Sunday, February 25, 2018

Govt's credibility challenge


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BRIMMING with re-energised confidence, the Attorney General told the country last week that millions would be gained from the Government's victory in the OPV arbitration in London.

"But you know for the Opposition, the Government can do no right," he told Parliament on Friday, as he touted success in the matter.

Whether that statement was political grandstanding or just another example of his unpreparedness for the office he holds, either way it carried no indication that the AG is sensitised to the current public mood.

Neither did he hint that the OPV matter was merely the most prominent in what sources described as a string of arbitration issues caused by the Government's hasty cancellations of initiatives it considered to be "PNM projects".

Attempts are now being made to negotiate them quietly, but in those arbitration matters taxpayers will pay millions in foreign legal fees, and possibly much more in penalty charges.

Sources last week pointed to a US$100 million dispute with Trinidad General Unlimited over the take-or-pay contract for the new power plant at La Brea.

The $1.2 billion plant was built by Chinese contractors CEMEC to supply electricity to the aluminum smelter plant which the Government cancelled in 2010. Reports indicate that the plant operates at only 20 per cent capacity.

Then there is the cancellation of the smelter project in which the Venezuelan giant Sural held a 40 per cent shareholding.

There are unconfirmed reports that the Venezuelan partners have claimed that the Government never informed them officially that the project was cancelled.

There is also the Point Fortin Highway. Sources indicate that the Government is locked in a US$600 million dispute with the Brazilian contractor, Construtora OAS Ltd, over design changes. And then there are delay costs still being evaluated because of the resistance of the Re-Route Movement. Last April, the firm's programme consultant, AESCOM, filed an initial claim of US$593,000 for the delay caused by the objectors; updated figures are not available.

Probably, AG Ramlogan needs assistance to understand that there is a credibility challenge facing his Government. If so, he needs to be told boldly that it is not just the Opposition which believes that the Government "can do nothing right". Rather it may be the view of citizens who claim to be rational and independently-minded; those who also recognise the transcendence of moral and spiritual values. They are the judicious ones, who voted in 2010 for clean, transparent government.

Take his victory announcement in which he asserts that this country will gain millions from the OPV settlement. Public support should have been overwhelming.

Instead, responses have been tepid, because those citizens have reached the stage that every statement his Government makes is thoroughly scrutinised, inside out, for its true agenda, its hidden objectives, and the connections of its secret beneficiaries

It appears that neither the AG nor the Prime Minister has grasped the full impact of Section 34 on the public's mind.

He should be told that at gatherings across the country people are calling, quite openly, the names of the members of "Cabinet Cabal", who on Independence Day manned the conning-tower which attempted the heist of our Constitution through the surreptitious proclamation of Section 34.

Former justice minister Herbert Volney last week added more grit when he said: "I thought she (the Prime Minister) was going to stand in my corner. I honestly felt that way."

This has raised further questions at those social gatherings. Volney was fired because he misled the Cabinet, the Prime Minister told the country. What then were the reasons, which went beyond ethical grounds, leaving him still expecting that the Prime Minister should have supported him?

Last week, too, during the Divali celebrations, we saw most regrettably irreligion clothed in religion traditions born thousands of years ago were scuttled first by National Security Minister Jack Warner and then the Prime Minister.

Be warned that Warner's delirium may be contagious. But an Honourable Prime Minister is expected to be always prime ministerial; the office holder, particularly in a plural society, never mixes politics with religion.

So public censure must be strong and loud against the Prime Minister's behaviour at the Divali celebrations where all devotees were being urged to embrace the sacred teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita. Such celebrations stress that the minds of devotees should be devoid of all duplicity, so that they could think of the welfare of all.

Instead, we saw a religious ceremony being taken to a political rat nest, with the PM reminding her UNC political base that the Opposition Leader had criticised her months ago for bowing at the feet of the Indian president.

"The Opposition Leader expressed shock, contempt and poured scorn on this sacred exercise in devotion," she droned to the gathering.

Clearly, being manipulative, and playing to her audience, the PM ignored the fact that she received her awards from the Indian leader as head of government - not as a practising Hindu.

See why, there is a credibility challenge?

* Keith Subero, a

former Express news editor,

has since followed a

career in communication

and management.