On balance, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has probably gained rather than lost political points by her prompt dismissal of two errant ministers.
Following rapidly on the heels of her removal of Glenn Ramadharsingh from the Cabinet for an incident involving a flight attendant on a Caribbean Airlines aircraft, Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma handed in his resignation after a police investigation into an alleged assault was made public. Whether Mr Sharma did so voluntarily or not is secondary — had he not resigned, the Prime Minister would have been forced to fire him or risk losing whatever political capital she had gained from dismissing Dr Ramadharsingh.
Whether these points will translate into electoral victory for the People’s Partnership administration in 2015 remains to be seen. In this respect, it must be borne in mind that claims that Ms Persad-Bissessar acted on principle are, at best, hyperbole. In a media statement, she asserted that, “Each member of my administration must be mindful that we are held to different, higher standards than ever before, even by those who are our most bitter critics.”
However, as a politician, Ms Persad-Bissessar necessarily makes each decision by a political cost-benefit analysis, which is why she took so long to get rid of Jack Warner and his millions in party financing. Moreover, as the leader of the United National Congress and the Partnership coalition, Ms Persad-Bissessar would naturally put her own political survival ahead of the parties’. That is to say, her actions on the basis of putative high standards may raise her political stocks, but not necessarily help the UNC win the next general election.
Nonetheless, the dismissals would regain some ground for an administration now widely perceived as driven by corruption and cronyism. Recognising this, the People’s National Movement has been trying hard to downplay Ms Persad-Bissessar’s actions. But their rebuttals ring hollow since, if the Prime Minister had not dismissed the two ministers, the same PNM spokespersons would be taking her to task for tolerating ministerial misbehaviour.
In similar fashion, UNC diehards have been harming their own party by crass and crude attacks on ex-minister Sharma’s ex-girlfriend, Sacha Singh. Whatever Ms Singh’s motives may be in bringing this matter to public attention, the viciousness of that particular UNC cohort – who, however, have not a word of criticism for Pundit Sharma’s own personal transgressions – will itself be a turn-off to fence-sitting voters.
But all these responses are fluff in the wind. Whether politics or principle informed her decisions, Ms Persad-Bissessar has let a governance genie out of its bottle, since citizens will now expect similar action from future prime ministers. In this sense, democracy in Trinidad and Tobago has been deepened.