All this hot air
We already know that we will get no new politics from People’s Partnership (PP) during this 2010-2015 term. You only have to look at the list of achievements they boasted about in the conclusion of the 2014 budget presentation. Of the 23 achievements they boasted about, none is about better governance, or a reduction of state corruption, or procurement legislation, or the institution of structures to better execute the people’s will, or meritocracy in the distribution of jobs and award of contracts, or a better deal for Tobago.
But the signs are also clear that we will get no new politics either from the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) or the People’s National Movement (PNM). And we need go no further than two newspaper reports, both by Ria Taitt, on the contributions of Shamfa Cudjoe and Vernella Alleyne-Toppin on the 2014 budget, the former a PNM senator and the latter a government minister.
Let’s look at the report on Shamfa first. Ria Taitt reports that her contribution was fiery, so fiery that she was called ‘Bethel Badjohn’ by Vernella. Taitt reports her as claiming that the government was punishing Tobago for giving the PNM all 12 seats in the THA elections in January this year. Some of the utterances Taitt reports her as making are as follows:
‘…any administration, any party, any government — PNM, ILP, UNC—that treats us with disrespect, you are going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’
‘This Government cannot be serious. That is the kind of contempt it has for Tobagonians, for the development of human capital and for the welfare of the people of Tobago.’
‘It was another attempt to fool and mamaguy the Tobago electorate.’
‘They fired my dear friend, Christlyn Moore. She used to make some excellent contributions here in the Senate. She used to sit in the front row, rubbing nose and rubbing forehead with the Attorney General. But he didn’t speak up for her when they kicked her to the curb like the proverbial mangy dog.’
The first utterance threatens national governments that are disrespectful of Tobagonians with the biblical fate of a trip to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. Presumably, that means out of power in the Tobago House of Assembly, since from the budgetary allocations for Tobago, it is clear that it is the PP and not the PNM that is really in power in Tobago. The valley of the shadow of death would seem not to be an especially frightening place to be.
The second utterance was in response to what she regarded as zero or paltry allocations to CEPEP, the Caregivers programme, home improvement, the Charlotteville housing programme, the Signal Hill housing estate, and other areas. Shamfa chided the government as not being serious and as being contemptuous of Tobagonians. I imagine she was sincere in her displeasure, but there was no argument to support the claim of a lack of seriousness, just the mere presentation of figures beside it. At the very least, a comparison with hefty allocations by a previous PNM Minister of Finance would have been credible. But no such luck, only hot air.
The third utterance accuses the PP of yet another attempt to ‘fool and mamaguy’ Tobagonians, and was in response to the Finance Minister boasting that 5.3 per cent of the budget — actually, it is 5.39 per cent — had been allocated to Tobago when, in fact, it was only 4.03 per cent since this percentage was for spending by the House of Assembly while the rest was for spending by government ministries. There is something of an argument here, though it was either poorly made or poorly reported. The real argument is that the government was, deliberately and deceptively, suggesting that the Assembly had been given 5.39 per cent of the budget when in fact they had been given only 4.03 per cent, with the government having the rest. The deception lies in the government’s conflation of ‘Tobago’ and ‘Tobago House of Assembly’ in the particular budget passage. But Shamfa was more concerned with being emotional rather than rational.
In the fourth utterance, Shamfa is being gracious to the enemy when the latter is down. She laments Christlyn Moore’s firing, unhappy that the PP had treated her like ‘a mangy dog’ and pays tribute to her for her ‘excellent contributions’ in the senate. She identifies with a fellow Tobagonian woman and, perhaps, a fellow Tobagonian lawyer, and heaps praise when the political enemy is no longer active. The graciousness would have been more credible if Christlyn was still in the house.
Shamfa provided a politics that was not different from what previous Tobago PNM representatives have provided in the parliament over the years, except perhaps that she was more vocal. But Vernella of the TOP was no different. According to Taitt the reporter, she called Shamfa a badjohn and accused the Tobago PNM of spite, vindictiveness, incompetence, wastefulness, nepotism, and racism.
She provided some evidence of the PNM’s misgovernance: nearly 5,000 people sent home after the elections after serving as vote banks for the PNM; retrenchment of her stepdaughter; Assemblymen going around to houses in January and giving money for home repairs to their PNM pardners; empty hotels and guest houses; ‘erasure’ of Caucasians and Indians; 34 Assembly-owned estates but none under cultivation; disbanding of the Ministry of Tobago Affairs by Dr Williams when Tobago voted for DAC in 1976.
Like Shamfa, she saw the opposing party as wicked and evil (my interpretation). And like her again, she offered no rational debate, no transformative ideas.
In a particularly memorable alliterative outburst, she called Shamfa’s contribution ‘vile, vapid, vituperative, vitriolic, venomous, and vacuous.’ Six negative adjectives beginning with a ‘v’ sound that grated in context.
When is the politics going to move from hot air to inspiring insight?