Thursday, May 26, 2011

52 Weeks Later

It's the one year anniversary of the coalition sweeping into power with an unprecedented popular mandate. They've been extensively analysed and polled, so there probably isn't any merit in rehashing the mantra of the last few weeks.

What is important is that we utilise an appropriate benchmark in order to assess this and any other government. These benchmarks will inevitably include direct comparisons to previous administrations as well as comparisons to a 'gold standard' of governance.

With respect to the comparison with the immediately preceding administration, I believe that there is no doubt that the current administration has not only shown but has also done many of the necessary things to bring about some degree of confidence back into the realm of good governance.

There are simple instances of line ministers and the Prime Minister making themselves available to be interviewed. There is the pleasing sight of high ranking cabinet ministers taking questions at the Post Cabinet Press Conference. There has been a restoration of Parliamentary oversight with the establishment of many Joint Select Committees, answering of questions posed to Ministers and even the sheer number of sittings that the Parliament has undertaken.

There has been an attempt to improve levels of transparency with the advertisements of numerous tenders for various projects. Whether or not this actually leads to any degree of improvement in the award of contracts is left to be seen, after the Mary King and NP debacles.

From a macro perspective, the Economy has been stabalised, reports of serious crimes have decreased while Agriculture has been given priority, despite the absolutely horrendous acts of bulldozing crops a few weeks ago. In addition there is a massive thrust in Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs to position this country into a more competitive position and the Ministry of Energy has awarded new exploration contracts. The Ministry of Works has completed some outstanding PNM projects while undertaking some new initiatives.

However, this has all been marred by the events of the SIA, Mary King, Jack Warner and FIFA, Dookeran and Anil, Ramlogan and the Piano, the placement of ministers in capacities which clearly overwhelms them (Baptiste-Cornelis and Gopeesingh) and lately, the furor over the imminent award to a friend of the PM of an NP contract.

It is here that we must revert to the reasons why the current coalition is in power. A large part of their election was apathy toward the PNM and more specifically, Patrick Manning. Their campaign was hinged on the idea of new politics, better governance, increased transparency and less corruption. I am not one who believes that we have gotten exchange rather than change. However, there have been frustrating incidents. Incidents that make one wonder whether or not they realise that their election was something far more significant than a glossy campaign or rum and roti politics.

52 weeks later, each of the component entities of the Partnership seem intent on building their identities. The MSJ officially launched as a political party, while the COP has promoted their serialisation in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary of T&T's Independence. This, I believe, can only auger well for the strength of the coalition. It is high time however, that the component entities begin holding each other, especially the majority partner, accountable for actions.

As for the PNM, as has been the case with many parties shocked into opposition, there have been serious problems organising into a viable alternative administration. Significant steps have been taken, with the recent executive election and the consolidation of power around Dr. Rowley. Recently, however, the resurgence of a Manning faction has proved to somewhat discredit the idea that the PNM is a cohesive unitary party. This undermines their credibility when they seek to imply that the coalition of 5 is not a cohesive unit. There seems to be a misunderstanding that Cabinet cohesiveness and political cohesiveness are divergent. The PP is not a unitary party and as such, it is expected that divergent views are given at the level of the Executive of the individual parties. The same is not true of the current PNM, where divergence of views is tantamount to a direct assault on the authority of the Political Leader and the Whip.

For the first 52 weeks, I would agree with Mr. Imbert, who exhibited the most class I've seen of any politician in recent times when talking at a seminar hosted at UWI reflecting on the 1st year of the PP government. The government will get a passing grade; somewhere in the region of 6/10. There remains a lot of work to be done and many important manifesto promises to be fulfilled that requires the constitutional majority that they currently enjoy.

In the next year, I fervently hope that the PP address the structural aspects of governance, from a proper reshuffle of the cabinet to the laying and passing of legislation overhauling the constitution to better reflect the society that we live in and hope to build. This in addition to the developmental pillars that they themselves have set out and which would be the benchmark by which their governance would be judged. The 'gold standard' will be their ability to move T&T higher in the international indicators of development.

We cannot hope to achieve First World status with a Third World mentality. No more in our history is it more true than it is at the very present. Here's to a much better next 52 weeks.

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