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THE 90-DAYS WUK

Published: 
Sunday, May 14, 2017

The “first hundred days in office” goes back to President Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempts to pull the United States out of the Great Depression. In a “fireside chat” on July 24, 1933, he said the people needed to, “…assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.”

Since then, those honoured to sit in the Oval Office have also had the immediate expectation of proving their worth to supporters and detractors alike. This was especially the case regarding the relentless attention paid to Donald J Trump, whose presidency crossed the hundred-day mark on April 28. Despite both chambers of congress under Republican control, the man who pompously pledged to “drain the swamp” has apparently found himself stuck knee-deep in the mud of bureaucracy. The number of unfulfilled promises and policy reversals may be a realisation for him that the business acumen of running a real estate empire is not necessarily applicable when it comes to presiding over the executive branch of the world’s most powerful country.

Putting aside the theatrics of this time-themed tradition, the reality is that it has only been a little over one hundred days; not even ten per cent of his (first?) term. While it may have been irresponsible for candidate Trump to have made those grandiose promises, it was foolhardy for anyone, his supporters in particular, to believe it was possible for him to make good on all of them. It seems the self-styled outsider has turned into the very thing he sought never to become—a politician who lies. Of course, it is known the world over that an “honest politician” is something of an oxymoron. And here in T&T, the performance of our elected representatives would be laughable if it wasn’t a morose reflection of our social woes. But like the US, we too have a similar, albeit contrasting yardstick. For when it comes to our governments, we don’t anticipate their first one hundred in office but the last 90 days before an election.

As stipulated in the Constitution (Section 69.1), a general election must be held, “…within three months after every dissolution of Parliament”. And our citizens know that it’s in those 90 days (give or take) when things really start to happen at the ground level: roads are paved, construction projects are completed seemingly overnight, water flows round the clock, and MPs who haven’t been seen since the last election suddenly show up on walkabouts and pretend to be concerned about what their constituents have to say. Until then, we’ve learned to settle for whatever passes as governance and the ineptitude that comes along with it.

Case in point is the recent push to implement the Property Tax Act (2009), a decision which has been met with much confusion and resistance. While logical and even well-meaning, putting it into practice is already starting to look like a train wreck in slow motion. And we’re all passengers onboard. Let me be clear—I have no qualms about paying a fair tax; it’s part of the citizenry’s civic responsibility. But neither the current PNM nor the previous UNC administrations have a credible record when it comes to fiscal management. If past examples (Cepep and LifeSport) are any indication of how this plan is going to play out, then it’s a reasonable assumption that it will be riddled with corruption and misappropriation. No surprise there. But after 20 months in office, is this really the best that our prime minister and his Cabinet could come up with to stem the economic downturn? The time and resources that are going to be exhausted in its execution would be better spent on implementing cost-saving measures in the ministries or the curtailing of spending by the state enterprises. In the meantime, issues like crime reduction and judicial reform will continue to languish in the no man’s land of parliamentary debate and will only be addressed when the timing is such that it projects a positive image of the Government.

As far as the US is concerned, once the first hundred days are over, no one talks about it until the next incoming president. And other than it being a nice catchphrase for the purpose of media coverage, it isn’t a fair way to grade a sitting government. President Trump has time on his side and with that comes the opportunity for him to get his act together and become a leader for all Americans.

We Trinbagonians, on the other hand, will just have to sit tight for now. If handled badly, the property tax might very well ensure the PNM’s defeat in the next election. The upside to that possibility is that we can look forward to those last 90 days when they will have to “come good” in order to prove their mandate of being “red and ready” instead of the present public perception of being “red and dread”. So, barring a premature dissolution of Parliament, we have around three years and four months to go before things start getting better. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Ryan Hadeed