There has been much adverse comment about Mrs Persad-Bissessar's newly reconstructed Cabinet. Some say it is too large; others say it has too few women. Others again say its portfolio patterns are confusing and lacking in coherence in respect to subject matter or form. Yet others dismiss it as not being relevant since it (allegedly) makes no real difference to the society any way since it does not address the problem of Constitution reform and policy outcomes.
I return to the issue after hearing Minister Roodal Moonilal explain on television that the seeming confusion of Cabinet was in fact meant to address a perennial bureaucratic problem. The problem, he explained, is that to get anything done, one often had to crisscross four or five ministries all of which may have critical inputs in the making of a particular policy. The delay is structural.
The answer to the problem was to opt for more institutional specificity ie, assign specialised ministries to specialised policy sectors rather than have fewer ministries handling several policy area. If one adopts such a formula, Cabinets must of necessity be larger. In a way, the argument could go the other way, ie, fused ministries may facilitate co-ordination.
Kamla's explanation is an interesting one for what otherwise appears as "jobs for the boys" in the party and the coalition. Perhaps the formula allowed her to kill two birds with one stone—more institutionalised specialisation and more opportunities to solve patronage gaps in her party and its coalitional allies.
It is however an implausible explanation which is not informed by the allocations that were actually made. We now have an abundance of Cabinet ministers, board members and their chairmen, and special purpose State-owned companies. This issue needs further ventilation.
Two appointments attracted more attention than the others.
The PM effected a veritable coup by getting Larry Howai to accept her invitation to leave the comfort of First Citizens and the National Gas Company to join her Cabinet. Larry's skills as a banker have been tested in the fire out of which FCB emerged following the dramatic collapse of the National Commercial Bank (NCB), the Trinidad Co-operative Bank and the Workers' Bank. That story has been partially told in my own manuscript (Against All Odds) which will be published sometime down the road. But there is general agreement that Howai has more than earned the $10 million which he was reportedly paid in lieu of pension. It was too little rather than too much. Trust me.
I accept the assertion that he had the support of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance in what he was able to achieve and that he already got bonuses which recognised what he did to build the bank. I also accept the fact that what he did creates a precedent for other successful public sector employees.
Notwithstanding this, I still believe that Larry and his team did a lot to get FCB, which was conceived in failure and imminent collapse, to be rated by international rating agencies as "First in Soundness" in Trinidad and Tobago. He did what the foreign imported CEO, Len Busse, was unable to do. Busse had recommended that the bank was not viable and should be closed down.
I for one wish Larry well and congratulate Kamla for snaring him. One assumes that what he lacks in terms of political savvy will be supplied by Messrs Bharath and Indarsingh. We will have to wait and see
The other appointment is more complex. On hearing the report of his new assignment, many felt that the PM had found a way to hogtie Jack Warner. She seemed too clever by half, one said. According to one narrative, by posting Jack to the Ministry of National Security, Kamla had taken away a pork and patronage rich political tub and had given him one that was pregnant with possibilities for failure. The wag's assumption was that the intractable problems that would confront him in that ministry would make failure just a matter of time. He was bound to fail and would soon follow Sandy into ostracism and exile.
But what would happen if Warner were to do the seemingly impossible and succeed where others had failed? He would emerge as a hero. He would also have a strong multi-ethnic base with which to challenge or neutralise Kamla who would then be in a real "hot spot".
My own assumption is that notwithstanding the complaints that have emerged as a result of Warner's giant "misstep" over the rerouting issue, he will generate a lot of support in the general community as he plays Don Quixote on the gang issue.
Many are tired of the human and material costs of the "urban warfare" that is being waged in our midst, and many wish him long-term success.
Many see him as our best chance to deal with the gang leaders, notwithstanding the likelihood that in pursuit of his campaign, he might well overthrow the Constitution and compromise the State.
I do not know what was in Kamla's head or in the head of her advisers, but her choice of Howai and Warner was inspired and helps to give some value to what would otherwise seem to be curious Cabinet choices. In sum, she herself seems to have become convinced that Jack is high trumps and that he constitutes the only short-term solution left.
For his part, Jack also has a lot riding on his success. His legacy and rehabilitation are on the line. If he succeeds, his legacy is assured. If he fails and breaks his crown, much else will have fallen than the proverbial "pail of water".
The Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, has in an impassioned address at Bournes Road, St James on Monday last warned Mr Warner that the PNM would not permit him, the Prime Minister, or Attorney General to thrash the Constitution in pursuit of his goals in respect of the highway and the gangs. The rule of law must prevail at all cost.
My guess, however, is that many are of the view that the ends would have justified the means if the homicide rate were to be brought down to acceptable levels, and if there was, less blood in the streets. We should however bear in mind what happened recently in Jamaica in Tivoli Gardens, and with respect to the "Black Clothes" Police in Guyana.