Thursday, December 14, 2017

In budget season — blood, fire, on the road


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By the end of the second week of the budget political season, attitude dramatised on the Parliament stage was stirring responsive action on streets of Port of Spain.

Flaming garbage signalled fire rage in the name of the jobless cohort on George, Nelson and Duncan Streets. It was a pointed riposte to Finance Minister Larry Howai's budget citation of "a level of full employment".

Inside the House, Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald had already countered that people in East Port of Spain wanted not just any employment to make up "full" numbers but, indeed, "sustainable jobs".

On George, Nelson and Duncan, smoke rose, traffic stopped; cameras came; talking heads performed; news budgets filled. In a typical Trinidad and Tobago today story, National Security Minister Jack Warner showed up to deliver a sound bite. 

TV news reported he had come when called by the police. This must be the latest approach to community policing for that area, with Mr Warner supposedly performing as "community leader", godfather, or general go-to guy.

Hours later, four city blocks to the west, he was present, this time, only in spirit, as invoked by the gathering. Around the Red House, spiritual home of the Parliament, MP Jack Warner was the target of an "Occupy" movement of protesters clamouring for his removal from the Kamla Persad-Bissessar Cabinet.

By Friday, then, the two-week political mini-series will have been running with such credits as would make it the Jack Warner Show. The storyline could well depict Mr Warner struggling to survive, with his own brand of grace under pressure from the Keith Rowley PNM.

If Mr Warner looked more than usually to be twisting in the wind, this could be the still-unfolding outcome of Dr Rowley's identifiable mission. His first act as Opposition Leader had been aimed to discomfit if not dislodge the UNC chairman from his high perch inside the Persad-Bissessar administration, by denouncing him to the Integrity Commission.

Dr Rowley had been stalking this political prey since he was housing minister in the Patrick Manning administration, and Mr Warner's only Cabinet position was one inside FIFA. In February 2006, when FIFA was investigating ticket-hustling shenanigans of a Warner-owned company, Dr Rowley publicly urged the world football body also to check out its local big man's involvement in the cost overruns of building four stadia for the 2002 Under-17 World Cup held in T&T.

That Mr Warner last week was thrust by fate into the prospective role of fixer for George, Nelson and Duncan Streets may just also jog shallow T&T memories about Dr Rowley's one-time involvement there. As housing minister, he had championed an east Port of Spain redevelopment project, intended to transform the troubled area into high-end, high-rise, neighbourhood rebranded as "Eastbridge".

Such an exercise of "urban renewal" was to provide "green open spaces, preserve the community's characteristics and social structure", and also "promote economic development". It was the Manning-Rowley big play for the benefit of an east Port of Spain left untouched by improving hands for maybe six decades. "Certainly one option that is not available is to leave it as it is," said minister Rowley.

Unaccountably, however, the flame of the "Eastbridge" idea was snuffed out well before the 2007 general elections. East Port of Spain was left "as it is".  

Today, MP McDonald wrings her hands over continuing "neglect". And Minister Warner answers the summons to a new proving ground for his self-promoting can-do.

He had made nearby Laventille his own, counting achievements in the temporary cessation of murders. That was always ill-advised, in that it provoked sceptical bad-mouthing, and goat-mouthing, from the opposition PNM.

Mr Warner took himself so seriously that when, after 30 bloodless days, Stephon Morris was shot 28 times at Eastern Quarry, he claimed to feel "personally hurt", and cursed it as "a PNM murder". He also came close to cursing the police for releasing the information about that killing and, in a fit of madness, over-reached himself by issuing instructions forbidding such releases.

The world stood still for the briefest instance to conclude that Mr Warner must have succumbed emotionally to the torments of the Rowley-PNM onslaught. The PNM in opposition, it has been shown, is the most fearsome force known to politics, even when putting up a fight in areas where its governmental record leaves it most vulnerable—such as in east Port of Spain and Laventille.

"The PNM … has no moral authority to even mention the word Laventille," Karen Bart-Alexander fumed in a blog last week. "The first glimmer of light began to shine in Laventille in 1997 under the Basdeo Panday-led UNC government and the PNM got so frightened that they launched a vicious smear campaign against Sadiq Baksh, that has stuck to this day."

Congress of the People leader Prakash Ramadhar has looked even farther back to 1989-1990. He noted present-day parallels with the build-up to the July 27, 1990 attempted coup.

He recalled that "the unions were on the streets … communities were in fiery protest for basic services and needs; and political parties were on the road."

All of which is again recognisable today, with the Rowley PNM hot on the scent of  Jack Warner's blood. And the budget debate is still going on.