They seem different. One is a woman, the other a man; one smiles, the other is aggressive. But beneath the surface, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Keith Rowley are political twins, peas in a pod, cut from the same old cloth, now stained and ragged but unchanged since the PNM and DLP/UNC arrived more than 50 years ago.
With our major parties, 2015 will not be a horse race with thoroughbreds galloping magnificently to the finish line, dignified in victory or defeat. It will be a contest of old mules, decorated to disguise their decrepitude. In their present condition, neither has the wherewithal to pull this country from the economic and social morass into which they have landed this nation. Little wonder the idea of voting “none of the above” is gaining currency, with the esteemed Reginald Dumas suggesting it should be part of constitutional reform.
The PNM and UNC have been important but are totally out of step with the requirements of today’s Trinidad and Tobago. Though of noble birth, they never developed into true political parties but remained electioneering outfits that serve the need of their ethnic bases to vicariously experience power when their own is in office. And because our major parties draw their strength and support from the visceral, blinding emotions produced by tribal loyalties and insecurities, they have never had any real obligation of accountability.
We will see this irresponsibility on full display in the coming general election campaign. Neither will give you definite plans for the economy, governance, corruption and crime, but will come instead with recycled generalisations. For example, they will promise procurement reform but do nothing about it.
Kamla and Rowley brought no procurement legislation during the last four years. And vastly more disturbing than their inaction is what constrains them in this critical matter. They are ruled by their financiers who absolutely do not want procurement reform which will bring fairness and transparency in the award of government contracts and reduce favouritism and kickbacks worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Had they been real political parties, the PNM and UNC would have been financially independent, free from their humiliating reliance on financiers, and able to act in the interest of the people. But they are rendered pathetic in their dependence and hypocritical in their posturing.
David Abdulah, a former member of a parliamentary committee on procurement legislation, has said Rowley and the Opposition, “for all the noise they are making, have no moral authority” to chastise the Government over the award of a billion-dollar contract to Super Industrial Services to build the Beetham Wastewater Treatment Plant, because “in the Joint Select Committee of Parliament, the PNM refused to support proper public procurement legislation. In fact they absented themselves from the committee and they also did not vote in support or sign even the minimal report of that Joint Select Committee.”
A most damning indictment revealing the present PNM is that same old beast of burden being ridden by the money men to power. Had Rowley supported the legislation, his financiers would have deserted the PNM and looked to mount the crowded cart being pulled by the UNC mule.
Abdulah did not spare the UNC either, saying the Government failed to pass the legislation “because they are not interested in public procurement. They are talking about it, but while they are talking, while the legislation is not being brought to Parliament, people are getting fat off the public’s purse. Corruption is ongoing because there is no public procurement legislation”.
Aren’t Kamla, Rowley and the whole bunch utterly ashamed? How do these people look in the mirror or face their children? Can they still pray or does “Amen” stick in their throats as it did in Macbeth’s? What moral authority do they have to lecture anyone about integrity and proper personal conduct?
As I asked in The Archbishop and the Prime Minister, “How can they summon thousands of supporters to a public rally, so many of them young, have these poor people shouting, dancing and waving flags, and pretend to love them when they care not one damn thing about them or their children?”
And their blind supporters will never see how they and their children are being cheated of billions of dollars that could be deployed for their development.
And will anyone in the PNM or UNC ask Kamla or Rowley to explain their position on procurement reform and answer the charges of David Abdulah? No. There exists no forum in either party for it.
Did members discuss their parties’ support for Section 34 or why PNM and UNC governments did nothing to stop the recklessness and gorging that collapsed CL Financial, costing the nation $20 billion? The carnal reason in both cases is the powerful influence wielded by political investors who financed both parties into power. This control of the parties by money men and this lack of accountability by the leadership to the rank and file justify the claim that the PNM and the UNC are of the same ilk, and are not political parties in the true meaning of the term.
They remain tribal. So it matters not to their rank and file if while in government, these parties end up corrupt and woefully inefficient. “We time now” takes precedence above all else for the masses on both sides. So Kamla and Rowley are not challenged to develop ideas, plans and vision. They just look for financiers and PR consultants to provide image and marketing to t,make the PNM and UNC look like thoroughbreds in 2015. But no matter how many millions are spen it will remain a race of old mules that takes the country nowhere.
• Ralph Maraj is a playwright, actor and former cabinet minister