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FALL OUT FROM GOVT RESHUFFLE, NEW OPM HANDLERS AHEAD

Published: 
Saturday, July 1, 2017

It should have been expected following Thursday’s Cabinet shuffle.So Fitzgerald Hinds, latest addition to the AttorneyGeneral’s office, went with the flow when the Opposition braced him full bore at yesterday’s Parliament sitting.

Hinds may have been partly responsible. Punted to his third posting—though not a full ministerial one like previous other—he’s fighting perception of demotion. So for some reason he felt moved in debate, to detail his entire political career including time with the Manning PNM. “....... (Prime Minister Keith) Rowley know dat?” UNC MP Roodal Moonilal wondered. Hinds had shared what he’ll bring to the AG’s office, “....for the time I spend there,” he added. “... You’ll spend one month,” Moonilal deadpanned.

And somewhere along the line his long locks entered the talk. “I’m not cutting them... these locks with me ‘til death do us part!”

“No, you’ll just get cut. Completely,” Moonilal warned.

Such brief light moments—and more serious debate on crime—later, Hinds’ successor, new Public Utilities Minister Marlene McDonald stole the spotlight when she arrived seeking her new seat.

McDonald didn’t have to look far. Just five seats up from her previous one on the end of the back bench.

She didn’t seem to be wondering why she, a full Minister) was still back-benched, while Hinds (no longer such) had kept his front row seat. It’s been the third Cabinet reshuffle to date, the most recent since last October’s changes. Government now has a minimally increased—24 member—cabinet which began at 23. It dipped to 20 and rose to 22 in previous changes.

Multiple bosses exist in some ministries: two in Finance, Energy, Agriculture and Education; three at the AG’s office and National Security.

McDonald’s return will appease traditional PNM supporters’ concerns that Government’s delivery ministers are on Parliament’s front lines and some PNM heartland MPs aren’t. She has opportunity to change PNM’s PoS-centric image if she succeeds where predecessors failed in utility availability for all.

However, McDonald and Government are vulnerable since the Integrity Commission—while clearing her in October 2015 on certain allegations—is still investigating others against her. Plus police probe of allegations against her, continue, it’s confirmed.

Rowley’s judgment is also in the balance. Tardy investigations and need for McDonald’s expertise may not solidly justify her return while she remains under probe. The PNM in Opposition pressed the PP Government for its members to step down when under investigation.

PNMites have spoken scathingly of the appointment of UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen, allegedly on Prisongate probe. John Public will judge the UNC on Ramdeen’s appointment. But may not as charitable if the PNM, while criticising his, does same with theirs. Yesterday Finance Minister Colm’s Imbert, laughing uproariously with Opposition MPs (pre-sitting,) seemed hardly diminished via the “assistance” he’s now receiving with new Minister West.

However it’s signalled certain wing-clipping for Rowley’s “best man”—his 2015 description in appointing Imbert—after Rowley confirmed displeasure with Finance’s property tax education thrust. While insufficient for “firing” (Rowley said) it was obviously enough confirmation of Finance’s failure and the need for “assistance” beyond Imbert’s engineering savvy.

West, the sister-in-law of MSJ leader David Abdulah, worked extensively at Inland Revenue and is in time to finesse 2018 Budgeting. Olivierre’s return to Energy to assist the recovering Franklin Khan is, however, admission it should have always been shared by both.

Need for reshuffle eight month after the last shifts evidences the increasing pressure of Government’s second year. Indeed, acknowledgement of the depth of challenge comes with confirmation that a new “communications” team will be installed at the PM’s office to (re)direct strategic positioning, messaging and outreach following negative imaging including perceived aloofness, lack of empathy and leadership absence, it was confirmed.

PNM officials said, apart from initial US input, it involves PNMites and others involved in its 2015 general election campaign. They’re expected on the job before next Budget—before the mid-year trough period. McDonald’s October 2015 letter from the Integrity Commission and the reshuffle have all distracted from the thorny race relations debate which moved from last Friday’s rowdy Parliamentary exchanges to certain utterances concerning the “most powerful” (sic) on Anthony Bourdain’s T&T documentary. Both Prime Minister and Opposition leader correctly deemed the remarks unfortunate. Others are less diplomatic.

The eye-opener comes at a critical juncture. Bourdain’s assessment of T&T, well beyond food, was as interesting as a CIA Factbook chapter on T&T. Therefore no reshuffle can distract from the dire crime situation which no words can now describe. Rowley’s appearance at yesterday’s police station launch telegraphed Government’s need for police to “step up.”

Something which Government will increasingly be called upon to do, if the police don’t. To manage a situation, no communication team can “handle.”

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