Friday, February 23, 2018

Beyond the better loser

In 2013, Tobago has been fair. The island gave the PNM a kick-start to return to office in 2015. But it also gave the UNC-led People's Partnership a much-needed shakedown from which it can refresh or retreat. Both sides seem to be taking the cue, but who will prevail? Will it be a two-party race?

Tobago, as it turns out, always had its own ideas about the country's politics, periodically bucking the trend, and occasionally initiating the future. Now, the recent Tobago elections could end the Partnership, and all sides are paying attention. The Prime Minister's first and last comments on the TOP loss were introspective and forward-looking. More importantly, those comments were sharply distinguished from UNC chairman Jack Warner's insulting remarks. Equally important, the PM has sharply and sternly created distance over Warner's admonition to the Independent Senators, and other presidential appointees, to pack up and go, as Justice Carmona readies himself for the office. The PM may have thought, "monkey don't know the length of he own tail".

Tobago's habit of bucking the trend included its support for the former stevedore ATP James for a Legislative Council seat in 1946 and 1956, on a Trinidad Labour Party ticket. Then, with two seats at stake in 1961, Tobago replaced James with the PNM's Arthur NR Robinson and Basil Pitt. In 1976, Tobago selected two DAC candidates, including Robinson. That led to Robinson becoming the first and likely only person to hold the positions of chairman of the THA, and prime minister and then president. In 1986, the island sent two NAR MPs into the "party of parties" government. Then, even as the NAR saw its 33-3 routing of the PNM in 1986 turn into 21 seats and a win for the PNM in 1991, Tobago held steadfastly to the NAR. It gave the party the two seats which Robinson parlayed into his successful 1997 move to the presidency. In 2010, Tobago acted again, sending two TOP candidates into the national mix, giving the country its first coalition-type government.

After Tobago's latest political signal, the PM's responses to Warner were telling. Not only has she separated her views from Warner's, she has made a point of doing so. After all, the PM knows that Warner and AG Ramlogan are the faces of a potential Partnership defeat in the next general election.

Enough has been said about Warner. AG Ramlogan has parlayed a brilliant lawyer's career into a spotty political one, alternating between reasonable legal judgment and rancid one-sidedness. Some applaud Ramlogan's prudence in getting three legal opinions on Justice Carmona's qualifications for nomination to the Office of President. Fifty years after Independence, others question the absence of an opinion from a local Senior Counsel. The OPV settlement remains a mystery; the delay on the UTT and other audits commissioned by the AG is inexplicable; CLICO remains a spectacle, HCU another. Throughout, Ramlogan has been a divisive figure, the ethnic overtones of his past, mixing with his polarising brashness, making an acrid political brand.

But the crown of thorns on Ramlogan's political head is his Section 34 mysteries. The origin of the revised Section 34 is still a rasping question. The draft legislation entered the Senate for the second reading with then minister Volney speaking on a revised Section 34. Then, like Ramlogan, Volney sat in silence as Senators spoke without appreciating the severity of the change, origin unknown.

To that, add this lack of due diligence in the Haffizool Ali-Mohammed fiasco. Just as the "Doctor debacle" was unfolding, Minister of Labour Errol Mcleod suggested elsewhere that a higher duty-free concession on motor vehicles and household items would encourage nationals to return home for jobs. Minister Mcleod misses the point: nationals at home and abroad simply do not wish to subject themselves to the lack of transparency in recruitment. Qualified nationals will not subscribe to the whimsical way we do business, especially when high-level recruitment processes are as reliable as necromancy.

So, for the upcoming months, the PM will be careful, knowing the consequences. After Carnival, the PM will have to deal with that commission of enquiry appointment; the highway to Point Fortin project review; and her long-awaited review of State boards. After Tobago, those should cause adjustments to the sails.

Keith Rowley's PNM also has work to do. Dr Rowley's criticism of the appointment of the Inspector of Missions is on point, but those reactions always bring attention to similar incomprehensible appointments once made by the PNM. The lack of vetting, unqualified appointees, and looseness of office-holders are problems which also plagued the PNM.

The country needs Dr Rowley and his supporters to accept that in many cases the Partnership has fallen into the same trap that undid the PNM in 1986, 1995, and 2010. Dr Rowley has to start sounding out a PNM plan. It is not too much to ask of a party seeking to return from political punishment, with a new leader, and the experience of how badly the replacement walks the talk. If Dr Rowley wants the vote he must work for it. It must not be handed to him just to punish the other side: we see how that turns out.

Ultimately, the country has exactly what it does not need. Two damaged political entities, both badly in need of a game-changer, vying for political supremacy. So far, no alternative to this pair has emerged. But, out of a bag of names, one President emerged, and got instant acclamation. With effort, we can also find good people for our politics. If not, 2015 will meet us searching for the better loser and more direction from Tobago.

Clarence Rambharat

is a lawyer and a

university lecturer