Saturday, February 24, 2018

Strong party organisation: good, efficient government


Mark Fraser

Louis Lee Sing is a PNM member and former mayor of Port of Spain. Following is the conclusion of a series of four articles by Mr Lee Sing which speak to issues within the PNM.

As the election debate heats up within the PNM I cannot accept there aren’t issues to be debated on the future of our party in relation to its administration of T&T.

How a political leader and his chosen executive manages his party determines how he is likely to manage our country.

It is in this context I have elected to force both Dr Rowley and Mrs Beckles-Robinson to look in the mirror in the context of the present administration and re-engineering of our party.

What have they both done to create a stronger, better prepared organisation capable of taking T&T forward?

In this regard, after its initial meeting in 2010, I am reliably informed, that the party executive has met as many as four times in the last four years. I urge all readers to note well that a political party that is waiting to form the next government has only had four executive meetings in 48 months.

The election defeat in 2010 shook the PNM to its core. It was not a whitewash like the 33-3 defeat in 1986, but it caused great soul searching amongst the rank and file if only because the election was called 24 months ahead of schedule.

One will recall that many wore tee- shirts emblazoned “AH vex but ah voting PNM”. During this time the very essence of the PNM was called into question both by the voters at large and by the opposition as one would expect.

Various pollsters have estimated that the PNM lost as much as 20 per cent of its voting support vexed as much by Patrick Manning’s mistakes in office as by his undermining the institutions of the party.

If this were not bad enough, one of the PNM’s strongest platform speakers Dr Keith Rowley said, without hesitation, that the country was being led “to hell in a hand basket” and that corruption “was ten times worse than under the UNC”.

It was Dr Rowley who on the campaign trail said that there would be a time for a court martial.

Within days of the election defeat Dr Rowley was interim political leader and six weeks later confirmed in his position for the next five years. It may have taken 14 years to defeat Patrick Manning, but he was eventually successful.

I say all of this to make the point that Dr Rowley had plenty of time to plan his strategy for remaking and rebuilding the party, to reconfirm the founding principles of the movement and to restructure the organisation to meet the demands of 21st century politics. What has been done to make these changes?

From the start, still smarting from his defeat under the delegate system some 14 years before, he set out a case to move a one man one vote system. The constitution was duly amended, albeit after some discussion in the party. More ominously, the changes promoting the “autonomy” of the party in Tobago were also passed with little real discussion and just in time for the THA elections.

Good strategy perhaps, but it really hasn’t dealt with the real issues of a unified party, even less of a unified Trinidad and Tobago. Given that this was such a strong plank of the reform process, why is the party now scrambling to fix its registration system and collect much needed dues on the eve of the biggest internal election process?

The bigger question to be answered is how are the other institutions in the party faring?

After 42 months as political leader and prior to this internal election campaign effort, has Dr Rowley failed to meet all the 41 constituencies under his charge? The minutes of the Central Executive and General Council will show often this matter was raised and the lame excuses given by the party chairman Franklyn Khan as to why the leadership was not as focused as it ought to have been.

Whilst the General Council and the Central Executive meet as required by the constitution once a month, a review of the other party institutions tell another story.

I repeat after its initial meeting in 2010 I am reliably advised that the party executive has met as many as four times in the last four years.

Further the legislative group has met about six times in the last 30 months under the leadership of trusted lieutenant and “wajang hunter” and deputy political leader, Marlene MacDonald.

This very important unit is supposed to meet at least once a month and during my time in office as mayor of Port of Spain, it met four times in two years. I understand that a retreat was held last month (February 2014) and more recently on Monday, March 24, 2014 to quell a rebellion over appointments at Trinidad and Tobago Association of Local Government Authority, but this hardly counts as an effort to improve the fortunes of local government. Many other committees have also have not met as required.

There appears to be a new culture within the PNM, which suggests that meetings are unnecessary, if you have to respond to question or your positions are not readily cheered.

Balisier House has been repainted in red white and black, in a not so subtle effort to rebrand the party in the national image, colours which are not the official colours of the party. Yet none of the official decision-making mechanisms of the party appear to have been consulted far less informed of the decision or the thinking behind it. Other party institutions have been equally devalued on an ongoing basis.

At a time when conversations on campaign finance reform are moot, the party is clearly raising funds, but not through the party.

Far from asking Ms Penelope Beckles-Robinson about her position on Jack Warner or attending UNC functions, perhaps the political leadership would care to explain how a former UNC senator and fundraiser has now become a valued member of the Dr Rowley’s inner circle and a key fund-raiser—which funds which do not pass through the party!