Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An imperfect shuffleboard

Reginald Dumas logo15

Mark Fraser

Part I

The Prime Minister has described her recent Cabinet reshuffle as “a new era of (her) Government. ...This is lift-off time...” My dictionary defines “lift-off” as “take-off, especially the vertical take-off of a spacecraft, rocket, or helicopter.” 

I can only hope the Cabinet doesn’t now seek to propel itself into the stratosphere from the ground on which, the PM’s words indicate, it has so far reposed. But that is highly unlikely, if only because ministers have to spend time learning their new portfolios before trying to fly.

The PM listed a number of her Government’s achievements and achievements-to-be, including the “performance of the Ministry of the People and Social Development”. 

What exactly has that performance been, since she separately mentions “distribution of food cards to thousands of persons”, which from what I hear is one of that ministry’s most important interests? And many of the “achievements” are what previous governments also did, e.g., construction of schools, infrastructural improvements, etc. 

These are not favours. They are what administrations are paid by us taxpayers to do on our behalf, not to take credit for.

The old issue of the government not “informing (us) adequately of all that has been positively taking place” rears its head yet again. 

Governments in this place have traditionally spent hundreds of millions of our dollars on what they call “government information”, and what is nothing more, nothing less, than Government propaganda. 

From that point of view the PM is perfectly correct: information is grossly inadequate, if it exists at all. The population stopped listening a long time ago; it has had enough. What it wants is positive action on its behalf, not ministers preening themselves, glorifying their deficient works in expensive centre-page ads and finding fault with everyone else when things go wrong.

But now the PM says she has put in place persons “best suited to perform (in their respective areas) in order to accelerate the speed of delivery to meet the expectations of the public”. 

No kidding. Tell me, then, what professional knowledge of, and skills in, communications does Gerry Hadeed bring to his new assignment?

And what about Emmanuel George? How is he, a non-lawyer, “best suited” for the post of Minister of Justice? How is he going to deal constructively with our criminal justice system? By watching Law and Order? 

The PM attempts to explain this away by saying that a Minister of Justice doesn’t need to be a lawyer. On that argument, she could well have made George the Attorney-General, since there is no specific requirement in the Constitution for the holder of that post to be a qualified attorney-at-law. 

Think of the delight such a move would have given the PNM and ILP and MSJ and others, and how it would have advanced the political collaboration she now so enthusiastically advocates.

As for Rodger Samuel, I imagine he will be singing to his flock the praises of fasting and prayer. Look where those two activities have put him. Unless, of course, he is “best suited” for the post of Minister responsible for National Diversity and Social Integration.  What might make him so?

I understand the logic behind the appointments of Gary Griffith and Marlene du Coudray, but I am puzzled by the transfer of Stephen Cadiz, who I thought had been doing a good job in tourism. Especially from a Tobago perspective, his replacement by Chandresh Sharma does nothing to comfort me – on the evidence, I am obliged to consider Sharma ill-suited for any position he has occupied.

Jamal Mohammed leaves unmourned; he was singularly incompetent. 

For her part, Christlyn Moore had been assailed from day one by her bitter predecessor, Herbert Volney; more recently, I don’t know why, Joseph Remy had joined the fray. But in her case there might be more in the mortar than the pestle.

For at least a fortnight before the reshuffle the word on the ground in Tobago was that Delmon Baker, the Minister of Tobago Development, was to be dropped. 

Not Moore but Baker. Both of them are among the growing number of TOP dissidents calling on Ashworth Jack to ride off into the sunset. But Jack is said still to enjoy the confidence of his Partnership leader, and it was bruited about that Baker (the dissidents’ choice for the political leadership) would be dismissed for his insubordination and replaced either by Jack himself or by one of his shrinking band of acolytes. 

Then one heard that it would be unwise to remove a sitting MP and bring a senator, unelected, in his stead. On that reasoning, Moore, a senator, was the obvious sacrificial lamb.

Some at least of the above is true. What is certainly fact is that, with Moore’s departure, there is now no TOP senator at all, and only one TOP Cabinet minister. 

One wonders, therefore, about the consistent application of the proportional representation principle that is being so fervently prescribed elsewhere. 

Proportional representation or not, I would have thought, if the PM’s regard for Jack and his party is as profound as it is reported to be, that she would have advised the President to appoint a TOP person in place of Moore. This has not happened, and the TOP, Ashworth Jack or not, must ask itself whether it has any relevance or standing within the Partnership.

The party must also ask itself whether it can continue with a leader who, defying convention, refuses to budge after comprehensive defeat. 

We have been told that his offer of resignation was refused. But in such circumstances you do not offer to resign, you resign. 

Remember George Chambers in 1986 and ANR Robinson in 1991? The party’s constitution, which I saw recently for the first time, provides no help; it is one of the most anti-democratic political party documents I have ever seen.

The TOP rebels have some reflection to do, after consultation with the people of Tobago. We shall see what they decide.

• Reginald Dumas is a former ambassador and former head of the public service