Former Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing yesterday gave the Government a failing grade on their performance after a year in office. Today marks one year since the Dr Keith Rowley-led administration was voted into office.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Guardian published the result of an online poll which showed that 65.66 per cent of those canvassed were "very dissatisfied" with the Government's performance, with 12.70 per cent indicating they were "somewhat dissatisfied."
Another 6.35 per cent of the respondents said they were "very satisfied," while 7.91 per cent were "somewhat satisfied" and 7.39 per cent were "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied."
Lee Sing was one of five people who assessed the People's National Movement's performance. With ten being the highest rating, Lee Sing, who resigned from the PNM last year, gave the administration "a four."
He said there was no conscience in the current Cabinet and the "Prime Minister had deliberately assembled a team of people who would demand nothing of him. Because they could demand nothing of him, they can't demand anything of themselves and so they are unable to do anything that sparks...precisely because they are no sparks around their leader."
It was clear the majority of the population were dissatisfied in the areas of health, crime, labour, housing, foreign affairs and energy, he noted.
Lee Sing said rather than look at the country's foreign exchange earnings and try to generate domestic revenue, the Government's plan was to sit, wait and hope that energy prices would skyrocket to turn around the economy.
He also criticised the PM's regular oversea trips, stating as a leader he should be anchored with his Cabinet.
Assessing the performance of ministers, Lee Sing said he was disappointed in National Security Minister Edmund Dillon.
"To me, Dillon has not come to grips with the difference between running a controlled environment and running an environment where everything is out of control. They have to understand that the buck stops with them. They have to find ways and means to get the job done," Lee Sing added.
He also condemned the performance of Energy Minister Nicole Olivierre.
"We do not have an Energy Minister. In the context of Trinidad and Tobago, the Energy Minister is the czar of the region. I don't even know that this lady (Olivierre) exists. And even if she says something it amounts to nothing," he added.
Lee Sing suggested that Rowley reconfigure the Cabinet to 16 ministers, with each minister being assigned a junior minister to help out. He gave Ministers Shamfa Cudjoe, Dennis Moses, Randall Mitchell, Fitzgerald Hinds, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, Dillon and Olivierre failing grades but felt there was also room for improvement in health, education, finance and agriculture.
Lee Sing questioned if Finance Minister Colm Imbert would be better suited in Works and Transport, while Mariano Browne, a former minister, would be better to manage the Finance Ministry.
In going forward, Lee Sing said Rowley had to take the bull by the horns by working and guiding his "inexperienced" Cabinet, otherwise they would repeat the error of the past.
Maraj: Grit and courage required
Former foreign affairs minister Ralph Maraj said the economy and crime were two areas the Government collapsed on. He said the country had not seen much movement in adjustments, new earnings and the restructuring of the economy.
Maraj said the Government also needed to look critically at the exchange rate, which should be allowed to slide further while not much had been done in diversification towards new earnings. Another issue not addressed, he said, was the rationalisation of state enterprises to ensure accountability and transparency.
While he praised Rowley for calling on divisional police heads to be sheriffs in their areas, he said Rowley needed follow-up meetings every month with these heads to get updates on developments.
In doing that, Maraj said Rowley would engender a culture of leadership and responsibility which was what was required to reduce crime.
He, however, commended Imbert, saying he had done relatively well for someone who was inexperienced in finance.
"What is required is the grit and courage to make tough decisions. That is what has been lacking and as a result we have not seen any movement towards the challenges we have before us," he added.
Ferreira: A year spent detoxifying
Founding PNM member Ferdie Ferreira said it seemed the Government spent its first year detoxifying.
As a political analyst, however, Ferreira, 89, said for the last year the country had seen more accountability, while wastage was significantly reduced.
"The major part of the Government in the last year was paying bills or trying to correct what went wrong. I don't think people really understand the magnitude of the disaster the Government faced when they came into office."
But Ferreira refused to assess the ministers' individual performances.
"The problem with prime ministers is the question of judgment. People might be academically qualified for a job but in some cases they don't fit in... they are not politicians. I think one of the problems is that with a team of so many newcomers, obviously... a lot of them without any political experience... it would take them some time to become politically acclimatised."
He said sometimes ministers did perform but lack of political flare would give the public the impression that he/she was incompetent or incapable of handling their job.
Teelucksingh: Horse bolted on crime
Former independent senator, Rev Daniel Teelucksingh, said crime should have been addressed from day one by the Government with stakeholders from different quarters.
"You let a year pass. The horse has already bolted. You wait so long. This should have been the first thing this Government should have done.
"They have inherited a nation that is riddled by crime. I don't think they know how to deal with this very serious problem with the close connection between crime, the narcotics trade and the high prevalence of guns in T&T," he said.
Teelucksingh gave the Government a thumbs down for not opening the Children's Hospital in Couva yet, saying citizens were suffering for proper health care while the building was going to waste.
"That hospital does not belong to the PP nor PNM government. It belongs to the people... and many people have been asking if it has become an instrument in a political game," he said.
On the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle, Teelucksingh said it was impossible for an OJT minister to learn their job in one year.
"I do not believe in any overnight shuffle of a Cabinet. What the Government has to do is operate in consortium with their manifesto, plans and policies and work towards that. I would be very gracious towards any government in their first year and give them a chance."
Ford: Cabinet will listen to population
Yesterday, PNM general secretary Ashton Ford said when the PNM came into office they were faced with an empty Treasury and had to cut expenditure due to falling oil prices.
He said it was difficult to understand how some sectors of the public expected the Government to achieve a high level of delivery when the revenue from oil dropped from US$120 to $26 a barrel.
"It is inconsistent with reason. You can't ask more with less. You could not ask the Finance Minister to be reckless with his spending," Ford said, praising Imbert for handling the economy prudently.
Asked if an inexperienced Cabinet had created some setbacks for the Government, Ford refused to say.
"That is the Prime Minister's call. He is the one to assess them and to make a judgment call in the performance of the ministers."
In the coming year, Ford said the Government would listen to the population's views.
"The Cabinet will also adjust the negatives and improve on the positives," he added.