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Govt gets low marks for midterm performance

Published: 
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Prime Minister Dr keith rowley and his cabinet members.

On September 7, 2015, the People's National Movement (PNM) swept into office on a platform of promises—chief of which was to reduce crime and tackle corruption. And even as the PNM marked two-and-a-half years in office last Wednesday, the public continue to cower in fear over the runaway crime situation while holding its breath to see Government's promises materialise.

Local experts and members of the public alike have found the PNM's performance thus far to be disappointing.

Business operators have been lamenting the declining economic realities as they struggle for foreign exchange in order to survive. Some citizens have been praying for lower food prices and to hold on to their jobs, while others have been left totally disappointed and disillusioned with the handling of the Tobago air and sea-bridge fiasco, which continues to linger.

Economist Dr Marlene Attzs said the PNM and by extension Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had both earned a "D" (referred to as Disappointment) for their performance.

Surveying certain sectors of society and the Government's response to burning issues such as crime, economic improvement, and unemployment, economist Indera Sagewan-Alli said there had been no significant improvements over 2017.

However, political analyst Dr Winford James was more generous in his projections as he applauded the Government for being able to achieve a "balance". He awarded them one point more than last year for overall improvements, bringing their score to six out of ten—ten being the highest score. "I will give them a seven on anti-crime management, a five on governance, and six on the anti-corruption thrust."

Political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath gave the Government a rating of four. "They've been inadequate on the handling of crime, they're lacking on good governance, and economic stagnation continues," he said.

Former public service head Reginald Dumas said: "I have to move from the six I gave them last year to five, the quality of performance has declined."

He added, "They've been inadequate on education, security, foreign affairs, tourism—especially regarding Tobago and transport issues, the environment, and conduct of Tobago House of Assembly governance.

"They're holding ground in energy issues. I give Finance Minister Colm Imbert points for effort as he had a difficult situation to handle—but they still have work to do. I would have preferred if they spent more time listening to Terrence Farrell (chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) and diversifying the economy instead of paying lip service there."

—reporting by Gail Alexander

Cabinet gets poor marks

According to Attzs, "when we talk about how a government has performed, we generally look at whether they have passed or failed."

"I can't go with pass because I think there is not a palpable sense in the country that things have improved in any great measure over the past three years the Government has been in office. A passing grade would have been as a result of a sense of improvement and accomplishment, and I don't think there is any sense of either.

"I also don't think the Government has failed in that the measure of success that would have allowed Government to make the kinds of improvements one would have expected to see would have been the availability of revenue, and this simply is not available in the quantum that we enjoyed on previous occasions."

On its overall performance, Sagewan-Alli said, "I don't think there has been any significant improvement from last year to this year."

Discounting its first year in office as "settling in," Sagewan-Alli said the second and third year was for satisfying "expected deliverables."

Economy—bleak future ahead

Predicting T&T was heading for another deficit budget, Attzs said a sense of stillness continued to envelop the local economic landscape and was characterised by reduced earnings and little revenue generation.

Asked about Government's performance, she said, "There is a disappointment in the economy. There is a disappointment among the people of the country that things are simply not happening."

Attzs said while the citizenry was happy Government had not moved to send home public servants, "my concern is whether or not this is a realistic commitment the Government has made."

She said in the current economic climate, the large public sector wage bill remained the Government's largest and most pressing expense.

"If the Government is not earning revenue, one has to wonder from where is the Government going to identify the resources to maintain that large wage bill it is faced with."

James, meanwhile, said T&T continues to maintain a firm position although it is under-producing in the oil and gas sector. He said this had enabled public servants such as teachers, fire officers, and police officers to remain employed.

He said while larger developments have not materialised due to a lack of funds, small-scale developments had begun.

James said, "The ability to keep the economy going, having regard to what Government had ultimately identified as the problem, must be a plus for this Government."

On the issue of diversification, Sagewan-Alli said, "This remains all talk and no action."

Declaring this could be ill-afforded at this time, she said, "This is one area where the Government's voice should be heard loudest because the real issues of growing unemployment and foreign exchange challenges need to be addressed in an aggressive manner."

Referring to the resignation of Dr Farrell as chairman of the EDAB, Sagewan-Alli described it as a "serious indictment" on the Government's part.

Crime to get worse

Anticipating that crime will continue to worsen, Attzs said the increasing murder rate was "indicative of a general kind of unease in the economy, along with a change in morals and values."

To be fair, Attzs pointed out, Government could not be held accountable for the change in morals and values.

"What they can be held accountable for and what people are looking to the Government for is the maintenance of law and order."

Attzs said when one looked at the holistic picture, "you get a sense that not even that is happening."

Sagewan-Alli agreed that "crime is certainly anywhere but under control."

"In fact, it has so worsened that I don't think there has been ever a time in T&T when the citizenry has felt so much under threat, so much fear and a sense of hopelessness in terms that this is going to come to an end any time soon."

She said the continued bungling of the process to elect a head of the T&T Police Service was one indicator of the Government's inability to restore the population's trust and instill hope for a better future.

According to James, although increasing the fleet of the protective services and building new police stations are tangible additions in the fight against crime "it is up to the institutions that exist for the management of crime to act."

He commended the TTPS for improvements in the detection rate and their efforts to confiscate illegal arms and ammunition, as he said someone had to be ultimately acknowledged for this achievement—whether it was through police efforts or government policy.

Education and health—No tangible improvements

Saying that no tangible improvements had been made since the PNM assumed office in 2015, Attzs pointed out that "there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment."

Attzs said the sense of under-employment should not be connected to the adjustments which were introduced into the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (Gate) programme.

She said the fact that tertiary-level graduates were being forced to accept jobs they are over-qualified for, could not be directly linked to the changes in the Gate regime but to a lack of planning and short-sightedness when the programme was first introduced.

Commenting briefly on the health sector, Attzs said, "The people of T&T do not feel as if their lives are being improved."

Sagewan-Alli, meanwhile, said while health seemed to be making headlines because of drug shortages and poor service, "this has translated into some serious issues for the health system and we are not hearing any conversations about national healthcare systems."

In the area of education, James said T&T had been doing well before financial hardships forced Government to adjust the Gate programme. James noted that tertiary education was still accessible but at a greater cost now.

James said the Government had earned themselves a nine in the area of education.

Regarding health, James said the citizens continued to benefit from various initiatives. He awarded Government seven in this area.

Overall performance—middle class suffering

Even as the protective services continue to be confronted by angry mobs over a variety of issues, Attzs said that "on the heels of that uncivilized behaviour," there is also the issue of the increasing cost in the standard of living.

"You know there is hardship around the country because people are feeling it, notwithstanding the fact they have jobs, but the dollar is certainly not stretching as they would like it to."

Sagewan-Alli said this was an area where Government had definitely failed to make the grade.

"What the Government seems to be very good at doing is taxing the population in order to raise money, which in fact has not raised the revenue it hoped for and has only squeezed a citizenry especially the middle class, and this is the one who you would want to free up the spending power in as they are the ones who will spend and stimulate growth in the economy."

Sagewan-Alli said the public also continued to live in fear of increased utility rates.

She said the PNM's time thus far had been marked by "increased fear, increased worry in terms of where the hope is going to come from, and fear that I could lose my home and not be able to maintain my family and children."

No response from Govt

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan did not respond to messages from the Sunday Guardian on the PNM’s performance.

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