One sign that a political campaign has started is that opposing politicians and political parties begin to sling accusations across the political divide at each other. Unsurprisingly, the allegations of corruption are focused on contentions between the central Government and the Tobago House of Assembly, and between local government bodies controlled by the opposition People’s National Movement and the Ministry of Local Government.
Given those circumstances it is therefore not difficult to understand that this conflict is being generated in the context of THA elections, due early next year, and the local government polls which are scheduled for the middle of 2013. Politicians and political parties are turning over every stone looking for unseemly life beneath. Now, if there are corrupt practices to be investigated and prosecuted, there can be no argument with that.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar entered the fray during her budget presentation to stop two THA projects, raising issues about the funding and spending of the projects and the way the THA operates. It is not the first time that such allegations have been thrown at the THA, which is under the guidance of the People’s National Movement, the party that is opposition in the central Government.
So far, THA Chief Secretary Orville London has not demonstrated discomfort with the questions raised about funds utilised by the assembly and the ability to account for those funds. In fact he has said to the effect that the THA welcomes such investigation into the operations of the assembly. He has been clamouring for some time to meet with Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to fulfil the constitutional requirement laid out in the act which governs the relationship between the central Government and the House of Assembly.
So far as it has been made public, the Prime Minister has resolutely resisted any overtures by the Chief Secretary to meet with him. Surely, if there are these concerns about overspending or other aspects of the management of public funds, the leaders of the two institutions could discuss the matters. Such civil discussion does not in any way mean that there should not be investigations if there is need for them. But at least Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar would have got the opportunity to have an initial hearing of what the THA Chief Secretary has to say on the matters.
Meanwhile, there is war of words raging between the Local Government Minister and the mayor of Port-of-Spain over alleged mismanagement and wastage of funds. The minister accused the mayor of not making use of available funds. Mayor Lee Sing, in his inimitable manner, responded in kind by charging the Minister of Local Government with refusing to approve the projects for which those funds were earmarked.
These attacks and counter-attacks are more about scoring political points than ensuring the needs of the people are met. Finance Minister Larry Howai was right not to go ahead with the plans to allocate a total of $410 million to MPs, in an environment of two elections and the real chance of the funding being used for the election campaigning that will surely intensify over the next couple of months as the polls draw closer.
What the Finance Minister should have done was to allocate the funds to the local government bodies to meet the needs of people living in those communities who are desperate for infrastructural works and repairs. Like the THA, the local government bodies need to be empowered to carry out necessary work regardless of who runs them, and whether or not they happen to belong to the party that holds the reins of central government. The petty squabbles and manipulation that have persisted through successive governments need to be brought to an end, by legislative reform if necessary.