Before I start on the subject of this week's article I shall correct an error in last week's article. I stated that: "With respect to the THA constitutional proposals, Clause 4 states: "Section 54 (3) of the Constitution is amended by inserting immediately after the words "section 139" the words "section 141A to 141E". This would then have the requirement for a four-fifths majority in the House of Representatives and a two-thirds majority in the Senate for amendment". The required majority in the House is three-fourths and not four-fifths. It should also be noted that by the inclusion of that section the passage of the proposed Tobago House of Assembly bill will require a three-fourths majority in the House and two-thirds in the Senate whereas the Green Paper bill which alters Section 53 but not Section 54 will require a two-thirds majority in each House.
The first issue that I shall raise in the re-alignment of ministries by the Prime Minister is that even more ministries have been created. As I have commented in past articles, the US, with a population of over 300 million, has 15 ministers (they are named secretaries — there are also some deputy secretaries). In Trinidad and Tobago, with a population of just over one million, there are now 40 ministers (32 "senior" ministers, seven "junior" ministers and the Prime Minister). Some years ago I wrote of my amazement that we had 30 ministers —this Government has outdone a previous government. I am told that in the "bad old days" we once had 12 ministers!
A recent news item called attention to the cost of each additional ministry. These include a permanent secretary and probably a deputy, head of human resources and staff, accountant and staff, vehicle(s), chauffeur, cleaners, office accommodation, cost of changing all letter heads, signs on vehicles and elsewhere and so on and so on: at the same time we have an increase in street dwellers and children who cannot go to school because of poverty.
Some other re-alignments are most puzzling—Marine Affairs with Housing? A new Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration—and a new Minister who is reported to not know what his new ministry will entail! Let us hope the Prime Minister will tell him and us what it means and how it relates particularly to the Ministry of Multiculturalism but also to the Ministries of Social Development, Community Development and the People and Social Development.
The Gazette in which the exact responsibilities are to be given has not yet appeared and so I shall comment again when this information is available.
One of the very disappointing realignments is the transfer of Minister Bharath from the Ministry of Food Production where he was doing an excellent job. Perhaps he was doing too good a job. Even if he were needed in trade, I am certain that he could have managed both ministries (Food Production and Trade). Indeed George Chambers held down both these ministries at a time when this country's agriculture was much more important in the economy than it is now.
I think we had a chance of developing this sector with Minister Bharath. The fact that he has been moved when he was making progress suggests to me a low priority to this sector. In addition the fact that the Ministry has been downsized by the removal of Land and Marine Affairs also suggests a lower priority.
The transfer of land from Food production to Housing suggests to me that the transfer of land from use for agriculture to use for housing is being facilitated. I hope that the report of Marine Affairs being moved to Housing is in error; if not I await with interest the explanation for this alliance for I cannot understand this move.
The new Minister of Local Government has immediately announced his task of mobilising for Local Government elections. I would have thought that his first statements would have been of his intention to fast track Local Government reform as promised in the manifesto—but perhaps I misunderstood the Manifesto.
There has been no effort to move towards Local Government reform since this Government won the elections two years ago. The emphasis on "people participation" in governance would have been best achieved through Local Government reform. Any hope of this seems to be lost for the Congress of the People — COP—(which was supporting Local Government reform) leadership has not mentioned Local Government reform but has expressed its satisfaction with the re-alignment-presumably this is because they now have two or three more ministers and the Mayor of San Fernando position!
Altogether I find recent news depressing for the future of the country—particularly as I see no signs of any improvement in the Opposition. There are two redeeming features in recent developments. Verna St Rose Greaves has declined a post of ambassador.
Her purpose in becoming a minister was for the service she could give and not for status or income.
As an aside, is there any significance in the fact that Minister Moonilal is reported to have been present when Ms St Rose Greaves was being told of her removal as a Minister? It should be remembered that the Prime Minister has spoken of him as a successor as prime minister.
The second development that gives me a glimmer of hope for the future of this country is the launching of the Movement for Social Justice as a full-fledged political party by its separation from the People's Partnership. I shall write on this development later.
• John Spence is Professor Emeritus, UWI. He also served as
an Independent Senator.