Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tackle the blockages

Clarence Rambharat logo6

Donstan Bonn

An Express editorial's portrayal of the People's Partnership governing from its back foot reminded me of the lead-up to the 1986 distress which produced "Vote Dem Out". In the calypso Tyrone "Deple" Hernandez chronicled what puts governments first on the back foot and then on the backside. If the Partnership lets itself get to that point, not even a million-dollar elevator will lift it.

Challenged from its decision to place a sitting judge in a safe political seat, the Partnership has been hemmed-in and probed since. But it is more important that the Partnership is not trapped by ideological or any differences with the country or itself. It is trapped in its own rhetoric, captured in a compact made in pursuit of power and quickly abandoned. Problems have followed.

Inside the trouble, the Partnership needs to listen for words and expressions which allowed Deple's "Vote Dem Out" to find comfortable space in the minds of the 1986 electorate, some voting outside their traditional parties for the first and last time. Words and expressions like government in "doubt" and "full of mouth"; "promising roads and giving you potholes"; unable to "cope"; "policies and fallacies"; "frustration"; "misuse" and "thief out" of resources; "avarice" and "pappyshow".

Of course it is an unfortunate reality of the politics that governments remain accountable for every blocked drain, artery and promotion. In fact as a measure of electability, political parties tout their expertise in solving every problem of every community, only to be trapped on the back foot by their inability to resolve them.

As it is, the country does not make frivolous and emotive demands on the Partnership but shows up at the seat of Government every day, foraging for signs of a forward-agenda. When the country shows up, what it finds is a similarity, already well-understood and written-up. It demonstrates the failure of the Partnership and a line of political parties to produce a design for the future which replaces politics with policy and people.

It is obvious that the administration is conditioned to deal with its internal bacchanal and a single political opposition. What it is not accustomed to dealing with is a series of expectations and the daily challenge of commentary, analysis, examination and a level of scrutiny which discomforts politicians. What the Partnership cannot deal with is the consistency of the scrutiny and its inability to characterise it as PNM. In fact much of the noise comes from people who are as dissatisfied with the Partnership as they are with the PNM, and some of it comes from people who will never support the PNM.

In the wake of the curfew and State of Emergency, a few commentators retreated then returned with a thesis which places the community at the centre of a design for the future. Sunity Maharaj and Michael Harris led the way and in confirmation of that thesis. For even a small country, as the size and cost of government increases, the space between expectation and fulfilment widens, leaving enough room for more blockades, noise and smoke.

In that space between government and governed, the most striking aspect of the Partnership arrangement is the dominance of cliques internally and the preservation of older external ones. Sure enough coalition politics will be beset by cliques where each party operates on two levels: within the coalition in search of common ground and outside the coalition in pursuit of its own platform. But what stands out is that the Partnership's cliques are not aligned to constituent parties, but by proximity to the PM and in concentric circles at the trough.

A discernible leadership trait of the PM is the fattening of these cliques and their capture of her. Nothing has dominated the Partnership more than that discomforting over-indulgence, easily recognisable because of the attention the pre-election Partnership parties drew to it. And running second to over-indulgence is denial, the characteristic combination of branding commentary as political opposition and deploying spin to defeat fact.

Amidst the political cliques, we have also seen an inattention to the other cliques which have dominated the country's doctor politics. These little fiefdoms are in the form of commissions and statutory bodies, over-sized and duplicitous ministries, permanent secretaries, municipal bodies, public offices, non-State actors financed or supported by the State, mini bureaucracies and fattened bureaucrats. Full of layers and overlaps, form-over-function and determined self-preservation, these fiefdoms act as traps for public interest, coagulating the delivery of basic services of a modern society.

It was interesting, for example, to hear the PM speak recently of secondary roads, the bureaucratic creature of a small country, which has left it with a road network made up of paved, unpaved and slightly paved roadwas, pockmarked as city mouse and country mouse draw swords over electoral, municipal and county lines and differentiate between Government and municipal pitch and cement.

Penned by an outmoded design and layout of government, its bureaucracy and deification of office, the PM needs to challenge the nature and role of government and get to the heart of the failure of delivery. Government is over-involved and the PM needs to take on the challenge of pushing some of that size into the communities and private sector.

To take her administration off the back foot the PM must focus on the simplification of Government; the removal of layers of bureaucracy; the reduction of overlap; the reconsideration of local government politics; the encouragement of community politics and displacement of national political parties from local government; and the creation of dialogue within communities independent of the politics of Government.

And that will require tall-tops, coveralls and plenty front foot.

Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer