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The PP offensive & PNM’s reply
It may be quite easy to forget this weekend that a mid term—possibly tougher—budget is being presented by a new finance minister on Monday coming. Finance Minister Larry Howai’s upcoming presentation forms the backdrop to political manoeuvring today and tomorrow respectively by the PP administration and Opposition PNM, in heightened adversarial mode following blows the PP has suffered from the Clause 34 controversy.
The Government has not been known to hold a rally on budget eve nor has the Prime Minister held a pre-budget caucus with the executives of Partnership members as she did last Sunday. Today’s PP production at Mid-Centre Mall is therefore, clearly a show of strength and a PP damage control offensive as the 28-month coalition faces an increasingly confident Opposition and a rising leadership challenge by Opposition Leader Keith Rowley who’s attracted labour and certain other support the PP lost.
Similarly, as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar walked Laventille—PNM turf—the day after the PNM’s mega-march to President’s House, the PP is standing up to be counted today to boost morale in the face of shattered credibility after recent events and PNM’s success in pushing Government to act on several aspects of the Clause 34 issue. Rowley may have a literal view of the PP offensive actually launched in Wednesday’s televised PP broadcast targetting him.
That PP “show” competed for listenership with a PNM public meeting that night, carried on radio and each side slung accusations almost immediately as members from one side mentioned the name of counterparts (and their associates) on the other. As PNMItes railed against the Attorney General, PP MPs repeatedly showed tapes in which Rowley’s predecessor Patrick Manning deemed him a “raging bull”.
Manning’s recent opinion that he’d have never voted for Clause 34 as his colleagues did, was used as ammunition for promoting PNM division with Jack Warner sympathetically describing Manning—once PP’s poster boy for alleged waste and mismanagement—as a man “abused” by Rowley. PP’s forum, hardly a panel discussion (as promoted) featured MP Suruj Rambachan urging against “going backwards”—a push used by the Obama campaign against returning to the Republicans.
Whether today’s PP rally numbers will reach the 14,000 mark—as UNC chairman Jack Warner ordered—after mobilisation of five working days remains to be seen. AThe current political scenario therefore clearly involves survival issues for both Prime Minister and Opposition leader and their parties, one a coalition—losing a partner after 28 months—and the other apparently heading if not for coalition, then alliances.
It’s particularly so since 2013 puts all sides into election mode from THA polls (due January), UNC leadership elections (February) and Local Government (by June ) into 2015 general elections. In that sense, just as PNM is reinforcing its support base with affiliation, today’s PP rally may promo Government’s plans for the rest of the term.
While the PP has spun its its latest ministerial dismissal—Herbert Volney, found guilty on Clause 34 handling—as evidence of its resolve to deal with wrong-doing, members are yet to convincingly address the (lack of) role of Cabinet’s legal adviser, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in the issue.
Not only by virtue of his high, almost supervisory position, including being titular head of the bar, Ramlogan might have been expected to monitor a matter as weighty as Clause 34 and its parent bill since it involved no less than the Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions. (Today’s Blackberry/call conferencing age would have assisted him to stay in the loop if he was overseas as the PM said he was.)
The Prime Minister in defending her legal adviser, has put her credibility on the line gambling that her image—in which PP is shaped—will be strong enough with supporters today and her pre-budget rally will deflect from PP’s problems. Any PP thundershot aimed at Rowley today will come in enough time to be considered by PNMites meeting tomorrow on Rowley’s proposed alliance with groups—and for Rowley to respond.
PP sources say the firestorm placing PP on its current backfoot hasn’t forced Finance Minister Larry Howai to temper budgetary austerity measures of which he has warned and Monday’s package will be a clinical treatise for what T&T requires.
Howai clearly aims to cut costs. This column learned project proposals by new ministries were rejected as too costly and their funding was restricted to 2013 recurrent expenditure.
Health, education, security’s much touted anti-crime plan and certain projects are targetted for high allocations. With promises of good governance perceived as collapsing, it remains to be seen today what reminders will be given on fulfilled promises and how many more will be made to recoup support and smoothen the budget’s way.
How much the PM’s statements today and Rowley’s reply tomorrow will upstage each other and reach their respective marks and whether they’ll overshadow budget debate—starting in ernest next Friday with Rowley’s reply— also remains to unfold.
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