“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar kicked off the United National Congress’s general election campaign in all but name on Monday night with a defiant speech in the People’s National Movement (PNM) stronghold of Diego Martin, saying her coalition People’s Partnership (PP) would see out its full five-year term and be re-elected for a second term in 2015.
Speaking at the Monday Night Forum at the Diego Martin North Secondary School, the PM also announced a host of development plans for the region, including a new vocational college for Diego Martin, a new health centre for Carenage and a “national conservation” for the country (starting within the next two weeks) in the form of one-to-one and stakeholder meetings in which the electorate can have an input into policy-making. “You are a brilliant people, T&T. We do not have all the answers, people do,” she said.
“You will do the talking, I will do the listening. We will record your comments and suggestions and use them to guide the policies that we will implement.” She urged the crowd and those watching on television and listening on radio to check the media for the dates and times of the town hall-style meetings and to come and participate.
Sports Minister Anil Roberts had earlier told the crowd that the PM was tight on discipline, as evidenced by her dismissing cabinet ministers Chandresh Sharma and Glenn Ramhadarsingh following recent scandals. But Persad-Bissessar chose not to address the subject and instead opted to lay out the achievements of her coalition government, as well as attack the PNM for its “desperate lies,” its poor performance in power and its recklessness in opposition.
“Every time the PNM has not been in government they have engaged in activity to try to destabilise the country,” she said. “They believe they have a divine right to rule, no one else.” She reminded her supporters of the economic mess the PNM had left the country in 2010, with a budget deficit of a quarter of a trillion dollars, a shrinking economy and a treasury in debt to contractors.
In contrast, she said, the economy of T&T under her Government has grown to the extent that foreign investors have poured $2.1 billion into the country in recent times. Before the meeting she had attended the opening of the new Radisson hotel in Port-of-Spain, significant, she said, because “that hotel carries the brand of one of the largest chains in the world and it signifies the confidence that investors have in T&T.”
She said the new hotel had employed 300 staff, evidence of the boost to employment prospects that outside investment yields. She announced the opening of a new vocational college, the Diego Martin Technology Centre, earmarked for the end of this month. She rejected the PNM’s claims that she was only interested in developing south and central Trinidad, pointing to the expansion of the Diego Martin highway and the boardwalk development in Chaguaramas.
“Is that south and central?” she asked. The vocational college, at the junction of Diamond Boulevard and the Diego Martin Main Road, will train people to work as electricians, plumbers, welders and in other trade-based careers. At the end of the meeting, 25 party groups were sworn in ahead of the long campaign the Government is now preparing to fight.