Sunday, December 17, 2017

Partnership overkill


Mark Fraser

It was like throwing some big stones into a small pond, or as the Americans would say, "every piece in the political armoury, including the kitchen sink" was thrown at the PNM-controlled Tobago House of Assembly last week.

The People's Partnership Government, its financiers and enablers, obviously hurting from the bashing of the recent MFO survey, fought the election campaign through to the final moments, like a wounded animal desperately sensing its final gasp.

In the Sunday Express survey, the Partnership Government did not look good, with the Prime Minister showing an approval rating that fell from 54 per cent in 2011 to 38 per cent last year, and a disapproval rating that increased from 39 per cent to 53 per cent.

Added to this was the high disapproval rating of her point men—Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan—64 per cent, and National Security Minister, Jack Warner—56 per cent. So this could explain her frantic insistence on the Tobago Amendment Bill in Parliament and the millions the Government, those financiers, and the state agencies spent in advertisement to spin a promotion for Ashford Jack's Tobago Organisation for the People (TOP).

The campaign was an unprecedented, multi-million dollar marketing overload which would have left Tobagonians disoriented, but nonetheless today is "show me time". By this evening, Tobagonians will show the world their true character—whether their centuries-old native, familial values cannot be purchased easily, or whether, collectively, they are now ready to adapt to the Partnership Government's "eat ah food" political culture.

By tomorrow, the PM should be back in office to face another dilemma: Explain publicly the appointment of the political flyweight, Nicole Dyer-Griffith as this country's Inspector of Overseas Missions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to sources.

"This is another one of the Government's great misfits," a source declared last week, placing it among the examples of the naked jobbery of the past 30 months—the selection of a pipe-fitter to the post of High Commissioner in Jamaica, an appointment later rejected by the Jamaican government; Reshmi Ramnarine to head SIA; Jwala Rambarran as Governor of the Central Bank; CEPEP contractor Rabindra Moonan as chairman of Caribbean Airlines; and the line of odd-fellows and political friends who now run every state agency.

Ms Dyer-Griffith, a former beauty queen, now vice chairman of the Congress of the People, served briefly and without any known distinction, as Parliamentary Secretary for Information until the Cabinet re-shuffle last July. It is understood that her appointment, when first advanced, was reportedly resisted by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, but in his absence it later got Cabinet's approval.

Without diplomatic training and experience, Ms Dyer-Griffith will be required to perform as Trinbago's supra-diplomat in the fermenting, turbulent and globalised 21st century.

She will be required to deal also with the various crises in our overseas missions. In New York, 14 NGOs recently wrote to the Prime Minister, requesting the removal of the Consul-General. Their request followed another issue in which a staff examination was introduced, and eight employees, with service ranging from seven months to 23 years, were later dismissed.

In Toronto the Consul-General was asked to return home for consultation after the Canadian government ordered that her domestic staff leave that country, within three days. In the Miami Consulate there is said to be low employee morale, with claims of victimisation, firing and persons being recalled on the request of the Consul-General.

In Washington, Ambassador Neil Parsan's facelift of the chancellery was widely publicised in the US as excessive. He is also still trying to distance himself from his inaccurate and politically insensitive statement, later edited, at a Divali function in New York, that "Indians were a formidable force in Trinbago and the most well-to-do, culturally strong and progressive ethnic group in the uniquely plural country".

My source said, "What you have is a demoralised foreign service. Fourteen T&T missions, but only three heads are trained diplomats; the rest are headed by clueless Government friends, family and hangers-on. In every mission there is now daily infighting. Last year's Therese Baptiste-Cornelis fiasco in Geneva is a small part of our diplomatic story.

"In the past, the position of Inspector of Missions was filled by a trained, respected diplomat. Look now where our foreign service has reached; it is now just a futureless dumping ground," my source lamented.

Another immediate issue for the PM will be Minister Warner's plans to change the recruitment process for the Commissioner of Police, with hints of his personal role in that appointment, and then his intention to grant powers of arrest to 1,000 soldiers.

Last August 16, Warner received $289 million to fight crime. Out of that allocation, $60 million was to be spent on the recruitment of 5,000 full-time SRPs "to be trained and deployed before Christmas". Police community support-group units, in nine divisions, were allocated $5.1 million, and $164.5 million was to be spent on crime prevention, detection and surveillance.

Another set of big stones! But over the weekend, the murder figure reached 23 in our little pond.

• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a

career in communication

and management.