I can still remember the accolades coming in from many quarters for the impressive PNM candidate for Tobago West in the 2015 General Election. I refer, of course, to Shamfa Cudjoe.
It took one short month in office for the newly appointed Minister of Tourism to declare to the Parliament that “We in charge now. Deal with it.” That would be merely the first in a line of faux pas to come.
Given that the PNM chose to portray the outcome of the 2010 election as a mass hoodwink of the population, ignoring any role that the PNM’s actions might have had in their own demise, it is not surprising that a lot of the pre-2010 PNM approach to governance has been re-introduced post 2015.
It is therefore no surprise to me that the Minister of Tourism is now the focus of the ire of the Communication Workers’ Union. According to the Union: “At 1.14 p.m. on Thursday 9th March, 2017, the Secretary General of the Union, Comrade Joseph Remy, received a call from the Minister.
“She indicated that she was at a Cabinet Meeting and she was taking the opportunity to inform the Union before the Government’s Post Cabinet meeting that the Cabinet had taken a decision to dissolve the TDC.
“The Minister also stated that there would be a new regulatory body and in response to a query about the status of workers of the Bargaining Units, she stated that she would have to engage the Union in subsequent discussions; the conversation with the Secretary General lasted a whopping one minute and forty-eight seconds.”
As the issue unfolded, the CWU upped the ante with a call for the Minister to resign. Added to this, in a major show of solidarity, the trade union bodies (FITUN, JTUM and NATUC) simultaneously withdrew their participation from the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).
The casual observer might be tempted to surmise that the situation escalated quickly. That, indeed, is precisely what the Honourable Prime Minister contended had occurred when he chose to admonish the trade union movement for what he saw as a predictable knee-jerk reaction to the events.
But the PM clearly cannot be a casual observer and his disdainful dismissal of the objections to such a major decision is reminiscent of the behaviour of his immediate predecessor and a reminder of his party’s attitude toward the trade union movement.
In my view, the fundamental issue here is style of governance and the fact that the current imbroglio which involves the TDC is circumstantial. It could just as easily have been any other entity and we shall more than likely see others follow in short order.
When a new minister can so confidently declare to the Parliament that ‘We in charge now,’ we must question the origin of this statement and ask ourselves what are the circumstances that could lead a parliamentary neophyte to be so crass.
I maintain, for example, that what we saw from PP MP Vernella Toppin was an indication that that party had degenerated to a point that they had lost all respect not just for the Opposition but for the Parliament in which they sat as well as for the electorate at large.
And so what becomes critical is to consider the tone of the discussions that take place when we are not watching.
In a similar vein, it is naïve to think that Minister Cudjoe’s pronouncements were not endorsed in some other quarters, emboldening her to make such statements publicly.
I liken the Minister to a child who lacks the diplomacy of parents who find themselves in company they would prefer not to keep. That child will let your company know everything about them which you would have liked to keep private.
Just look at her sarcastic Facebook post in response to the Union’s call for her dismissal.
“Ooooh,” it reads, “I’m scared.”
When then Minister of Housing Roodal Moonilal told the trade unions in 2011 to “wine to de side,” there was no lack of condemnation for his outburst from quarters where there is now silence. No doubt the rules are different when the transgressor is “ah we girl.”
We do have standards in this country; unfortunately, however, they are far too often double.
What of the response to the former PM’s statement that the Constitutional Amendment Bill should proceed because there were no riots when weighed against Minister Colm Imbert’s more recent pronouncement that, since previous fuel price increases had not caused a riot, he might increase the price again?
The bottom line is that the PNM has now been in office for 18 months and what we are seeing is all too familiar. Nothing has changed. Dr Rowley and his team have simply not delivered in accordance with the legitimate expectations of the population.
The only ‘knee-jerk reaction’ in the TDC affair has come from the Cabinet. How could you announce the closure of one entity to be replaced by another or, as in this case, three others when there is no clarity on what the new entity is likely to be? Clearly there is deliberately to be no transition.
So, the Cabinet has many questions to answer as there seems to be more in this TDC mortar than just the pestle. The CWU has already pointed to the award of contracts as one potential factor and, given the poor handling of the affair by the PM, one is tempted to assume that there is some validity in this claim.
But it cannot be that the votes have already been cast so there is no longer any need to listen, no need to appear to be all accommodating and no need to say all the right things.
No. If we are to believe in meaningful change, the current PM must do what no previous PM has done. He must keep his word!