Shirking their responsibilities
Is a Cabinet reshuffle equivalent to a presidential pardon and are rules made to be broken? At least two Government Ministers would apparently answer in the affirmative. Newly appointed Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma last week refused to respond to queries put to him by the Sunday Express about improper conduct at the State-owned Community Improvement Services Ltd (CISL). CISL falls under the Local Government Ministry, which Sharma headed until last month's Cabinet reshuffle. His reason for refusing to answer? "I am no longer the Minister." In similar fashion, new Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, who previously held the portfolio of Transport Minister, when asked about the propriety of the non-executive CISL chairman getting a company vehicle contrary to the State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual, stated that the manual was just a guideline and not the law.
It need hardly be pointed out — or so one would think — that this is a recipe for chaos, if not outright corruption. Yet apparently these two Ministers do need such obvious absurdities explained to them. Mr Sharma's refusal to accept responsibility for any actions under his previous portfolio, carried to its reductio ad absurdum, means that the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration should not be spending hundreds of millions of dollars investigating alleged misfeasance by officials under the last government. After all, those people, like Mr Sharma, no longer hold the positions under which such acts occurred.
Mr Maharaj's position is even more revealing of double standards. Many of his criticisms of the former PNM regime were rooted in allegations of nepotism and poor governance. But, in many of those cases, what was flouted was best practice and regulations, not necessarily laws. Now that he is in Government, Mr Maharaj has adopted the position that regulations can be changed to suit the party in power.
It might be considered ironic that, when in Opposition, Mr Sharma was the UNC's pointman for legal challenges to the then-ruling PNM, while Mr Maharaj himself was involved in several important challenges to the State. But what may be irony for ordinary citizens is apparently for politicians training in the tricks of the trade. After all, these particular reactions come in the face of a growing perception that the Persad-Bissessar administration is promoting cronyism and corruption. To all such allegations, Government spokespersons have either remained silent or responded with some form of "The PNM did it too", as though the electorate didn't vote out the Patrick Manning administration for precisely those practices.
The attitudes of Messrs Sharma and Maharaj not only echo the Manning regime's arrogant dismissal of citizens' concerns but, in the public mind, may come to reflect the ethos of the entire Cabinet and the Prime Minister herself.