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The Cabinet makeover
The Cabinet reshuffle announced two Fridays ago by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was essentially a makeover of the Government. While it had been advertised as a “reconfiguration” before the announcement was made, after digesting the magnitude of the changes, one can only conclude that it was indeed a makeover.
The size of the government was increased and the diversity of portfolios expanded. It was apparent that the Prime Minister wanted to address both performance and political issues in this makeover. In order to accomplish this, she was able to make use of the wide expanse of senatorial appointments available to a prime minister for the inclusion of ministerial talent in the government. Back in 1976 when the then administration of Dr Eric Williams proposed the republican constitution, they removed the limitations on ministerial appointments from the Senate that existed at that time.
Eric Williams had always been challenged by the limitation of ministers who could have been appointed from the Senate, and in 1970 at the height of the Black Power uprisings he had the Constitution amended to permit an increase in the number of senators who could be appointed ministers. In 1976 he proposed the complete removal of the limitation and it was incorporated into our republican constitution.
Last December, at the close of the series of lectures on 50 Years of Bicameralism hosted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley, Leader of the Opposition, raised the issue of the absence of a cap on ministerial appointments as a matter of concern. Dr Rowley knew that this flexibility that was introduced by the PNM in 1976 was now a major tool that could facilitate a coalition government like the People’s Partnership to bring in new faces through the Senate to serve as ministers.
One of the by-products of the coalition method is that the size of government will always be big. There are too many competing elements to satisfy as opposed to a government formed from a single party. This Cabinet is now the largest in the history of the country and it can be contrasted with the smallest Cabinet in our history which was formed by Dr Williams after the 1976 general elections which consisted of only eleven ministers.
Of course, in order to accomplish such a small number, Dr Williams created a number of “super ministers” such as Kamaluddin Mohammed as minister of Health and minister of Local Government, John Donaldson was minister of External Affairs and minister of National Security, Hector Mc Clean was minister of Works, Transport and Communications, while Dr Williams was prime minister and minister of Finance. He deliberately left out Brensley Barrow, Carlton Gomes, Sham Mohammed, Lionel Robinson and Victor Campbell who had won their seats, but were not supported by him.
At that time, Williams was in complete control of the party and dominated the government to such an extent that he could afford to disregard so many elected members who had signed an undated letter of resignation and given it to him before standing as PNM candidates in the general election.
Today, there are no undated letters of resignation and all of the elected MPs who form part of the government are not from the same party. As a consequence, in the shadow of the departure of the MSJ and the spectre of unsteady relations between the UNC and the COP, the Prime Minister made a valiant effort to forge closer links between those parties by resolving the controversy over the mayorship of San Fernando, thereby keeping her promise and at the same time implementing a long-held wish of Makandal Daaga and NJAC to have a ministry that would address national diversity and social cohesion.
Perhaps the boldest move of all was to shift Jack Warner from Works and Infrastructure to National Security. Already, Warner has wasted no time advertising that he is prepared to take bold and controversial action based on the events that unfolded on the day that this column was written. His decision to demonstrate individual ministerial responsibility for the action to demolish the Highway Re-Route protest camp in Debe was a signal of how he intends to handle this portfolio.
In the Ministry of Works he operated on a high-profile basis and he has wasted no time in continuing that approach in his new posting. This portfolio is going to be the ultimate political test for Warner as this could either make of break his political stardom on the local scene.
On the other hand, the inclusion of Larry Howai in the Cabinet has brought with it the introduction of a non-political appointee who has been sourced to do a professional job in a political environment where he has no party symbol over his head. Many have questioned his readiness for the rough and tumble world of politics. It should be noted that rising to the top of the banking world is a great political feat in its own right. The search for performance and the resolution of political differences seem to have driven this Cabinet reshuffle.
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