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N Touch
Thursday 22 February 2018
News

Passing grade

A year ago, the coalition People’s Partnership hit the ground running, the charge led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar the day she took her oath of office. Skipping the post ceremonial celebrations to go to the assistance of flood victims, the message was, this is a new caring Government, a government of the people, a government which knows it has inherited a nation in chaos. One year later, are the people satisfied? Change has come apace, but not fast enough for many.

Citizens are generally pleased with critical infrastructural work being undertaken by the Ministry of Works and Transport, under the indefatigable Minister Jack Warner. Bridges are being built and roads and highways upgraded, making life easier for commuters and generating jobs. The Education Ministry is making strides – pupils have been provided with laptops and the Ministry, by regulating extracurricular activities and demanding regular attendance, is seeking to restore order to the school system. In Tobago, decades old inconveniences have been resolved overnight with Tobagonians now having their own technical college and being in a position to get their driver’s permits locally. Culturally the PP’s impact has been felt – Carnival 2011 returned to the beloved Savannah stage and competition prizes were unusually generous. Most notable: the Police Service is becoming effective and the murder toll is down.

In other sectors however, the PP presence has yet to be felt and change is not as discernible. The Ministry of Health has set a welcome new standard for doctors and nurses on the job by suspending practitioners on duty when a woman bled to death, and a fund has been set up for children needing life-saving treatment abroad, but there is no tangible difference in the quality of health care. CEPEP and URP continue to be a source of societal tensions and explosions as PP supporters battle for jobs once held by PNM card carriers. The murder rate may be slipping, but general crime statistics are intolerably high. The people do not feel safe.

The economy is an area of considerable concern – the PP has managed to put an end to the waste of funds and to curb demands for assistance, but experts, including the Central Bank, are starting to wonder if Government’s hold on the economic reins needs slackening. Is a large injection of funds necessary to get the economy bullish? All eyes are on the public purse – unions are vigilant from the sidelines – they want their wage increases to correspond to the rate of inflation – while the Opposition, with no breakthroughs or arrests at hand in the Udecott scandals, is questioning each contract awarded, every cent expended.

How has the PP fared politically? It was swept into office promising an end to nepotism and corruption, but eight months later, it was facing charges of nepotism over the appointment of a junior Reshmi Ramnarine to head TT’s spy agency. No sooner had it recovered from its first major embarrassment; there was egg on its face again after an untimely outburst on the racial composition of the Police Service by the head of the Police Service Commission, Nizam Mohammed. Mohammed was immediately fired.

In this, the anniversary month of its victory, the Partnership has faced its biggest upset after a newspaper report alleged impropriety and conflict of interest in the award of a $100,000 IT contract by the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs, to the Minister’s family. The Minister, Mary King has been dismissed and an investigation of the contract and her conduct is underway. The PP has also committed to a probe of an NP bid dispute after the Opposition last week sought to link the PM’s friendship with the preferred candidate to the contract tendering process.

In our view, the domino dismissals and investigations make the Government stronger not weaker. If in other areas of its performance the PP may only receive a passing grade, it merits an A for attitude. When faced with charges of corruption – and these have been minor in comparison to the hundreds of millions entangled in murky Udecott deals under the PNM – it has been willing to investigate. When it has erred it has been humble and made amends. The Government has been open to and has sought dialogue – the Prime Minister has tried to meet the demands of striking cops halfway. The PP has not embraced corruption as par for the course and not shot the messenger of the bad news. Laudable has been the coalition’s steadfastness during these spells of inclement political weather.

The PP has had no honeymoon. One year ago it did not demand one and the people were too burnt out by a decade of PNM ineptitude and corruption to be in the mood to offer the PP a period of transition and adjustment. Impatience has quickly translated into disappointment. The PP will need to make giant strides in its second year.

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