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The other cabinet shifts
The creation of a Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration could be the most signifi- cant initiative in the Prime Minister’s reconfiguration of her Cabinet. However, without the benefit of a full outline of portfolio responsibility it would be difficult to say if, by creating this ministry, the Government is prepared to tackle the serious issues of race relations, equity and to demonstrate that all the people of the country have an equal entitlement to the resources of State. Properly mandated the ministry would ensure against the systematic practice of discrimination against any one ethnic group.
If the Prime Minister is serious about such a ministry she would place in the portfolio an assignment for the ministry to examine ethnic diversity in the Cabinet; in the appointment of state boards, especially at the level of chairmen of those boards; the award of government/state contracts; expenditure (as Sat Maharaj has always complained) on Afro vs Indo cultural activities; and the mechanisms to be used and programmes to be developed that could lead to social integration.
Monitoring the functioning of the ministry would be a good means of deciding whether the reconfiguration is meant to have a fundamental impact on the operations of government or whether it would amount in the end to the mere shifting around of ministers for non-performance, political engineering and for party electoral purposes and more.
But having last week examined most of the major Cabinet changes, it is apparent that the other shifts were adjustments to accommodate those changes. In this regard Communications was lopped-off from Foreign Affairs (with Dyer-Griffith disappearing) and a new UNC minister slotted in; Science and Technology was exorcised from Tertiary Education; Water Resources and the Environment (which could prove to be an important ministry) was culled from Public Utilities and Housing.
The ministers-retained category is interesting. Of the 12 who got to hold on to their Cabinet portfolios, eight of them are ministers who the Prime Minister depends upon; they are all hardcore UNC. While Errol Mc Leod contested on a UNC ticket even though he then led the MSJ, he has now indicated that he will not be wearing the yellow jersey of the rising sun. He is the ace in the hole to portray the labour image of the PP. Two of the three other retained ministers are COP’s Seepersad-Bachan and political leader of the party, Pra-kash Ramadhar.
Anil Roberts, the other retained COP minister, got into office on a COP ticket but continually seems to be more UNC than COP; time will tell. This could be the Prime Minister’s last real shot at achieving, at least putting the country on the path to economic transformation, to manhandling the criminal culture, to choking off corruption, to putting an end to nepotism, ethnic favouritism, even racial polarisation, which have all become entrenched in the political and socie- tal culture of T&T.
And I have not yet mentioned the fundamental task of allowing the population to participate meaningfully in reformulating the national constitution and settling the issue of a just and productive relationship between Tobago and Trinidad. These are not impositions on the People’s Partnership Government; they are what the collective group said it would do when the elements came together and signed on to the Fyzabad Accord/Declaration.
Cabinet reshuffles have the potential to create the impression of a new start; but if meaningful change is not forthcoming, sooner rather that later the image begins to be tarnished instead of being burnished. Having been sold by the Prime Minister as a “reconfiguration,” which has the potential to transform the Government and its operations and so make a qualitative difference to the lives of people, then the expectations are going to be even greater.
PM Persad-Bissessar has to be careful about playing trumps too often and not getting the kind of “bounce” expected. She has played this hand before; hard economic times are lingering, even threatening, to get even more difficult in Europe and the USA. A related matter is the likely impact, if any, the departure of the MSJ can have on the coalition government. That the party does not have mass electoral support was known to all before the coalition.
But there are political intangibles which have currency; and that was the currency the UNC and others traded in when they brought la-bour into the coalition. It is well-known that there are voting cohorts who will only feel comfortable with the UNC as the ruling party (and the electoral history demonstrates that point) if there are attenuating forces in a coalition mix. That is the value of the MSJ.
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