Friday, February 23, 2018

Shabby reshuffling


Mark Fraser

The Prime Minister’s statement on the Cabinet reshuffle lists “Trying to create a sense of national pride”, among her Government’s 17 achievements in office. In these desperate political times, a speechwriter was paid to write that nonsense. That speechwriter was also paid to glorify a shabby time in Government, and mask the reality that even the PM cannot figure out what she is doing. Two weeks ago crime was her priority. One week ago it was proportional representation in the selection of local government aldermen. Now, it’s her Government’s “lift-off”, after 40 months in power, with many speeches and little achievement. 

In her statements, the PM does not even understand the Bill her government has laid in the House. And, the Government’s policy documents on local government reform fail to mention this idea of proportional representation. With the crime and election pressure mounting, the “alderman” Bill presents the usual pre-election distraction. 

In her August 2013 statement on local government reform the PM says, “The time has come to have the aldermen elected by the population and not selected by the councillors after an election.” But, this is a misconceived representation of the Bill laid in the House. With the Bill, the political parties will continue to choose their aldermen from the published slate based on the number allotted to them by the EBC after the election. Voters will vote for a candidate in an electoral district. That candidate’s party will publish a list of potential aldermen. And that candidate’s party, if called upon by the EBC, will identify its aldermen from that list. The voter has no direct choice in an alderman and therefore remains outside the selection process. This is election by far-fetched proxy or guesswork. 

In any event, proportional representation was not until now among the Government “priorities” for local government reform and the Government’s only plan for aldermen was the introduction of a requirement for three aldermen in each municipal body to represent the interests of youth, women, and children. In the lead-up to another election, this proportional representation Bill is yet another distraction by the Partnership in the face of growing problems within its ranks and in its dealings with the public. 

Before the PM considered this non-issue, she should have paid attention to the Cabinet Note sent to her by the EBC 22 months ago. One week before the January 21 THA elections I wrote that, “It would be interesting to see whether at the end of this election, the EBC commissioners would dare to step out of the box in their usual post-election report”. And, in March 2013 I wrote that, “The EBC has been amazingly silent on the troubling issues of election campaign financing and the State’s wild use of public funds for election campaigning”. 

The EBC says in its February 2013 report on the THA elections that given the paltry sums allowable for elections expenses, it is reasonable to conclude that sources of funding beyond the financial resources of candidates and political parties were available. It then points to its Note to Cabinet sent in November 2011, more than a year before those THA elections, in which it recommended that action be taken to introduce legislation to deal, “not only with political-party financing and political-campaign financing, but also with the registration of political parties”. 

In that February 2013 report, the EBC says it had no response from the Government, which is unsurprising given that changing the way aldermen are elected and up-sizing the Cabinet are more important issues for the Government than removing corrupt election and political-party funding. 

In any event, with murders continuing without respite, who really cares about aldermen? Only a handful of people can tell you how many aldermen are in the City of Port of Spain, but everybody can tell you that even the fridge in the mortuary has given up on the body count. The stench is not only because the refrigeration broke down but because, like everyone and everything else, the appliance can’t make it further. If crime falls in the gardens of national security and justice, the PM’s “timely” reshuffle has made sure the ministers responsible for those two portfolios are too “new” to be held accountable during the upcoming budget debate and the local government elections to follow. 

But, this “new” Minister of National Security is not entirely new. Minister Griffith and the PM are fixtures on the National Security Council. He was there for Reshmi Ramnarine’s short-lived appointment. He was there for the ill-fated State of Emergency. He was there for the so-called assassination plan. And he was on the National Security Council for every one of the 800 or more murders since the Partnership took power. 

What can Minister Griffith do that he could not do as National Security Adviser? As National Security Adviser, he was freed of the politics, Cabinet and parliamentary responsibilities, the long debates, and the full glare of the media. Now he has all those things to add to his lack of ministerial experience, and an unmistakable lack of love from the public. What will he do?

Maybe even the PM has surrendered to crime. In her Cabinet reshuffle on September 5, gender issues got two ministers, national diversity got two, and national security got Minister Griffith alone. 

And, between the PM and her speechwriter, the 17 achievements of the Partnership included fashion, flooding, and food cards, but not one achievement remotely connected to fighting crime. Seriously?

v Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer