Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, it seems, is good at political escape. Surprised by Marlene McDonald’s arrest on August 8, the PM complained that the Government had neither forewarning nor official notification, learning of Ms McDonald’s arrest through social media and that he would await the facts. The PM also indicated that he had relied on the Integrity Commission’s clearance to reappoint Ms McDonald, discounting complaints from rivals as bias. PM Rowley also fulminated that the misbehaviour allegations occurred under the Patrick Manning regime.
Ms McDonald’s ministerial appointment was revoked on August 12. At the post-Cabinet press briefing on August 15, the PM attempted to regain control of the narrative, indicating that Ms McDonald’s arrest signalled his Government’s effort to create a new society by addressing white-collar crime and that the People’s National Movement was being held to a higher standard.
Coming into office, Dr Rowley had noted that people were of the cynical opinion that “anything could happen, and nothing would happen.” But he has also noted that the PNM’s standard was higher than its rivals. “This is how it is happening for the first time, exactly what you want to happen is happening - that if persons, especially public officials, misconduct themselves, there must be policing to identify the misconduct and the person must be held accountable,” he said. He argued, though, that all systems were imperfect, that the screening system was still evolving and that the PNM would improve its procedures for the upcoming local government elections.
The PM also took credit for the enhanced policing capacity arising from the appointment of a capable Commissioner of Police. Dr Rowley reported that his Government was building a new society, saying that much had been done. He noted that in the coming months there would be announcements which would address the backlog in the judicial system, the number of judges and courts would be increased and systems improved to speed up the administration of justice.
But building a new society requires much more than ameliorating the courts.
When questioned on how Las Cuevas and Sea Lots could be reclaimed from criminal figures like “Sandman” and “Dole,” for example, the MPs, one the current Minister of Community Development, the other a past Minister of Community Development, could not identify one credible measure. One simply said, “I’ll never take sides.” Last weekend, in response to the public advisory that Williams' Bay and other beaches were contaminated, the Minister of Agriculture Land and Fisheries could only say it was not his responsibility.
However, development takes time. Politicians must, therefore, identify implementation priorities before entering office and initiate action quickly upon assuming office. To talk of building a new society one year before election is thus, at best, political opportunism, at worst empty rhetoric. Results must come from action, not announcements.