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Budgets, Volney & blame games
If he was concerned at being upstaged by a former minister whose dismissal he had sought, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley didn’t show it during yesterday’s House of Representatives budget debate. In fact Rowley opened his salvo against Government’s 2013 budget with a couple humorous barbs at his new “neighbour”, UNC MP Herbert Volney, now esconced in a new “independent” seat just behind him.
Volney’s ears may burn at monthend when Rowley and the PNM debate their motion of censure against the Attorney General whose resignation PNM had sought along with Volney’s on the Clause 34 controversy. But yesterday it was new Finance Minister Larry Howai who suffered a political baptism of fire by Rowley on his 2013 budget.
Howai had delivered an ambitious growth-oriented plan though with a paucity of explanation and a plethora of optimistic projections. It was clearly couched from political perspective judging from some concessions and the phasing in of certain sensitive aspects—fuel subsidy cuts, property tax, revenue authority—through the political minefield of midterm and various polls to general election.
There are for instance as many queries about PP’s VAT removal issue (temporary or not), as there are on PNM’s petition matter (delivered or not). The fire of Rowley’s somewhat banal statement yesterday was in pillorying the Budget and Howai’s expertise.
He might have recognised other political authors besides Howai. In turn Rowley, in discussions with new PNM “friends,” hinted at his own plans for (PNM) government including energy initiatives which will form part of the platform the PNM is constructing in the next few months.
Beyond budget debate, Parliament’s landscape had changed with Volney’s move away from the PP bench to become an independent UNC MP, intent on delivering “constructive criticism” when necessary, (he said.) Similar sentiments were made by Rowley after 2008 when he was fired by former PM Patrick Manning and subsequently proceeded to severely critique his party from the PNM backbench.
At last Saturday’s PP rally, UNC members accused Rowley of causing Manning’s Government to collapse. Despite his boss’s pronouncements concerning the circumstances of his dismissal Volney is obviously not going quietly into the night and it remains to unfold how this will affect the PP considering the issues he harbours on his dismissal, the Clause 34 matter and some of his colleagues who he clearly feels, share responsibility.
Volney may sit behind the PNM upper row, but is still a UNC MP whose Parliamentary status depends on keeping the seat. PNM’s St Joseph unit eyeing the seat, has called for him to resign. On Wednesday as Volney told TG he was striking out independently, his leader and other Partnership heads were meeting to implement groundwork to tighten PP bonds.
Volney’s corridor “neighbour” MP Fuad Khan—who went to the backbench in2005 when at odds with the then UNC Panday leadership—had said his action and that of other UNC MPs led to the birth of the COP and the PP. PP members yesterday made studied efforts to ensure the Partnership facade looked intact after Volney’s move when many went to his backbench seat to greet him.
Last Saturday’s PP rally was also a show of force to thumb the collective Partnership nose at PNM after the Opposition’s recent march. More revealing than the many statements about the crowd number however, were the PM’s statements about moves by media, scribes, political commentators and lobbyists against the coalition—one of many PP ironies considering the number of former journalists in PP ranks, with two more up to last month located at the PM’s office.
COP leader Prakash Ramadhar whose address was clearly pitched to pacify COP supporters as well as push PP units harder, made a point which was (surprisingly) echoed by TOP leader Ashworth Jack: concern about signs emerging similar to those of 1989, prior to the 1990 coup event. Since both leaders’ political fortunes—Jack’s more urgently—are tied up with the PP’s manoeuvrings, they would have reason to be concerned.
Though PNM MPs chortled “Poor Prakash” when Howai signalled return of the property tax, the COP—initiators of PP’s Axe the Tax lobby—has quietly accepted the move on the premise the tax will not be an increased. Other COP members are however working on strengthening COP’s voice including via COP’s executive polls. COP MP Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan said yesterday she filed nomination papers to contest COP’s chairmanship against incumbent Joseph Toney.
Also bidding for a chairmanship—lady vice chairman—in the PNM is Penny Beckles whose contest with incumbent Donna Cox will be the most interesting aspect of PNM’s executive elections on October 28 also. If victorious it will strengthen Beckles’ hand and may lead to new internal currents in the Opposition.
PNM MP Patrick Manning still recuperating, may continue missing the drama in Parliament. While his leave is up October 24, Manning may continue on extended leave after that, it is understood. Manning who attended his constituency’s annual meeting two weeks ago is expected to attend tomorrow’s constituency conference where Rowley will speak.
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