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Learning little from the past

 People’s National Movement leader Keith Rowley seems to have settled on a single-issue explanation for his party’s electoral defeat four years ago.

In the Rowley narrative, as told to Rotarians this week, the PNM’s 2010 electoral debacle was entirely due to the shenanigans, infamously privileged by then-Prime Minister Patrick Manning, at the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT). So the maverick State enterprise, which Dr Rowley himself had criticised, certainly did factor in the PNM’s electoral rout.

But, insofar as UDeCOTT was a factor in voters’ rejection of the PNM, this was related to the wider issue of corruption. The new Public Procurement Bill is the first legislative step toward treating with mismanagement on this front, and hopefully a Rowley-led administration will not water down its provisions but would ensure that the act gets all the infrastructural and institutional support needed for effective implementation.

In any case, the Opposition Leader may be indulging in some self-serving speculation by arguing that, had Mr Manning cracked down on the errant entity, the PNM would have survived in government.

On the contrary, the catalogue of dissatisfactions that made up voters’ minds extended well beyond UDeCOTT to include policies and projects, ranging from the Tarouba stadium to the Chatham smelter, which were seen to be either failing or holding little promise of sustainable value for T&T. Additionally, the Manning administration’s inability to reverse a murder rate that rose by 300 percent on its watch was a key factor in the PNM’s ejection from Government.


But, as revealed over the past few months during his campaign to successfully retain the political leadership of the PNM, Dr Rowley embraces every single plan and policy of the Manning regime, including the smelter and the Vision 2020 (now Vision 2030 in the planned PNM manifesto). Up to last week, Dr Rowley even defended the PNM’s deals with so-called “community leaders”, on the basis that his oath of office mandated him to treat all citizens equally by meeting with anyone, including the Muslimeen. 

Successive administrations have learned little from the mistakes of previous ones and this appears to have been the pattern for the past two decades. The 1995-2000 UNC administration was decried as the worst ever in the history of T&T, and so too was the 2007-2010 PNM regime which followed, and now the same charge is being levelled at the incumbent People’s Partnership coalition.

If anything, this shows that the only thing politicians learn from their predecessors is how much they can get away with.

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