In retrospect, there is nothing that we ought to be ashamed of. Over the last 55 years, largely through our guidance, Trinidad and Tobago has improved rapidly. First, our national income increased almost 50-fold. In 1956, the average income of a Trinidadian and Tobagonian was US$380; today it is US$20,035. Our GDP grew from US$237.7 million in 1956 to US$163 billion in 2008. In 1963 the unemployment rate was 13.7 per cent; today it stands at 5.8 per cent, a performance that is better than the United States or Europe.
In 2005 the United Nations Development Programme ranked Trinidad and Tobago 57 out of 177 countries, "the highest designation for countries whose life expectancy, adult literacy, and per capita income place them in the top tier (countries of the world.)" We can take pride in the fact that these developments occurred under PNM's stewardship. We have a few billions in savings and our manufacturers are the most effective in the Caribbean.
But if we did well economically, we can take pride in the fact that PNM's major contribution to national development lay in our building a nation; keeping our society together; the relative civility of our political culture (I do not know of one person who was murdered or harmed during our many election campaigns over the past 50 years); the peaceful transition of power from one government to another–when you are defeated you just leave office and try another day–and the tremendous racial harmony that exists in our beautiful island.
We offered due legal process to mutineers and insurrectionists, not to encourage their behaviour but as hallmarks of our democracy at work offering equal protection of the law to everyone. What is the point of all of this? It is simply a reminder that in the 40 of the last 55 years that we have been in power, we led this society in a manner that would make any democracy proud. We in the PNM have set the mark for what a democracy is and how one conducts oneself in government and in opposition. We are human and have made our share of mistakes. Even so we can be proud of what we have bequeathed to the nation and it is from this posture that we must now regroup and march confidently into the future.
But today is a new day and it is not sufficient just to look back. Even as we reflect we must think ahead as we go forward. As we set out to rebuild our movement we need to lay out in clear terms where we wish to take our nation and why. In as much as the PP may be awash with easy money; in as much as they have promised the people the sky and the moon, the fact remains that they really have no track record or policy upon which to judge them. In so far as some of them have any record at all it may only be a police record of questionable character.
As promising as they may look; as aggressive as they may sound–just listen to Jack Warner and Anand Ramlogan–as integrated as they may want to appear, they still remain a gathering of convenience, they still remain Jack's political investment, ready to fall apart at the seams the first moment that they are challenged with a real problem requiring them to make the hard choices about national priorities.
Of course the camouflage has already begun to fall off. Today the PNM presents a full slate of 134 candidates. They had a Friday night launch and presented 24 candidates with a shameless announcement that the horse trading and bartering are incomplete and the Prime Minister has to go on vacation so Jack could get an early climb on the PP beanstalk. They promised an early budget but faced with post-election reality check they opted for more election instead.
As the PP supply naked political strategy we are yet to be told how they will fulfil the promises that they made in the general election. "The Treasury is empty," their bemused economic scholar declares until the Governor of the Central bank chides him but which to the layman means he does not really know what he is talking about. What are we to make of the fact that the ex-governor of the Central Bank does not know what a transfer of $600 million to the Stabilisation Fund looks like? And he is supposed to look after our finances for the next five years.
Expect more incompetence, more backtracking, more grandstanding for the media, more exposes, more bluster, for that is what they know and that is what they are about. They attempt to fire everyone who wasn't part of their election bandwagon and intend to stop everything which they did not understand or did not agree with so we wait to see their programme to deal with the social cost of their callousness and the economic reversal of our industrialisation plans.
They will shut down the smelter project and confine La Brea and environs to persistent poverty and underdevelopment. We wait to see when they cancel the contracts, pay the incurred losses, dismantle the almost completed $2 billion power station, pay off the partners, redirect the port and kiss the thousands of jobs goodbye. Don't you want your $3,000/ month pension now, no games? You want the $20 minimum wage, no chirrup chirrup! No property tax on your business property! That was the deal! Computers for all! Any word on the pay hike promised to Cepep and URP workers?
This PNM will defend our democracy, be the voice of the oppressed, the victimised and the downtrodden and a tireless advocate and defender of our economic potential. A vote for the PNM in this local election also sends a message to the PP that the people will defend their interests, protect their opportunities for equal advancement, hold their Government to high ethical standards and expect that elected officials keep their commitment to the people.
But that cannot be our central business today. Our business today is to outline a strategy, in the broadest of terms, of where we wish to take our people. In the past I have spoken about widening our political base; welcoming everyone into the party no matter what his/her persuasion has been; encourage debate within the party and appreciate our intellectual origin–that is a good thing; demand democracy within our party and continue to be a rallying point of all and for all. But precisely because we were here before we must outline some new principles of development which would be the business of the party to develop.
DR KEITH ROWLEY