Last update: 05-Dec-2013 1:31 am
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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'PP facing midterm unpopularity'
In the three-and-a-half years of its five-year term no concrete evidence has been taken to the police or the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on allegations of corruption against any member of the People’s Partnership Government. So declares Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal in defending a claim by PP detractors that this is the most corrupt government in the history of T&T. He claims the regime is in the midst of its midterm unpopularity syndrome.
Moonilal is also taking issue with the leader of the Independent Liberal Party, former national security minister Jack Warner.
Q: Dr Moonilal, the People’s Partnership administration is facing its darkest hour at this time.…right or wrong?
A: (Quickly reflecting on the question) Wrong.
What argument do you propose to counter that proposition?
(Seated in the porch of a house at the Housing Development Corporation estate in Debe, south Trinidad, early Wednesday morning) The Government is in midterm and at this time all governments have challenges dealing with people’s interest issues. And as you settle down in office there are different groups which will be demanding various goods and services which not all would get. Governments do face unpopularity at this time, but this is certainly not a dark hour as such.
Even though the regime is in midterm syndrome, there is also a constant stream of criticisms against the Government—the recent event in Chaguanas West and the spectre of Jack Warner’s ILP.
One of the challenges the Government has faced, probably from day one, is the marketing of its achievements. I think the national community is not adequately aware of these achievements.
How could this be so when the technology is there and easily accessed?
Ok. It is a problem of culture in that many ministers, including myself sometimes, you know, we are so busy working that we don’t stop to promote those positives…
Yes, in that not all of us are eager to be in the media because we have a lot of work to do. It is also a problem of communicating, and when we entered office several of our detractors were claiming we were arguing and showing off about our good work. Because of that we went into a lull, stopped boasting and did not sufficiently highlight our work.
Any examples of this fallout created by ceasing to blow your trumpets?
Yes. For example (an animated sweep of his hands over the housing settlement), in this area you are seeing houses being constructed, heavy construction machinery, a new highway, the southern campus of the UWI taking shape....
Wait, wait. Is this the reason why you decided to do this interview in your constituency…to boast about some of your achievements?
No. I brought you way down here so that you can get away from the hustle of city life. Look, I am sure you are enjoying the soothing breeze at this time of the day. (A broad smile). And I am highlighting achievements because it is only now citizens as a whole are seeing our achievements...
I do hope you are not seeing this as any PR thing?
Of course not. But a lot is being done. In my ministry alone, Clevon, when you think of it, two hospitals we are building: a children’s hospital and Chancery Lane in San Fernando. Which government has built two such institutions in just five years?
The children’s hospital...isn’t there some kind of duplication because of the Wendy Fitzwilliam Children’s Hospital at Mt Hope?
The facility being built in central Trinidad is a much more comprehensive hospital in that adults would also be accommodated. Then we have the Mayaro fire station, which was promised since 1965 by the country’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams, now being built.
Ok, Mr Minister, please do not go off on a campaign tangent or lecture.
Ok, I take note of your caution (A heavy chuckle). But I was merely informing you of the achievements which we were not talking enough about. But you could have your way.
Ok. Corruption. There is this nagging accusation from some of your detractors that this Government is the most corrupt in the country’s history.
(Scooping up a piece of sada with baigan and tomato choka, part of his breakfast menu, with his fingers) Clevon, I find that to be a very, very strange and terrible conclusion, because in the three years that we have been in office not one member of the Government, not one, has been arrested or charged, not one piece of evidence tendered to the police or the DPP to suggest corrupt acts.
So then what’s responsible for this repeated accusation?
What has happened, Clevon, is that the society has become more corruption-sensitive and this is so because of the advent of widespread mass media, and once you have expansion in economic activities you spend more money and once you do that there is more concern for transparency.
So in a strange way it is the economic growth that also generates corruption allegations. People talk a lot about corruption but ask anybody to bring the evidence. In fact the green man is doing just that...who used to be a member of the Government.
Dr Moonilal, how could you refer to the honourable Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West as the “green man”?
The leader of the… former minister of national security…who is now talking corruption came before me and others, the UNC’s screening committee, and asked to represent our party in the Chaguanas West by-election. He is now talking about how many ministers built houses, who buy cars, who have this, who have that…no evidence.
Dr Moonilal, can you personally vouch for the clean hands of your fellow Cabinet colleagues?
Surely, Clevon, of course I am not in every ministry in the country, I am not in their hands. I work in my ministry and you cannot vouch. But what I can say is that the way I look at it is that the Government has performed at a level of transparency and accountability that is unparalleled.
Udecott, which enjoyed not a very pleasant track run under the former PNM administrations—what’s happening there?
Ok. Knock wood (tapping his table with two knuckles). Under the last administration, if you looking for bobol, corruption you looked to Udecott. Today, when was the last time you heard any untoward developments there? Today, Udecott is building nine police stations, two fire stations, two hospitals, so that it is working. The HDC...it was a place where the former prime minister Patrick Manning asked the present Leader of the Opposition, where did the money go?
Three-and-a-half years into our term, the Prime Minister never had to ask me or anybody in the HDC where the money gone, because we see where the money gone.
Changing gear. If the PP should lose the October local government election, would that signify that the Government is now on its back foot?
(Hands clasping the back of his neck as he relaxes at the end of his breakfast). Well, we do not contemplate an electoral defeat, because we are very positive going into the elections to win, based on the work we have done. We are a political party and we are always positive. And in choosing candidates we are always mindful of choosing the best candidates possible. People who can identify with their own community, village or town.
Based on the outcome of the CW by-election, is it a fact that government ministers are now more visible in their respective constituencies?
No. But it is a fact that based on the results the ministers are now trying to place more of their work in the media.
Seeing your photographs in the media does not necessarily mean that the people’s representatives are in fact performing.
Yes, but Clevon, the people are now calling for more visibility, not performance.
People do not want performance?
Of course they want, but what has happened over the years is that ministers meet their constituencies once a week. But now I think we are trying to portray our achievements more. The people want to see their Government in action.
Some are saying that the ministers should come out at 4 am, as Mr Warner does. Do you think your ministers can match that?
The indicators are not how much you sleep or how much you wake. It is how much you do, deliver. Mr Warner doesn’t sleep—whether that is good or bad I don’t know, but if you take enough coffee you could wake all night as well. I came one morning to work at 4 o’clock and I left 2 am the next morning seeing people, and I would do it again if I have to.
Dr Moonilal, almost every politician’s vision, I think, is to reach the top of their class…becoming Prime Minister. What’s your vision for T&T?
Of course it is tied in with the philosophy of the People’s Partnership programmes and policies under the astute guidance of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. But quite apart from that, my vision is to see that we as a people continue to live and prosper as one nation, respecting each other’s individual rights. With that kind of ethos there is nothing that we cannot achieve under this sun when we put our minds together for the overall good of our beloved T&T.
You spoke of some people substituting visibility for performance. Are you referring to Mr Warner?
Now, this is the fifth time you mentioned his name and I suspect you have some concerns about him, but he is a peculiar political aspirant. Since July 29, I don’t think he has fixed one road, one box drain and he has not been able to match me with delivery, because he has found himself in the opposition.
Finally, Dr Moonilal, what has become of campaign promises made in 2010, such as holding of referenda, campaign finance reform, recalling of parliamentary representatives?
We are in fact now working on the position paper on party financing, the procurement legislation is complete, which is now at the doorstep of Parliament, the land bill is completed, and I can assure you that all these and other major promises made will be taken to Parliament before the end of this Government’s first term in 2015.
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