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In September, the Caribbean...
The United National Congress (UNC) leader-in-waiting, deputy political leader Dr Roodal Moonilal has repeatedly demonstrated his unsuitability to lead anything, much less a national political party that hopes to continue governing T&T beyond 2015.
This is perhaps consistent with the manner and forum in which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar decided to announce her successor. It was at a reception on the San Fernando Hill on the night of November 14, 2010—six months after the People’s Partnership election victory. The reception was hosted by Friends of Rudi to celebrate Moonilal’s being called to the bar.
It seemed to me then to be an inappropriate forum to make such a weighty announcement; it also sounded cavalier in tone. But maybe Moonilal took that basket and fancies himself anointed. I say this, somewhat facetiously, in an effort to understand why flippancy, ridicule, uncouthness, disrespect and contemptuousness have characterised many of his contributions on serious national issues over the past 30 months.
With trade unions condemning the acceptance by Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke of Government’s five per cent wage increase, Moonilal told reporters on April 11, 2011: “To use a local slang, I think Mr Duke has sent a message to the other unions, to ‘wine to the side’ and get out the way and bring consensus and settlement to these matters because we need industrial peace quickly.”
Predictably, Vincent Cabrera and Ancel Roget were quick to label the comment “disrespectful and contemptuous” in their demand for an apology. Unrepentant, Moonilal responded, “For me to retract that statement would be worth less than five per cent.”
In a moment of turbulence between the UNC and its major coalition partner, the Congress of the People (COP), over Marlene Coudray’s untimely switch of political allegiance, Moonilal quipped on a Sangre Grande platform in March, “Do not insult her by suggesting that she was poached. Marlene was not poached. You cannot poach Marlene...you cannot fry Marlene and you certainly can’t scramble she. That is woman!”
In the tradition of often low-level, uninspired Trinidad political comedy, that statement may have been inoffensive but in the context of a definite fissure between major partners in a coalition arrangement, it was reckless and contemptuous.
With the rot of Section 34 stinking across space and time, a citizenry disoriented by the fulsome third-worldliness evidenced in our Parliament was told by the leader of government business to move on because it was September after all and there was a budget coming, not to mention other critical pieces of legislation, one example of which was the Beverage Container Bill.
Moonilal’s most recent ridicule is reserved for Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and other members of the Highway Re-Route Movement. Friendly with the movement while in opposition, Moonilal now ridicules the group’s protest. At the end of May, he described HRM women protesters outside the Parvati Hindu Girls College as “a bag of aloo.” Their action, he said, was in poor taste, a superb irony coming from a politician who is stacking up a surfeit of poor-taste commentaries.
On the fifth day of Kublalsingh’s hunger strike, as people grew concerned for the man’s mortality, whether or not they agreed with his cause or methodology, Moonilal again emerged with an out-of-timing reaction. “He’s behaving like a spoilt child. You ever have a child and if they don’t get to go out and play or go to the park, they stop, they don’t want to eat, they don’t want to have breakfast?
That is not the conduct that you have in public policy. So I mean he is not prepared to hear his mother and father but he is prepared to hear Mrs Persad-Bissessar, who is somebody else’s mother. So I think he has to cut it out. He just has to grow up.”
The movement’s challenge to aspects of the Point Fortin highway plan is not new and the movement is not a come-lately; this contention has been ongoing since around 2005. The dispute has been poorly managed by this administration, members of which would have been familiar, intimate even, with the various issues raised over the years by Highway Re-route Movement.
Jack Warner, as minister of works and transport and then as national security minister, was consistent in his unproductive handling of the protest. Following an April meeting during which Kublalsingh legitimately objected to an independent committee which would have featured only one of the movement’s representative to the Government’s nine, Warner branded him a publicity-seeker.
Later Warner would add “anti-government agent” to the list of descriptions. He made demolition of the protest camp and arrest of Kublalsingh his first priority as national security minister. Dialogue naturally ceased.
This issue is not unsolvable; in the 30 months of this administration there was time enough to conduct a proper independent review of the project after which all sides would have had to abide by the findings. A simple enough approach, except that this Government has an inexplicable ability to shoot itself all over its body and expect to remain in the pink of political health.
There is apparently strong public support for the highway, especially from people who live in and/or commute those areas regularly. Others, for the most part, don’t seem to care.
Yet the approach taken by Government—from Warner and his inferior negotiating skills, to Moonilal and his ridicule, and now the PM and her sheer weakness in refusing, up to the time of writing this column, to make a meaningful intervention rather than airing views via discredited ministerial mouthpieces—has yet again painted itself into a corner and managed to generate further support for Kublalsingh from a population whose previous response was, “Oh Lord, he again!”