Cabinet reshuffles are best done swiftly and efficiently to ensure minimum disturbance of the government's equilibrium and to keep the nation smoothly moving on. But our Prime Minister has had her cabinet on tenterhooks and the nation in uncertainty for almost a month waiting for a reshuffle. Unbelievable!
She should not have announced it without immediately doing it. She should not have declared her intention when clearly engaged only in vague ruminations on this critical issue. Her loose approach continued for almost three weeks after her announcement, when, in a newspaper report, the PM said there was no concrete decision to move any particular minister and that "no decisions have been completely made, but there are several thoughts in my own mind and in the minds of others".
Astounding vagueness! The Cabinet is the highest executive in the country. You don't mishandle it this way. It is the Prime Minister's prerogative to make cabinet changes on her own, but if she needed to consult, it should have been done quietly and diplomatically. Instead, she erroneously announced her intention, waited for three weeks to start her consultation, then declares that she needs an additional two weeks to complete the exercise. Truly amazing! Shouldn't the Prime Minister, through continuous assessment, already know whether ministers are performing or not? Does she really need them to tell her? This is vacillation bordering on paralysis.
This prolonged absurdity is bringing the country close to a standstill, with many corporate and individual plans undoubtedly deferred. Also, waiting for the axe to fall, ministers are usually "feverish with anxiety'', uncertain whether to take decisions or leave everything in abeyance. Files are likely piling up in most ministries.
Some ministers are even campaigning publicly to retain their posts, like Mr Sandy claiming he feels "anointed'' to be Minister of National Security; Mr Bharath wanting to stay in Food Production because he loves it so much; Dr Tewarie cherishing and desiring to keep Planning and the Economy, and publishing a 16-page pull-out praising his Ministry; and Mr Dookeran, through a surrogate, indicating he would be unhappy to be moved from Finance. Others are bestirring themselves unusually to avoid what's coming, with a report that an influential benefactor has also got into the act "begging'' for his favourite minister to be spared. This is a circus. According to one commentator "Everybody seems on edge''. How can anyone work in such an environment? The population is therefore cheated. For almost a month, the country has been denied optimum ministerial output, all because our Prime Minister must achieve a world record in mismanaging a Cabinet reshuffle.
Why did she do it? Simple. The lady had little to crow about as she marked her government's two years in office with a massive celebration. You had all this speechifying, entertainment, applauding and dancing on stage, while murders and rapes escalated, insecurity increased and the economy stagnated in the doldrums. The MSJ refused to participate, saying there was nothing to celebrate. So to hide the hollowness, with thousands and the media present, the Prime Minister announces this reshuffle, not having thought it through. It was a strategy to turn attention from the paucity of performance and to make the headlines the next day, keeping Mrs Persad-Bissessar in the spotlight.
She succeeded. The PM clearly has the talent for capturing attention and distracting the population. And it didn't end at Mid Centre Mall. Our chief celebrant, with the chief servant and the cabinet in tow, then proceeded to Tobago for another big bash and to launch the campaign for the THA elections six months in advance, providing plenty time for the distracting razzle-dazzle of an election campaign. In Tobago, the PM was in her element, enthusiastic and exuberant. The lady clearly likes the big stage, the headlines, being the centre of attention. Nothing unusual here. Most politicians are similarly afflicted. But the laughter, music, applause, and waving flags in Tobago contrasted every night on the news with the double, triple and quadruple murders in Trinidad, blood on the streets and relatives weeping amidst poverty and insecurity. Our Prime Minister seemed then, as she always does in her regular glitter and glamour, to be far removed from the alarmingly worsening situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Today, she seems completely unaware of the huge error of not announcing the cabinet reshuffle for almost a month. It is a mysterious nonchalance.
Who is this person who leads us? One thinks of Angela Merkel of Germany, Hillary Clinton, Julia Gillard of Australia, Dilma Roussef of Brazil, Margaret Thatcher and even the late Indira Gandhi, to try and understand the approach of Mrs Persad- Bissessar. The contrast with these other female leaders is stark and revealing.
A nation must be careful if externals seem a main source of inner nourishment for its leader. Absence of poetry and philosophy makes politics barren and destructive. So far, hardly anything inspiring, profound or visionary has come from our Prime Minister.
She has spoken voluminously since her ascension, appeared a zillion times in the media, dominated the news, but nothing she has said remains in the mind, nothing that you can heed or take with you as you go about your daily duties and which creates that critical link between leader and people. She seems reasonably articulate, speaking the platitudes pleasantly. Why then isn't our PM bringing forth pearls from within? What is the reason for the pedestrianism that characterises her utterances, leaving us with inadequacies like "deliver, deliver, deliver'' and the trite "God is a Trini'' when a dubious oil find was announced?
Answers to these questions could provide an insight into the source of this unbelievable mishandling of a cabinet reshuffle.
• Ralph Maraj is a former