By: Tony Best
A “mess” that needs an urgent and comprehensive solution to governance.
That’s how Trinidadians in New York are reacting to the latest cabinet reshuffle, the third in two years in their homeland that triggered two controversial actions: the expansion of the cabinet and the switch of Jack Warner from the Minister of Works to the powerful job of Minister of National Security responsible for the police, the army and the fire service, among other key agencies.
With public opinion divided at home, some calling the reshuffle a “reconfiguration ” and others seeing it as a “make-over” of government that needs a steady hand, not frequent changes in ministerial portfolios, nationals of the Caribbean republic in the metropolitan area view the cabinet changes and actions taken by Warner immediately after assuming his new duties as evidence that Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the first woman Prime Minister, wasn’t providing the effective leadership that they had anticipated.
“Quite frankly, I am disappointed,” said Desmond Chase, Chairman of the Board of Hawks International, a major association of Trinidadians in the U.S. “The whole thing is a mess at home. There is the specter of three cabinet reshuffles in two years; the state of emergency that was declared last year; the switch of Jack Warner, a man with a cloud over his head; and the general appearance that there is a leadership vacuum. You know, I had great hopes for Kamla, expecting her to give the government a much needed spark after the troubles era of Patrick Manning. I had expected the first women head of government to come in and provide strong leadership but so far that hasn’t been the case.”
As for Warner, Chase believes he committed a major blunder by calling out the army to destroy the camp of the Highway Re-route Movement, an action that has been vigorously criticized in and out of parliament but supported by the Prime Minister and Attorney-General, Anand Ramlogan, and Maha Saba leader Sat Maharaj.
“His action was one of running rough shod over people without first consulting the appropriate authorities, thus raising questions about the legality of his decision,” added Chase. “Given his past record with FIFA and the way he left that global organization he shouldn’t have been placed at the helm of the Ministry in the first place. There are unanswered questions about his role in the FIFA scandal and the Prime Minister was insensitive to put him there. It’s a mess.”
Like Chase, Terrance Joseph, a retiree who lives in the City, described the situation as “a real mess” and must be addressed by the government.
“”There is need for a comprehensive approach to governance and to issues that range from crime and the economy to the young people,” Joseph insisted. “The performance of the government leaves me disappointed mainly because I had expected much more to be done. There is too much of a piece-meal approach to running the country instead of a comprehensive plan to tackle the economic and social problems. That’s why the frequent cabinet changes. The approach by the government reflects the actions of a Third World country, not of an administration that is responsible for the running of a country that hopes to become a first world nation. It’s really very disappointing.”
Frank Wharton, an attorney, didn’t go quite that far in his assessment of the government’s performance, preferring to blame both the Prime Minister and her cabinet as well as the Opposition People’s National Movement led by Dr. Keith Rowley.
He readily endorsed the criticism of the government for pressing ahead with the construction of the highway, especially the timetable for its completion and for removing the protestors in the manner ordered by Warner.
“There is really no need for the government to move with such haste on the construction of the highway and for the removal of the protesters,” said Wharton. “It was a miscalculation. The highway construction project lacks prudence and the reaction of the PNM and its leadership should have been more focused on the benefits or the lack of them to the society, not on questions of the legality of the government’s decision to remove the protestors.”
As for Warner’s presence in the new ministry, Wharton argues for more time for him to settle down into his new responsibilities before making harsh judgments.
“He ought to be given a chance to prove himself,” argued the Trinidadian immigrant. “He must be allowed to function and people should recognize that it was a government decision to remove the protestors in the way they were taken from the site. Warner’s presence as Minister of National Security should give him the opportunity to show his worth and to recoup his integrity which right now has been smashed into pieces, largely because of the unanswered question about his departure from FIFA. I like some of the things the minister is pushing for such as better training for police officers, an increase in public spending on the security forces and for a greater role for young people in the security forces. We have quite a lot of energetic and creative young minds in Trinidad and Tobago and they must be allowed to shine. That’s what Warner says he wants to achieve and it should good to me.”
Interestingly, he gives the Prime Minister a passing grade, suggesting “she has done okay,” was the way he put it, but he thinks there was considerable room for improvement. The same applies to the opposition PNM.
Warner ordered the use of bulldozers and heavily armed soldiers and police officers dressed in Black to destroy the camp set up by the protestors. The Point Fortin highway is seen by its supporters as vehicle to kick-start the Trinidad economy by providing jobs for the unemployed and opening up southwest Trinidad. But opponents charge that at least 300 families who lived in the area of the highway would be displaced by its costly construction and would cause flooding.