot. And roti was just a small part of the meal. There were a variety of dishes… It should not have been brought up on the platform.”

But there was little else to bring up, nothing to crow about after one and a quarter years in office, nothing on the economy, crime, good governance and social decay, the critical issues pulling us to the point of irretrievability. Of course the government and its apologists like to say reduced revenue is the cause for the inaction. Balderdash! We have enough money had we enough ideas and preparedness to take us through the storm! But we are saddled with a most amateurish administration, mainly ‘undergraduates’ as Lloyd Best would have said, its two most experienced members very disappointing after three decades in Parliament, now prime minister and finance minister, but not demonstrating those sterling qualities demanded by these challenging times. Gentlemen, I hope your political careers did not turn out to be mere social climbing and other superficiality. That was not the basis on which you started with Patrick Manning after 1986. I am reminding you because, with its inadequacies in the face of our challenges, your administration constitutes the biggest threat to the viability of Trinidad and Tobago.

Reform yourselves! Shed the intellectual laziness, think deeply and thoroughly. For example, the level of autonomy and devolution you envisage cannot be achieved by dealing with local government alone. As I have repeatedly said, it simultaneously requires a redefinition of representation in the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. Because if you are going to modernize local government, giving it power and authority now the domain of central government, you must simultaneously elevate parliamentary representation to another level, saving parliament from its present dysfunctionality, positioning it appropriately in the architecture premised on the separation of powers, endowing it with the supervisory powers as a fierce watchdog of the cabinet, public service and state enterprises, making it truly the House of the People who speak there through their representatives. Does the government comprehend the depth of reform required? We are talking here of profound constitutional change, the salvation of Trinidad and Tobago about which some of us have clamoured for years. But this is a tiptoeing, tinkering government which will dabble and dilly-dally, apparently without the guts to fully grapple with the problem. In the end, the population will send them packing as they have done all others since 1986 when one party rule ended in Trinidad and Tobago.

So Keith Rowley and the PNM had better understand the times. Underperforming governments can no longer hide behind superficialities like roti sensationalism or by assuming an antiquated “Doctah politics” that publicly eviscerated foreign-service officer Eden Charles recently. This is modern Trinidad and Tobago, backward in many ways but awakened in areas critical enough to send political disappointments packing. Those who talk reform must reform themselves.

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