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Raffique rates Rowley’s Gov’t: the PNM’s inherited traps, pitfalls and own goals

I am relieved to learn that the Cabinet “retreat” in Tobago last weekend did not have, as a main item on its agenda: “Achievements of the not-so-new Government during its first six months in office.”

If it did, I would have screamed bloody murder. Not to add rape of the Treasury, because although I’ve never been to Hotel Magdalena, I should think it’s an expensive place.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It would have been sinful in the extreme for Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to have spent a million dollars or more discussing “achievements” that are so sparse, he could have assembled his charges and colleagues to occupy some benches around the Savannah, sip coconut water—in the spirit of buying local—and comprehensively cover all successes, if there were any, in 15 minutes flat.

At least we were spared the hollow trumpeting, which is little comfort, really.

According to the PM, the Cabinet: “focused on financial management of the State’s affairs, the prioritising of projects and the treatment of the Government’s commitments, including arrears owed to public servants and other debtors.”

Hello, it’s about time—maybe even past time—that these issues are resolved one way or other.

True, they comprise an unfair burden imposed on the incoming Government last September; part of the pre-election extravagance of a regime that was prepared to mortgage the whole damn country in a bid to retain power.

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections. (Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)
Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections.
(Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)

Let’s be honest here: in early 2015, when the then Government agreed to settle with the Public Services Association (PSA) at a 15 percent increase in wages and allowances for the period 2011-2013, the price of oil had already declined to below US$50 a barrel.

The irrepressible Watson Duke, leader of the PSA, told public servants: “Go and buy a wheelbarrow!” He said they will need it to carry all the money they will get.

Other public sector workers—protective services, daily paid, health sector, etc—were all to benefit from the money-tree. Except that the PP Government never intended to pay the billions due to them before the election.

The same held true for contractors who conducted TT$1 billion-plus in projects to boost the PP’s election image.

And the ex-cane farmers, who are today marching for however many millions, forget that former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised them that money on the campaign trail in May 2010 but delivered barely a fraction in 2015, on the eve of election.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

However, Rowley and his colleagues knew of all these debts before the general election, even if the precise details may have been vague.

What nobody could have predicted was the collapse of oil prices, which went below US$30 a barrel and stayed depressed for such an extended period.

According to the PM, at the retreat, Finance Minister Colm Imbert apprised his colleagues of the country’s financial dilemma. Rowley said T&T was not bankrupt but it has a cash flow problem.

In other words, we are close to broke. We need to dip into our savings just to pay bills and meet our debts and other financial obligations.

What the Government has going for it is understanding and patience on the part of most of the population.

Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People's Partnership Government's administration.
Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People’s Partnership Government’s administration.

Public sector workers, for example, have not engaged in industrial action or other forms of protest. And even the impact of VAT—such as the restructuring on food prices and other essential consumer goods, which are being exploited by some rogue merchants—has not provoked outrage.

But the Government is testing people’s patience and tolerance to the limit.

Dr Rowley’s mettle is also being tested by issues relating to two ministers, Marlene McDonald and Camille Robinson-Regis.

In McDonald’s case, allegations of impropriety that date back to before the 2010 election, which seem to be supported by documents, have resurfaced to haunt her, and by extension, the PM.

It seems strange that the offences, if they can be so described, were unearthed during the tenure of the PP Government, but other than speak about them in Parliament, they did nothing.

Photo: Housing Minister Marlene McDonald (left) during her prior stint in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs. (Copyright news.gov.tt)
Photo: Housing Minister Marlene McDonald (left) during her prior stint in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs.
(Copyright news.gov.tt)

Why? And why now?

The timing is curious. But if the allegations are supported by documentation, the PM should act and not hide behind the “bring the evidence” refrain.

In Ms Robinson’s case, she seems to take her responsibilities as a person in public life, a senior minister at that, lightly.

Really, why would anyone—except a business depositing the day’s or week’s sales or a criminal stashing his loot—walk into a bank with such a huge sum of money in cash?

Her transaction may well have been legal. But it looks bad. And that should never be for someone who values her integrity.

Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.
Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.

Dr Rowley and his ministers must understand that after the multiple sins of the PP regime, the population does not trust politicians.

Like Caesar’s wife—or maybe Mr Regis’s—they must manifestly be above suspicion.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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22 comments

  1. Reading the article I disagree with the Camille issue given both institutions FCB and Republic provided proof that money deposited was from her salary. In this regard the writer should not have ended so abruptly but to conclude the story with such valid evidence. The truth be told Trinidad and it’s institutions have a problem with confidentiality. I have worked in the Energy for 11 yes and such breaches in confidentiality is frowned upon. The CSR performing the operation should have been more duty bound to the policies of the organization to ensure that Ms. Robinson sign the declaration form and not be intimidated in serving a government official. The CSR did not uphold her own company policy. If he/she did and Ms. Robinson refused to provide valid evidence of her source of funds then she should have been reminded of the policy, further non compliance an alarm should have been raised to have a more senior staff handle the issue. Government officials are not above the law and should adhere to all laws this enforced by officials who have a duty to do so. The Marlene issue I agree needs to be dealt with. In light of evidence being put toward it would be a grave insult to ignore same. However, I await the conclusion on this one. Let the investigation reveal all things and if guilty let the appropriate action be taken. Public officials must learn to serve and serve with integrity because every act of corruption reduces the standard of living of its people and development, causing undue hardship. Nonetheless I like to read Raffique’s articles. I will re-read same to see if I miss any pertinent points because I like to compare readers take with evidence because I have recognised this country has lost its professionalism, in that professionals no longer use evidence to drive opinions but there own racial and political biases. That to me is very distasteful and I have lost a lot of confidence in most individuals in this country who provide public critique. My experience and environment I have been schooled in taught me differently. Reporting must always be evident based and individuals critiquing must also do so with robust integrity. Something now lacking in the fabric of our society since every one now has an agenda be it financial, political, positional, racial etc. This has lately turned me off and over the past month I have taken a rest from following current issues as I normally do. I want to hear truth, thought provoking ideas, good analyses and corrupt activities dealt with. This partisian is a strong disgust for me and I am unable to grow as a citizen as it regards my national identity and involvement (if I choose too because the evil I see in our politics is disheartening).

  2. Dr. Rowley’s modus operandi: Blame the inocent to cover the guilty.

    E.g. Blame First Citizens Bank and raise questions on their professionalism, by stating that he was considering removing his money from there, then he makes a turn and says that he has confidence in the Bank.

    Eg. 2 – Dismisses Tim Kee’s statement as “tongue in cheek” and considers it light, then when the issue ‘hits the fan’ he makes an about turn and rebukes Tim Kee.

    M.O. – brakes for the wrong doer and blame the innocent, then when there’s too much heat, make an about turn.

  3. Was Camille out of the country just for a couple days prior to her press conference to ‘defend’ herself?
    Did she go to an ‘offshore’ place?
    Was it to ‘bank’ money in an ‘offshore’ account?
    Was it really a coincidence for the Prime Marriage (PM) attender aka lookanie, and his colleagues to attend the expensive retreat at the same place and time of another Colleague’s daughter’s wedding?

    Important questions to answer.

  4. this article was on point MR Rowley and his cabinet ministers will NEVER please the massive they just have to do what they have to do to get back this country in a liveable state it’s not going to be easy people but the one who’s really listening to whats going on will.

  5. Some good points but I’ll be blunt… “Dr Rowley and his ministers must understand that after the multiple sins of the PP regime, the population does not trust politicians.” Yet the PP government gained power as being probably the most trusted government ever and during its term for its many “missteps” (as coined by the local media) it retained a fair amount of support as is visible in the parliament. In short, this dim witted population is as bias as it is ignorant of economics, politics and morality. In my opinion the PP was the best suited government to run the affairs of this country… it was indeed a balanced union.

  6. remember that 32B$ overdraft Dhanasar Mahabir raised yesterday

  7. Yep!! Raffique Shah is on point! …Priceless! i might add, agreed that the Prime Minister should have ” assembled his charges and colleagues to occupy some benches around the savannah, sip coconut water- in the spirit of buying local – and comprehensively cover all successes if there were any, in 15 minutes flat”.Also, “why would anyone-except a business depositing the day’s or week’s sales or a criminal stashing his loot – walk into a bank with such a huge sum of money in cash?” Why??? anyone……

  8. A pretty fair, if grim assessment. One thing’s for sure: it feels all so familiar. Admittedly they are in a tight spot because of the economy. But again, that vision thing – or lack of it – from decades ago. The main parties now seem interchangeable. Who’s going to save T&T from itself. Hmm, possibly you, Lasana? 🙂

    • Trinidad and Tobago has to save her damn self. Lol. There ent any “white knight” waiting to enter this flim!
      Time to move past those those days and take responsibility for our governance.

    • But not the main parties. They seem as devoid of ideas and hope as each other. Or am I being unfair?

    • As for stash o’cash-gate, I mean, really.

    • I think you are right about the main parties having bad images. Not sure whether it is so bad that it cannot be addressed by a fresh slate.
      But I feel the voters have to change first yes. When you look around and hear the blind followers from both sides, you realise why we are in this mess.

    • How do you educate people voting on race, to put it bluntly?

    • Wish I knew the answer to that yes Kala. I really do. We are screwed until we find a solution.

    • Actually, I think the Mauritians sort of sorted that out. And even the Surinamese, They don’t beat around the bush by denying the ethnic factor. SO people in both places do vote on race. But their pol systems are more like constituent assemblies, where alliances can be formed with various smaller parties. Not sure I would necessarily recommend the Surinamese model. But the Mauritian one seems to have delivered a measure of stability coupled with real sustainable economic development – without oil – and too much jhanjat.

    • So I guess, we should diss the Westminster model and bring in something a bit more inclusive of other groups/parties. Free up the political space from adversarial to more alliance-based.

    • But tell that to the two parties who feel they will lose out on all the fun.

    • Whichever party suggests a change, the other one will be suspicious. No party wants to share power if it thinks it can hold it for itself. And supporters follow suit.
      Only the people can force change. And I’m not even altogether sure how.

    • ..ALL of the mainstream parties are cut from the same cloth. The differences are minimal and are reflected only in the extent and degree of their bull shit. They have convinced enough people that the issue blighting our country is good governance. It is not. It is philosophical..

    • We, the people, must change. And that is really hard.
      Does that happen spontaneously? Do people have to coordinate it?
      Is something going to happen to push us in that direction?
      Are we near the crossroads yet…

    • I agree with you Lasana Liburd. We are the problem. We blame the politicians or political parties for everything without looking at ourselves. We, the citizens are corrupt. Drawing on the issue with the Minister and Calabar Foundation to point out that the Minister is not an accounting officer and I will suggest that a public servant approved those two cheque payments. I agree that the Minister must be held accountable. What about the others involved. Who signed off on the payment? Who received the payment and what was these funds used for? Follow the money!!! Why are we not calling for these funds to be repaid? Citizens need to be aware of how government functions and the lines of accountability of Ministers and Public Servants who are to appear independent in carrying out their functions.