Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Partnership's New Year Resolutions

With New Years in the air, another arbitrary 365 days begin. And what better than to propose some resolutions to a government that has found itself on the end of some severe (rightly or wrongly) criticisms since assuming office?

I’ll start with my wish list on the legislative agenda.

Government must bring legislation to limit a Prime Minister to two terms in office, set fixed election dates and commence the institution of Local Government reform. These were clear points in their manifesto and they must go about doing it while their majority is largely intact and before there is a descent into political games regarding these very important variations to the Constitution. They must also deal with the outstanding legislation governing Property Taxes and reform of the Board of Inland Revenue. Finally, they must put forward a very clear policy on the Caribbean Court of Justice. Some decision must be made on whether we continue indefinitely with the Privy Council, adopt the CCJ or go it alone with a final appellate court.

On the social front, this government must begin the process of reviewing and removing legislation from the Masters and Servants Act to Equal Opportunity Legislation and the laws criminalizing homosexuality, abortion and prostitution. It cannot be acceptable that prisons are rampant with sexually transmitted diseases and the excuse given by the prisons authority is that homosexuality is illegal, so condoms cannot be distributed. It cannot be acceptable that civil rights are denied to selected portions of society because of a religious lobby. It cannot be acceptable that the same religious lobby prevents safe and effective health care to women in need of termination of pregnancies, for whatever reasons, the details of which can be expounded in legislation. It cannot be acceptable that brothels operate as freely as they do in the classified section of the newspaper, yet their workers are not given protection in terms of their employment or health.

Onto the Economy and Finance, it is my wish that government resolves to end the current crisis of confidence. There is a need to reign in inflation. This can only be done with the aid of the Ministries of Food Production, Trade and Industry and National Security. We must deal with the spiraling cost of local produce, which can be controlled by local measures. We must open our economy to more markets and set about lowering or removing tariffs which, while protecting out local manufacturers, also gives them monopolies, prevents them from improving efficiency and deprives local consumers of choice of product and competitive pricing. The ministry of National Security needs to be involved in stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country, a trade, the size of which rivals that of the legal, onshore economy.

The Ministry must also seek to wipe out some of the liquidity in the system. This can be done by actively reviving the local Stock Exchange by initial public offerings for some of the more profitable government run institutions, including the Unit Trust Corporation, First Citizens’ Bank, the splitting up of NEL into its component parts (NGC, LNG, TRINGEN, TSTT and NFM) and offering each publicly. This move will allow a greater number of citizens to enjoy the success of a reviving economy, while allowing the government to raise money on the local market, interest free and for the small price of reduced (but still majority) ownership.

On Works, Transport and the Environment, construction projects that are long overdue (highways, dams, drains and hospitals) are about to commence. There must be a drive also to clean and clear waterways, neglected for years and which have since silted up and become overgrown, some not even recognizable now as previously being waterways. There must be a concerted effort to ensure that the floods of 2010 become the part of history that the Minister wishes it to be. As a result, collaboration must be made with the ministry of the Environment (unfortunately annexed to Housing, which is in direct contradiction to the Manifesto, which promised a stand alone Environment ministry) for effective litter wardens, the commencement of a meaningful plastic, glass and metal recycling industry and facilities for disposal and recycling of appliances, cars and technology (computers, cell phones etc) waste. There must also be moves to shut down every single open dump in this country and replace them with sustainable, properly managed landfills.

The Minister of Transport must also now expedite the issuing of electronic number plates and licenses. There must be the introduction of speed guns to allow officers to control the lawlessness that currently applies on the nation’s roads. The law has to be revised, raising the speed limit on highways from the current ludicrous 80kmph and fines must also be given to those drivers who do not adhere to a minimum or maximum speed on designated lanes. Reform must also take place to allow one to pay tickets and fines at any commercial bank or government cashier using modern methods such as debit or credit cards, not the system of cash only in the district that the offence was committed as applies at present.

As for taxis and the soon to be legal, PH cars, take a suggestion from my father and similarly to New York City which has color coded vehicles for public transport, ensure that ALL cars for hire, whether P or H, are painted a brightly designated color. (yellow was his suggestion). In addition, implementation of the announced plans for water taxis to Chaguanas, Point Fortin and the supplemental service to Tobago, as well as a passenger port at Toco must be seen to occur sooner rather than later. These services are required, necessary even to a population that is quickly becoming less tolerant to public relations bells and whistles and who crave delivery of services which had been less than forthcoming from the previous administration.

The Ministry should also partner with the Ministry of National Security to overhaul the number plate system for government and emergency vehicles. Such vehicles should have special designation plates (eg. the Commissioner of Police should be driven in TTPS1, with all other vehicles of the police service following suit) as opposed to the current system where emergency or government vehicles are registered with private plates. This will facilitate the public in the quick identification of a government or emergency vehicle and can assist if problems arise as to which vehicle responded to an emergency.

On the issue of Health, it is vital that the current minister access all available professional advice. As someone who is not from the health sector, she needs to fully understand all aspects of a very broken system before she can go about attempting to fix it. It is my hope for the new year that the ministry achieves their goal of commencing the construction of various hospitals. There is need now for 24-hour Primary care (Health Centres) in order to reduce the strain on Tertiary Care (Hospitals). There is a need for review of CDAP, where wastage abounds.

The Ministry should also resolve in the new year to launch a massive public education campaign on the importance of patients’ compliance with health care advice and medications. There is need for massive promotion of preventative health care so that our system is not strained with the volume of chronic diseases as happens at present. There is need for expansion of services and proper employment practices so that health professionals are not turned away from serving in public institutions. In short, there is need for the reform or overhaul of the Regional Health Authorities, where too much duplication of services occur for a country of only 1.5 million.

The Ministry of National Security should also look to overhaul the police service. In order to mitigate complaints that police, fire or health officers were called but did not respond, a 9-1-1 type system should be instituted nationwide, with callers speaking to dispatchers who have information, via GPS fitted in every single vehicle of the protective service (Fire, Police, Ambulance). Dispatchers will then relay information to the nearest available patrol to respond to the emergency.

There needs to be a comprehensive plan for crime, especially one in the short term to stem the number of violent crimes currently being committed. The only real measure of crime is the number of murders, kidnappings, rapes, thefts, white collar corruption, volume of drugs shipped and transshipped etc etc. There therefore needs to be a dent in these statistics and that can only come about by enforcing current law, increasing detection and conviction rates and institution legislation that ensures that perpetrators feel the brunt of a working system.

These are just a few of the resolutions that the current administration, still riding high on goodwill and a majority to effect real change, should look toward so that come Jan 1, 2012, Trinidad and Tobago will truly be better off on all fronts than in 2011.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reality of Perception

At the first sitting of Parliament after its Ceremonial Opening, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, in outlining her case for the rejection of Neal Parker as Commissioner of Police of Trinidad and Tobago, stated that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done. She is, of course, quite right in that statement, although it can also be successfully argued that justice must also be blind, whether or not it may be popular.

It is highly ironic, therefore, that no more than ten days after that statement was uttered, that Mrs. Persad Bissessar would choose to appoint Minister of Works and Transport Mr. Jack Warner (UNC) as Acting Prime Minister. In keeping with her statement that justice must be seen to be done, the logical choice for the position of Acting Prime Minister should be the leader of the Congress of the People, Minsiter of Finance Mr. Winston Dookeran.

The reasons are clear. Firstly, Mrs. Persad Bissessar is Prime Minister on the basis of her party entering a coalition with other entities in the recently concluded General Election. The People’s Partership is essentially an amalgamation of the United National Congress, the Congress of the People and the Tobago Organisation of the People. The leadership council comprises Mrs. Persad Bissessar, Mr. Dookeran, Mr. Errol McLeod (MSJ), Mr. Makandal Daaga (NJAC) and Mr. Ashworth Jack (TOP). Only Persad Bissessar and Dookeran command any significant support in Parliament. It should therefore follow that the Acting Prime Minister should, on the basis of honouring the spirit of the coalition, be appointed from the leadership council.

For those who point out that the UNC overwhelms the COP 20-6 in terms of seats won, look no further than the United Kingdom, whose own elections, held a mere 18 days before ours, produced a hung Parliament. After forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, PM David Cameron appointed Mr. Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, as deputy Prime Minister, despite holding a margin of 320-54 in terms of seats in Parliament. This is a direct result of recognising the importance of the minority party’s role in the formation of the government and granting due respect to its supporters. It is the preservation of the perception of unity within the coalition.

Secondly, there arises the issue of the criteria for the selection of the Acting Prime Minister. The first criterion proferred was by the Attorney General, Mr. Anand Ramlogan (UNC). At the post cabinet news conference where Mr. Warner’s appointment was announced, Ramlogan sought to justify the appointment by stating that Warner, with over 18,000 votes, received the most votes by any single Member of Parliament in the recently concluded election. What Ramlogan conveniently overlooked was that Dookeran led a party that received over 100,000 votes. Who, therefore, has a greater mandate? Who is more justified in holding the position of Acting Prime Minister? Mr. Warner holds a major post in his own party as chairman and financier. However, in terms of the coalition itself, Mr. Warner is merely a Member of Parliament.

The other criterion offered was by the Minister of Sport, Mr. Anil Roberts (COP), who congratulated Persad Bissssar for appointing the Acting Prime Minister from amongst the elected members of the House of Representatives. This is a departure from her immediate predecessors who chose their deputies from the appointed Senate. One wonders, how, of her 28 members to choose, she arrived at the appointment of Mr Warner. Indeed, if the sole criterion is that the Acting PM should be a member of the House, it makes even MP #12 on the PNM bench, Mr. Manning, eligible for selection.

Finally, this entire issue boils down to perception. And this is where things are beginning to climax to a critical point for Persad Bissessar. The perception exists and is being perpetuated, that the UNC has simply used the COP to obtain government, and now, with a seemingly comfortable majority, counting the MSJ (1) and TOP (2), they are prepared to throw their major partner by the wayside, much like a rehashing of the NAR in the 1995-2000 administration. This again reared its head in the allocation of seats for the Local Government election, where the COP was initially, and obscenely, offered only 32 of the 134 local seats to contest; and in such an arrangement that they would be unable to obtain majority control of a single corporation. This, despite the COP’s stellar showing in the Diego Martin, Tunapuna, Arima, Point Fortin and San Fernando regions at the last General Election. This perception is reinforced with her appointment of Garvin Nicholas (UNC) as Press Secretary (essentially Minister of Information), despite her pronouncement that no unelected candidate would be handed a ministry. The People’s Partnership rode the wave of popularity into office by promising change. This is certainly not the change that people voted for when there is a continuation of bending of rules and redefining the meaning of ‘is’ in order to achieve a personal or political end. Where is the principle behind this appointment?

The crowning jewel in this increasing fiasco is the widely held perception that Persad Bissessar is merely a puppet to Warner. Dr. Rowley made mention of it in his campaign. Mr. Panday (B) has spoken ad nauseaum about it and now, with this appointment, and with one fell swoop, Persad Bissessar has confirmed in the minds of many that she is not acting appropriately in either of two ways: (i) independently as Prime Minister or (ii) in consultation with the other members of the Partnership Council.

This issue, ultimately, is not about Mr. Warner personally. Persad-Bissessar is the Prime Minister and, constitutionally, it is her prerogative to appoint whomever she wishes as Acting Prime Minister. However, she assumed that office by promising a leadership style that was divergent from the dictatorial and arrogant tendencies of her predecessors. She has just appointed a person to act as Prime Minister who was embroiled, rightly or not, in a great deal of controversy with respect to his dual portfolios as Cabinet Minister and Vice President of FIFA. Were the shoe on the other foot, I am quite sure much clamouring would be made by her about the arrogance of a Prime Minister to foister onto the population, a man who may not even be ethically grounded in holding his post as a Minister of Government.

Persad Bissessar must ensure that the decisions she takes are within the realm of acceptability by the majority of the people whom she asked support of a mere 5 weeks ago. Had Dookeran accompanied her on her trip to Jamaica as part of the governmental team, the issue would not have arisen. However, it must be a bitter pill for him, his party and his supporters to swallow, when come Thursday, he must sit at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Mr. Warner. And all for what? To feed the egos of a few and to protect their party from some imagined threat by another member of the Partnership? We are 41 days into this new government and already the foundation of confidence that many placed in this alliance has begun to waver.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Talkin' bout a Revolution

For the last 40 years or more uprisings in Trinidad and Tobago come around every 20 years. On the last two occasions, in 1970 and 1990, the country was faced with violence and bloodshed as the seat of power was attempted to be wrested from democratically elected governments. Both times were as a result of people or interest groups believing that the government of the day was acting outside of the nation's best interest.

In 2010, again, 20 years after the Jamaat attempted coup of 1990, the aura of the nation was again ripe for revolution. With widespread allegations of corruption, crime and fiscal mismanagement coupled with a ruling party that controlled 26 of 41 seats, despite having a mandate from only 45% of the population in the last election, there was an air of frustration and growing discontent among citizens.

However, unlike previous years, in 2010, a revolution of democracy occurred. Gifted a General Election by the incumbent Prime Minister, 30 months before it was due, the opposition received widespread support and ousted Patrick Manning to install Kamla Persad Bissessar as the country's first female Prime Minister. Whether or not that bears any significance in the 21st century is debatable. What is remarkable about the victory is the fact that the incumbent only lost about 15,000 votes overall, a decrease of about 5% from the last election while the combined opposition was able to motivate an additional 80,000 people, an additional 23%, to cast their ballots in their favor. Even more so is the fact that almost every single new voter would have voted for the coalition.

And this is where the revolution begins to take shape. New voters would have been the apathetic voters of the last election and the generally indifferent youth constituency. The fact that these two groups, and more so, remarkably, from all accounts, the youth turned out in such force for what was effectively a rescue operation for this country shows that, regardless of the pronouncements of the political pundits, once given 1. A viable alternative and 2. A wildly unpopular incumbent, people can be mobilised to vote. And vote they did, with over 722,000 ballots cast (70%) in the biggest turnout since independence and the largest win for any party over the PNM since 1986; a 17 seat advantage with a special majority and a 20% victory in the popular vote.

Former Prime Minister Panday probably put it best when he said we would have to wait to see if this new government is indeed change or exchange. However, from the early signs, utterances and appointments, there seems to be a genuine desire to move away from the politics of the last 8 years, and indeed from the last 40 odd years of totalitarian rule by whichever person who holds the office of Prime Minister.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is perhaps one of the luckiest politicians in the world and I mean that in the best way possible. After Panday called the internal election of the UNC she amazingly (by margin, not necessarily result) emerged a 10:1 victor, and one month later acquired enough support to become this country's first substantive female opposition leader (previously being appointed by Panday to serve in the post).

In addition, she was facilitated generously by the architect of the coalition, Congress of the People leader and now Minister of Finance, Winston Dookeran, in the run up to the May 24 polls. Throwing his and his party's support, unequivocally behind her as the candidate and giving up potential seats in Diego Martin NE, St Ann's East, Port of Spain North, La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Sangre Grande (to the UNC), Pointe a Pierre (MSJ) and Point Fortin (NJAC), in exchange for 1 UNC safe seat (St. Augustine), Mr. Dookeran again demonstrated his party's philosophy of country first.

The result of all this was Mrs. Persad-Bissessar leading a coalition into a General Election where she would emerge as Prime Minister with a massive majority for the coalition and a simple majority (21 seats) for her party by itself. It also made her the shortest served Leader of the Opposition in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, serving exactly, and merely 3 months. Surely this would not have been what the Pandays, Rameshes and Ramnaths would have anticipated had they been advised by their personal prophets or prophetesses that Kamla would last only 3 months as Opposition Leader!

In the space of less than a year, the two most experienced members of Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago and two fomer Prime Ministers have been humbled, one completely out of office. The armor of the old guard of politicians in this country is now perhaps destroyed beyond recovery. Race was the least influential in the minds of voters as it has ever been. A more educated and enlightened population that demanded that issues be addressed and unsuccessfully called for a debate between the candidates voted primarily on just that. Issues.

This isn't to say that we've made it. Hardly so. But it is a significant step in the right direction. Kamla has many to thank, but none more so than the youth. It was this group that ensured her victory. It is now her responsibility, aided by her government to execute the mandate so overwhelmingly entrusted in her. It is OUR responsibility, as citizens and as youth to ensure that that mandate is executed without the arrogance and lack of accountability and transparency of the previous administrations.

It is our duty in the next election to ensure that we get our elusive debate. It is our duty to ensure that they have kept their promises on constitutional reform and fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency. Because in the same way we revolted against the incumbent in 2010 in the most significant demonstration of democracy, we must, without fear, be prepared to do the same in 2015 (or earlier) if this government fails to heed the lessons of their past.

Never again must we allow governments to get free rides on the basis of race or handouts. Never again must we tolerate the arrogance and wastefulness of politicians past. Never again must we facilitate maximum leaders in our Government. Never Again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean and an Endorsement

We should have elections more often. There's much talk of election reform and the need to have fixed dates for General Elections in Trinidad and Tobago. I propose April 1 of any year, as long as it ends with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 or 0. And we should ensure that elections are held at least every 3 years, 2 years if we're in a recession.

The reasons are simple. Elections in this country are a great stimulus for the economy. They provide employment, from canvassers to overtime pay for police officers. They ensure that the media houses are well looked after; I mean, it's only in sweet T&T that a 1 hour newscast runs for one and a half hours, just to accommodate the volume of election ads. It ensures that money trickles down to the less fortunate; whether it's Jack and his US$200 in San Fernando West or Esther and her rolled up TT$300 in Tunapuna. Motorcades provide an even greater impetus to the gas stations and service shops, already not doing so badly with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road. Not to mention the contracts for the ad agencies, T-Shirt companies, button makers, flag makers (probably not the $2 million flag makers, that probably a little too rich for this kinda season) and caterers.

Apart from that, there's the inherent entertainment value. From a 65 year old giving 20 year olds sex advice, to doctored photos which no one had seen until it was held up in a public meeting by the 'victim' herself, to strange accents and hairdos and cringe-worthy songs, which were even more cringingly sung along to.

But of all this, the talk about ships seem to have overtaken the campaigns. From one ship with 5 captains claiming that the other's ship is sinking to a 'mutineer' threatening a court martial against his captain of 24 years. Granted, the incumbent's ship seems to have sprung a few leaks, which will make their re election that much more difficult and one wonders what direction,if any, the other ship can sail in given the different ideologies of their captains but does this all matter if the ships never left harbour anyway? What point is there in all this ship talk if no new horizons have been explored or treasures returned?

But to this court martial; are we to expect Dr. Rowley to mount an insurgent campaign against Manning once the election is over, a la Jack and Ramesh? If so, how does this play out in a situation where the PNM wins a slim majority, say 21-20. And where does he get his support to do so, now that his Jacks and Rameshes have been wiped clean off the slate by Manning? And what form will this take, considering that Rowley will have no authority to launch any investigation into Manning, and, judging from the 1997 attempt, also has very little support amongst the delegates of the PNM?

Rowley's best chance for leadership of the party, apart from him potentially leading a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister soon after Parliament is assembled, is for the PNM to lose the election. That would put additional pressure on Manning to step down, and perhaps lead to a public endorsement of Rowley from the General Council of the PNM. Whereas there are other issues for the PNM to deal with, their image at this moment is tethered to the machinations and fortunes of its political leader; a leader so unpopular that he has spurned T-Shirts with slogans such as: 'We vex, but we voting PNM'

And onto the Partnership, with their 5 captains. It's not as cobbled together a mess as some would like to make it to be. In truth, there are 2 parties in the coalition. There is near to no chance that NJAC will hold a seat, Point Fortin being their best hope. Errol McLeod may win his seat for the MSJ, while the TOP may win 1, perhaps 2 seats in Tobago. The COP has to win at least 2 or 3 seats for the coalition to form the government; but more than that, the COP has the support of a wide cross section of the population, as does the UNC. Combined, they can easily pull over 300,000 votes; with some polls estimating that their tally may even cross 400,000 come Monday.

While there are dangers of a coalition government not lasting its term, that has never been the case in Trinidad and Tobago. All collapsed governments have been single party, namely 1991-1995 (P), 2000-2001(U), 2001-2002 (P) and 2007-2010 (P). In addition, the structure of the Partnership, in it's truest and most ideological form, should allow checks and balances as it seemingly prevents any of its constituent parties from gaining a majority of seats by themselves.

So what does this all mean? Well weighing the good with the bad in its most basic sense, the PNM has to be given credit for initiating and continuing programmes such as GATE. They have to be commended for the Waterfront Project and the Summits (YES, commended). The IFC was constructed in an attempt to diversify the economy away from oil and gas. The Summits were meant to raise T&T's profile to allow companies, through the Business Forums to establish their presence here. Not this, or any other government could have foreseen the collapse of financial institutions around the world.

Serious, unaddressed questions remain about the Prime Minister's Residence, NAPA, the Legal Affairs Tower, the Tarouba Stadium, the Scarborough Hospital, the National Oncology Centre in Mt Hope, the Church in Gunapo, 'secret scolarships', crime, health and basic infrastructure. And most distressingly, only TT$20 billion in the Revenue and Stabalisation Fund; less than a year worth of government expenditure. All this after buoyant oil and gas prices, and revenues cresting TT$300 billion.

It is for the latter stated reasons that I will endorse the People's Partnership in an all round attempt at change. I don't believe that the Partnership is perfect and vigilance must be assumed for people such as Warner, McLeod, Sharma and Indarsingh. They must be held accountable and to a higher standard than the incumbent, because they have insisted on a higher standard themselves.

But I believe that a Partnership change will engender change in the way government is run. I believe that it will engender change in the way the economy is handled. And I believe that it will engender change in the PNM. It will allow for the nation to breathe easier for a while, while allowing the PNM to regroup to be a strong opposition party with a new leader and truly new faces (ie. without the arrogance of Imbert, Enill, Brown, McDonald and the ilk).

I encourage people to vote for the Partnership, but if one is not so inclined to do, I just encourage people to vote. Even if you aren't satisfied with either of the parties, take the time off to go and deliberately spoil your ballot, so that it will be counted as a protest vote against both parties. By not voting and remaining silent, you consent to the status quo, and a no vote is a silent vote in support of the party in power, whichever party that may be.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Election Country

Trinidad and Tobago heads to the polls on May 24 for its fifth General Election in 10 years. Three of those five elections were arguably necessary given the expiration of elected terms (2000 and 2007) and a hung Parliament (2002). Interestingly, the other two occasions were as a result of Prime Ministers fearing that they, and by extension, their governments would face fairly dicey Motions of No Confidence; Basdeo Panday in 2001 following the fallout with his Attorney-General and two other Members of Parliament and again in 2010, with Patrick Manning, who surrendered a very comfortable majority in the House of Representatives (26-15), only 29 months after winning his mandate.

For Manning, a four-time elected Prime Minister and the longest serving MP in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, this is his second snap election and is shaping up to be one of the most difficult elections that his party would have ever faced. Indeed, before a vote has even been cast, the Prime Minister and his party go into the elections of May 24 with a virtually reduced majority, a top PNM official being quoted as saying they hope to retain 22-23 seats. I suspect that that number reflects a best case scenario by their strategists.

But what of this obsession with elections? In 2007, the Opposition (UNC and COP) were obliterated in the Parliament, despite together polling more than 52% of the popular vote. While it made the PNM a minority elected government with a large Parliamentary majority, it also paved the way for some stability, given the breathing room afforded to the newly re-elected Prime Minister. In fact the PNM's win in 2007 was the largest margin given to any party since the 1986 NAR assumed office with 33 seats. And despite being plagued with issues of corruption surrounding Udecott, delivery of basic services, some unpopular personalities in Government and a noisy Opposition, it stretches the mind to think that even a combination of these things can force a Prime Minister to call an election with an 11 seat cushion in a 41 seat House.

Now, we have the situation of the Opposition being gifted a General Election at the height of incumbent unpopularity. They have cobbled together a deal, an accord, an arrangement, not much of which has been made public as yet. What we do know is that Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the Prime Ministerial candidate and, if successful at the polls, will go down not only as the first female Prime Minister but also as the shortest served Leader of the Opposition. Poor Bas; this certainly wasn't what he would have had in mind if someone told him that 3 months after assuming the position Kamla would no longer be Leader of the Opposition!

What is most disappointing in the short campaign thus far, is the almost comical avoidance of the issues by both platforms. Neither have come forward with a Manifesto. Where are the policies on crime, utilities, infrastructure, constitutional reform and health? Both are keen to play to their respective bases, one with 'It's a Love Thing', the other with an embarrassingly tacky use of Celine's 'A New Day'. I can see the VH-1 folks beginning to compile their list of the 100 worst election songs ever!

But it brings us to the point where the PNM is hoping to win this election by holding its base intact and the UNC/COP/etc hoping to win by convincing us, esoterically, that the PNM is worse so they should automatically get our votes. There doesn't seem to be any enthusiasm to present themselves as viable parties with definite plans for T&T. Election fatigue much? It's gotten so bad in the last 10 years that whereas previously, unelected candidates would quietly go back to their daily lives and jobs, there's almost a celebrity attached to these names. Names like Princess Smart, Rocky Garcia and Gavin Nicholas.

All this in the face of an arguably unnecessary election, which is costing taxpayers at least $23 million as per the EBC and God alone knows how much more with the wanton use of the Government Information Services Limited as a thinly veiled augmentation of the administration's campaign. As for the other side, it probably doesn't take too many guesses to determine where their financing is coming from. And in the true spirit of T&T politics, there must be some expectation of reward (read: corruption and nepotism) for such huge investments over the course of the last two elections.

And what of you, the electorate? Well apart from being distracted from everything imaginable, including CXC/CAPE, Fashion Week, T20 and ODI cricket, the first African Football World Cup and life, in general, we have to ask ourselves what kind of country we live in when 4 of our last 6 governments have collapsed (1995, 2000, 2001, 2010). What impact does this have on our faltering economy and our international image? And where do we go from here?

At this point it's too late to register to vote. But if you are registered, ensure that you do vote for your party, or even if you have to go into your polling booth and deliberately spoil your ballot because you believe that you cannot, with a good conscience, vote for any of the options presented to you. After all, an opportunity like this comes only once every five years. Well, at least theoretically.