The overwhelming popularity of Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner has a part to play in him being cut down to size in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.A plan, Sunday Guardian understands, was hatched to frustrate Warner out of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar led People's Partnership (PP) Government, mere weeks after her resigned as vice president of FIFA.There had been rumours circulating more than six months ago that the PM had plans to split Warner's ministry. Warner however, was unaware of this.
High ranking party sources confirmed to Sunday Guardian that certain senior Cabinet colleagues took issue with Warner's performance and growing popularity, especially among the grassroots. Warner's popularity had also begun to overshadow Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who is the leader of the PP coalition government. Warner's increasing popularity was working against the image of the Prime Minister and decisive action had to be taken to change this.
There has been "a cabal" within the Cabinet made up of at least three members who have the ears of the PM. It was based on the advice of these individuals, party sources said, that Persad-Bissessar made some of the "shocking changes" within the PP Government. And Warner is not the only Cabinet member they have been attacking.Sunday Guardian also learnt the ongoing row with Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) chairman George Nicholas who is a huge financier of the PP, also played a role in the decision to shaft Warner.
Stabbed in the back
Party sources, upset by the moves against Warner, felt he is being "stabbed in the back with a knife" by some of his own colleagues whom he spent "time and money to propel into high office".Political scientists/analysts, polls and surveys have all rated Warner as the best performing Minister since the PP triumphed over the People's National Movement (PNM) administration in the May 24, 2010 general election.The recent Market Facts and Opinions Poll rated Warner as the best performing Minister in the Cabinet.While the findings revealed the Prime Minister's rating and popularity fell from 68 to 54 per cent because of her handling of controversial matters. "Since assuming office in 2010 the Ministry of Works and Transport is the best performing ministry. The Prime Minister never had any issue with that ministry until last month; she boasted of the efficiency of that ministry.
"Throughout the world the Ministry of Works and Transport has a natural fit so the decision to split the ministry is really not justified. There is much more than what meets the eye," an upset party source stated.Meanwhile, economists have also questioned the feasibility of the move, given that the Works and Transport Ministry plays a major role in a booming economy.According to Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir a decision to split a ministry must guarantee a greater level of efficiency.He said only the Prime Minister would be able to explain her actions given that such an issue did not arise with the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Pressure from Cabinet colleagues
Sunday Guardian understands that no justification was given for the splitting of the ministry when the Prime Minister met with her Cabinet two Saturdays ago, firing some ministers and shifting others.Warner, well-placed insiders said, took issue with the move and questioned the rationale."Warner has been under pressure from his Cabinet colleagues who envy him for the way he performs in his ministry," a source said.
Their actions have left Warner "angry and frustrated," a Government official said. There have also been claims of funds being held back from Warner to start major projects under his ministry.Only recently, government officials confirmed that Warner's ministry escaped a $50 million fine for barely being able to meet the stipulated timeline to commence construction of the billion-dollar San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway project.Sunday Guardian understands the ministry has been forced to continuously forward various pieces of correspondence to the Ministry of Finance requesting funding for various projects.
"From the start it has been a struggle for him to get funding. It is over six months the ministry had to wait to get the first cheque to start a major project and now a decision has been taken to split the ministry causing other projects to go on hold. Everything is in limbo," a senior ministry official said.Contacted for comment on the withholding of funds from Warner, Minister of Finance Winston Dookeran said: "It's a process and the PS is in charge."Only two state boards now under Jack
Warner, who headed the largest ministry in the PP Cabinet was previously in charge of 16 state boards-among them the controversial CAL board headed by Nicholas-now only has two boards under his purview in the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure-Maintenance Training and Security (MTS) and the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco). According to the ministry's Web site the state boards that fall under the portfolio of Works and Transport are:
•Port Authority of T&T
•Airport Authority of T&T
•Air Transport Licensing Authority
•Licensing Authority of T&T
•Public Transport Services Corporation
•T&T Civil Aviation Authority
•The Vehicle Maintenance Management Corporation of T&T
•Maintenance Training and Security Company
•National Infrastructure Development Company
•National Helicopter Services Ltd
•Liat (1974) Ltd
The split in the ministry would now see the majority of state boards falling under the purview of former Public Transport Services Commission (PTSC) chairman Devant Maharaj who joined the PP Cabinet as Transport Minister. Maharaj, the former president of Global Organisation of People Of Indian Origin, got the nod from Warner when he was selected to head the PTSC board which previously fell under his portfolio.
Well placed sources confirmed yesterday that the Prime Minister was expected to disclose on Thursday under whose control several of the state boards now fall.However, Sunday Guardian understands, the Prime Minister did not attend the weekly Cabinet meeting due to the flu.The PM is expected to clear the air on the shifting of the state boards between Warner and Maharaj.Several attempts to contact Warner yesterday proved futile. Voice messages left on his cellular phones went unanswered up to late yesterday.Attempts to contact the Prime Minister were also unsuccessful. Calls to her cell phone went unanswered.
Warner wants VMCOTT, Licensing, PBR
Party sources further revealed that Warner wrote to the Prime Minister last week requesting that he retain the following:
•Licensing Authority of T&T
•Control of the Priority Bus Route. However, sources said, he has not received any response.
Warner, sources further revealed, also met with Maharaj last week indicating the agencies he would like to retain.Contacted yesterday, Maharaj declined to confirm whether he had discussions with Warner regarding the issue.Evading the question, and directing all questions to Warner, Maharaj replied: "My position is I did not appoint myself, it was the Prime Minister. The allocation of portfolios is the remit of the Prime Minister. It is not under my purview and I would not be presumptuous."
Analyst on Warner:
It does not pay to be popular
Giving his take on the issue, political analyst Dr Selwyn Ryan said it is not the first time a minister has been 'cut down to size' for being more popular that their political leader.Ryan said a similar situation occurred under the former PNM regime when then finance minister, Wendell Mottley was rated as the best performing MP over former political leader Patrick Manning following a poll conducted by himself.
Ryan explained: "It happens from time to time when a member of the party becomes more popular than the Prime Minister, steps are taken to change this. The popularity is seen as not being in the best interest of the Prime Minister. The truth is, Mr Warner is very popular in certain sections of T&T; whether he is going to form his own political party is a whole other issue. The splitting of the Works and Transport Ministry has taken some shine off his ball. That ministry is the power base of the Cabinet and the minister is very instrumental in making decisions. By splitting the ministry Mr Warner has suffered diminishing status."
Rampersad: It will notmake him less popular
While expressing a somewhat different view, political analyst Dr Indira Rampersad said while Warner's popularity was due to his dedication to serving people, the splitting of the ministry was aimed at quelling the ongoing dispute between Warner and the CAL board. "I do not think splitting his ministry would make him any least popular. Warner's popularity is not just the role he plays in his ministry but the way he goes out to help constituents. He has been rated as the best performing minister and MP because his popularity stemmed from constituents who never received such support from any other MP. In addition, he is reaching the grassroots people."Whether his popularity is a threat to Prime Minister I do not think so...."