Saturday, February 24, 2018

National unity over faith in state


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The People's Partnership, or that vital core of it run by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, got the message that a war is on. It's a total war whose aims are wresting or keeping control of the state, which is the only control worth having.

As a result, the Christmas atmosphere will be disturbed by the UNC's Monday-night forums, all the way to the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly elections. Inside the People's Partnership war council, a resolution was passed, to the effect that henceforth they keep nobody's lash.

To every "lash" they get, then, they will hit back. Three ministers answer Verna St Rose-Greaves's noir profiling of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as a mind-blown, blonde figurehead. An editorial in a hitherto-obscure Jamaican paper, alleging T&T Government preferment of Indians, regardless of qualifications, calls forth three ministerial responses.

Flaming barricades stopped Beetham Highway traffic in an ostensible protest for jobs. Four days later, Local Government Minister Surujrattan Rambachan walked the mean streets inside Beetham estate, promising URP jobs for Christmas.

In defence of the People's Partnership citadel, every little bit of push-back counts. Politics everywhere and any time is about winning and holding power, but in T&T a special desperation attends the striving for power, as much as the urge to hold on to power.

"You know the cost of losing power," Kamla Persad-Bissessar on December 3 reminded her followers. "The PNM will discriminate, will deny you, will frustrate you at every turn." Yet power, which includes the unrivalled prerogative to share out and to do things, is a source of frustration equally for those inside the engine room, and for protesters outraged by pigeon droppings that befoul their children's schools.

Still, T&T is destined to witness a continuing contest for exclusive possession of the state. The state is a rotten prize. It is marked all over by incapacities to make things move. It is a machine predisposed to stall, to fail to produce, and will not be pushed.

As the People's Partnership learned, back when Jack Warner, damning the rules, moved to acquire lights for the Piarco runway. The Prime Minister let herself be seen overruling Mr Warner, restraining a can-do impulse to get things done by any means necessary. Older and, inevitably, colder about the potential for getting things done, Ms Persad-Bissessar newly delegated the function of riding hard, somehow, with the hope of making things happen, when so much seems hopelessly stalled. The function includes getting to know how it works.

"Ministers," she said on November 30, "while they make policy as a Cabinet, must also take on the rule of managers and get the job done". It's evident, however, that her government lacks a general manager—a mean, all-purpose, eminence, who functions as the manager of managers.

There's a limit to the shots even the Prime Minister can call. Arguing against the Tobago House of Assembly's Milshirv and other projects, she quoted one Tobago official's e-mail: "The THA needs the project to start now for obvious reasons."

It all looked questionable, the way she described it. But who could blow a whistle? In Parliament on October 10, the Prime Minister sounded less than certain that, strapped to her wrist, was a whistle whose blast could stop the THA play.

"I am suggesting," she said, "that the projects—Milshirv and the projects with respect to the aquatic centre—be halted, pending proper clarification and investigation." Promptly, THA Chief Orville London denied the Prime Minister's authority to stop projects that are proceeding "for obvious reasons".

Moreover, the THA took its time about submitting the Milshirv documents for examination by the Finance Ministry, the Attorney General, the DPP and the Integrity Commission. Though the deal had been in the making since January, John Jeremie's legal opinion of the projects had been sought only after the THA complied and supplied Milshirv documents to Trinidad-based authorities.

For Port of Spain presumptions, Tobago represents a special wake-up call. But ministers, from diverse unrelated backgrounds, now assigned to "manage", little imagine the enormity of their own cluelessness. They should have been provided with more knowledgeable personal staff, but that didn't happen—assuming such human resources are at all available in quality and quantity.

Still, the only thing worse than being in control of the state is not being in control. The state is the only show in town. I hadn't noticed a creative sector "industry" until Trade Minister Vasant Bharath ventured last month to reorganise the relevant state enterprise.

Rubadiri Victor denounced "the stupidity and bobol embodied in this incarnation of the Creative Industries Company". He had a different idea, but it exclusively involved co-opting the state: "We must return the sanctity of the 129 line items (negotiated for the 2011 budget) to their rightful place as agendas of the nation."

As he seeks the political kingdom in expectation that all such things will be added unto him, those 129 line items are the 2012 version of the ten commandments from Mount Sinai. And we who are given to heresies against faith in the state are warned by him not to push it: "There are also things that walk with me, so I walk where I walk."