Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lead us to temptation

 Now, of course, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has to see this sordid affair, five tumultuous years in Government, to its messy end. 

Never before in the history of this country, or, indeed, other countries where democratic elections determine who governs, has a ruling party been wracked by the forced resignations or firings or re-assignments of more than thirty officials who held ministerial portfolios or similar high offices, all within one term of office.

The spin doctors will tell us that the turnover, especially the firings and forced resignations, shows the strength of the leader, her commitment and fortitude to act decisively when the need arises. However, for all but her core supporters who see no weaknesses in a change a day, this is a Government of confusion, by confusion and for confusion.

Central to the entire mess is the leadership of the lady, or the lack thereof, which came into question early o’clock, but which, out of an abundance of caution over gender neutrality, critics were inclined to overlook.

In the heady days of 2010, when Kamla first routed Basdeo Panday in the internal party elections, then assembled an attractive coalition of forces, and finally annihilated a bungling Patrick Manning by registering the second biggest parliamentary majority ever, she could do no wrong-or so we thought.

Everything she touched turned into gold. Even Jack Warner, around whom controversy and allegations of impropriety in the football world swirled, benefited from the euphoria of the day. The few who said she should stay far from Jack had their voices drowned in the din of the madding crowd. The discerning among the populace saw the danger in promoting such a man to a heartbeat away from the seat of power.

But no one heeded the warnings, certainly not Kamla. She went overboard with her gratitude (‘Thank you, Jack, thank you, Jack!’) and was effusive in her praise. Three years later, she would finally find his many FIFA sins too heavy a burden to bear. But by then, her deficiency in a critical leadership quality, selecting the right people for key positions, had already been exposed.

By the time she mustered the courage to part ways with Jack, he had positioned himself to embarrass her, which he did in the by-election for Chaguanas West.

Snagging the bombastic Herbert Volney from the bench and parading him as a godsend to the electorate was another disaster-in-the-making that was obscured by the mood of the 2010 elections moment—and momentum. In short order, he would be exposed as a misfit, another embarrassment, but most of all a poor choice for the portfolio she awarded him.

And so the humongous Cabinet she created, ministerial jobs for the boys and girls, unravelled around her, but for a handful of competent, reliable persons who, really, have kept the Government ship afloat in a swirling sea of sewage.

Anil Roberts has taken the fall for this latest, multi-million-dollar sporting-cum-criminal scandal, as well he should, being the minister in charge. Ultimately, though, the PM must accept much blame for this wanton waste of public funds that has become her signature solution to every problem—throw money to douse the fire.

Have we forgotten the “Colour me Orange” programme that came out of the state of emergency, dollars for criminals, paying them to not rob and kill people? What about “Hoops for Life”, the costly basketball initiative, launched with much fanfare, with Shaquille O’Neal nailing a three-pointer with the PM in his hands? 

Her leadership style is to throw taxpayers’ money at every perceived problem—which is no leadership at all: ATM machines strategically deployed across the country, with smart cards widely distributed the way food cards are, to rich and poor, can achieve the same ends.

Carnival, Divali, Eid, Emancipation, Indian Arrival Day, Shouter Baptists Day, Christmas-share money like “parsad”. Then preach the gospel of hard work and self-reliance. Top off the “freecos” with reduction in the prices of flour, rice, edible oils, all agents of lifestyle diseases. Then spend billions more on health care for diseases you promote.

Luckily, the Partnership Government inherited solid savings and healthy foreign reserves. Luckily, too, the prices of oil and gas rebounded after the collapse in 2007-2009. And the national economy performs reasonably well not because of Government initiatives, but because of systems that have been in place for years, however deficient they may be.

The passing parade of ex-ministers and high officials, the musical chairs in the boardrooms of critical State enterprises, the narrow escapes we’ve had from square pegs in round holes (think Reshmi), and persons wholly unsuited to key offices who have been foisted on us, are all symptomatic of leadership that sorely lacks what it takes to steer the ship of State.

It’s not easy to lead anything in Trinidad and Tobago, far more the country. It’s a demanding but thankless job. But when you offer yourself as Prime Minister, you must be better than ordinary. 

Kamla has led us into temptation for dollars, she has not delivered us from the evils of crime and corruption, but hers are the power and glory to enjoy...until the next elections.