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PP Missteps hurting party’s stride for 2015 election

Sunday, May 4, 2014
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar outside Napa, Port-of-Spain, for the ecumenical service for former prime minister and president of T&T Arthur NR Robinson on Thursday. Photo Micheal Bruce

The Government has received a thumbs up for developing and improving the country’s infrastructure and turning the economy around in its four years in office. However, they have failed miserably in providing transparency and accountability, good governance, in the awarding of state contracts, failing to deal with procurement and campaign finance legislation. The missteps, analysts believe, are clouding the strides which the Government is making and will create challenges for them.



These were the views of political analysts who spoke about the performance and achievements of the People’s Partnership Government as the party gets set to celebrate its fourth anniversary on May 24. Maukesh Basdeo, who gave the Government a 7.5 rating out of ten, feels the coalition party has done well in the last 48 months in spite of the challenges it faced. Basdeo tipped his hat to the party for taking the country out of the negative growth following the global financial meltdown in 2008.


“This is one area which can be looked at as a positive for the Government.” He also credited Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her team for the infrastructural work undertaken across the country, mainly road-paving exercises, construction of box drains, bridges, and water and electricity connections. On the flip side, Basdeo said, the Government started to lose points when questions were raised in 2011 about the qualifications of Reshmi Ramnarine who was appointed director of the Security Intelligence Agency.



Basdeo: PP continues to enjoy a favourable rating
Basdeo said the Government’s failure to address crime, a promise which they made in the 2010 election campaign and the four election defeats in 2013 came as a hard blow to them. He said the biggest issue facing the Government was lack of accountability and transparency, while questions are being asked about the delay of two important pieces of legislation—campaign finance and procurement. “How they manage transparency and accountability now is all left up to them.” 


Debate on the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 is expected to be initiated shortly, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development Dr Bhoe Tewarie said last month. President of the Joint Consultative Committee Afra Raymond has rejected a draft bill on public procurement which was produced by the ministry.


However, Basdeo said the Government’s biggest misstep was failing to properly screen directors and chairmen of state boards before they were appointed, many of whom were exposed for having false qualifications. “This was an oversight on the Government’s part to review their applications.” Basdeo said while the PM has demonstrated the ability to deal with ministers who misuse their power or office, selecting suitable candidates for the 2015 general election would become a difficult task.


“It means the party would have to do a thorough investigation into the background of potential candidates. It would be more difficult based on what has happened in the last few months and weeks with the firing of several ministers. “It cannot be the same old, same old.”



Difficult four years for PM
On the PP’s chances of returning to government, Basdeo said it was too early to tell. “It all depends on whether the Government will be able to deliver on its 2010 campaign promises.” Basdeo said when one separates Persad-Bissessar’s role as political leader and Prime Minister “the party continues to enjoy a favourable rating.” Overall, Basdeo said, the PM has had a difficult four years managing her Cabinet and the country’s affairs.


“There were a lot of controversial issues, and next year will be even more difficult for her as they get ready to face the polls again.”



Ragoonath: PM must be praised for dealing with ministers who step out of line
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath agreed that the Government has had both positive and negative outcomes. Overall, he gave the party a five out of ten for performance, stating that “it is not that they have done exceptionally well. But they have not done badly either. I say this looking at the holistic picture. They have taken on the challenges.” With regards to the PM’s performance, Ragoonath said there were times she could have been a little more forceful.


He said the PM must be praised for dealing with government ministers who stepped out of line. “Any prime minister who has the fortitude to say that if you are not working or there are allegations against you that you would be dismissed, I think that is a plus. The PM has to be credited for that.” Ragoonath felt the manner in which Jack Warner left the party could have been handled differently.


“If the Government wanted to act in a manner to keep the showcase...if you want to call it show there is greater unity amongst the party and that Warner represented ethnic balance.” Ragoonath said the PP’s biggest achievement so far has been infrastructural development.



‘Not enough transparency, accountability on state funds’
Among the issues Ragoonath said needed to be tackled were crime, proper healthcare services and school violence. “I don’t think any government could solve the issue of security, so I don’t really hold them accountable for that. However, in terms of good governance there are several shortcomings. “The issue of good governance is something I have concerns about. There is still not enough transparency and accountability on how state funds are being utilised.”


The biggest mistakes the PP made, Ragoonath said, were the controversy surrounding Reshmi Ramnarine and directors and chairmen of state enterprises being hired without proper qualifications. “That, I think, is the primary misstep and error they made.”
Ragoonath said these mistakes did not augur well for the party and will no doubt create challenges for them. Will the coalition party remain intact?


Ragoonath said while this type of politics has been around for decades “I am sorry to say, in the context of coalition politics, I think the PP has regressed somewhat.”



James: Too many blunders
Winford James gave the PP a poor grade—four out of ten. He said he was not pleased with their overall performance as there were too many “blunders” and missteps early in office and even up to today. Also, the three cabinet reshuffles sent a signal that the PM did not know what she was doing. James said the only thing that has been positive for the party was its infrastructural improvements in communities, many of which fell in COP- and UNC-controlled constituencies.


James feels the PP does not have a chance of retaining power in 2015. “I don’t think they will make it. People have made up their minds. While it is difficult to predict the outcome of an election months in advance, it is difficult to see what they can do to make a turn around.”



Question marks over the award of contracts
James said recently the Government came up with procurement legislation, which was yet to be finalised, while crime and murders continue to skyrocket. “That is not good enough. They have betrayed a lot of voters. There are grave question marks over the awards of contracts. It appears that financiers are getting the bulk of contracts. 



“They seem to be spending money in the interest of financiers and their families, while major promises have not been delivered. There are question marks over corruption, and allegations of ministers taking bribes.” In 2010, James said, citizens became fed up with Patrick Manning under the PNM and embraced the PP hoping for better governance, but they are now sadly disappointed.



PP giving coalition politics a bad name
“They were supposed to bring us a different kind of politics...which we are yet to see. We wanted more democracy, meritocracy and even handedness. “This Government has made some terrible mistakes and blunders such as Section 34. They have had unqualified people on state boards. Is that democracy for you? James said there have been disappointments all around. “I would not give them high marks.” He said perhaps the PP has been giving coalition politics a bad name. 


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