Proceed with caution, Madam PM
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, a week ago, while addressing a fund-raising dinner and dance hosted by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) to raise funds for its upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, made a simple but fundamental point about our system of government — political rhetoric aside. She noted, "There are those who want no change and every time we do something different there are some persons who say we have done wrong, but you know what it is they fear ... the change that you voted for on May 24.'' She continued: "But if we do things in the same old way ... then our nation will not go forward, our children will not grow and will not develop and so we have to make changes, some of those will be difficult changes but we cannot do things the same old way and expect the nation to change.''
What the Prime Minister said is relevant in all democratic societies. When an electorate votes in a new government — anywhere — by definition, the voters have opted for change. They expect the in-coming government, at the very least, "to do things differently". They may not necessarily want fundamental changes but they expect the new government will chart its own course.
And that is exactly what this People's Partnership Government is doing. What has this Government done and is planning to do differently? Here are the words of senior ministers of Government.
Minister of Planning Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie in an interview with Clevon Raphael on September 9 made it clear that this Government is about redressing imbalances of the past. He said: "… the Government has basically tried to redress some imbalances that existed in the society in terms of the distribution of activities and resources like water and electricity..."
He went on to explain that, "...past governments tended to focus on the urban areas and by and large neglected the rural areas so that you had a lot of problems for water, electricity, playing grounds and so on. So those kinds of community-based activities have been spread across the country some more. And we have not neglected the urban areas as we continue to do the things we need to do in areas from Diego Martin to Toco. The idea is really to spread the development pie." I am sure that people who live in rural areas would probably agree 100 per cent with Dr Tewarie's analysis of the past. But this is not the only area of change.
Minister of National Security Jack Warner by way of e-mail to the Express on Tuesday (October 30) has listed a number of areas that have been or will be changed. These areas include:
1. The religious composition of the Cabinet. Hindus are in the Cabinet.
2. Cabinet will now have more than 25 per cent "East Indians" — his words.
3. State boards will now have more than 21 per cent "East Indians".
4. The post of Attorney General is now open to "East Indians".
5. The award of scholarships by the government in power from now on — will show that more than ten per cent on the list of recipients are persons "of East Indian origin".
6. There will no longer be a "relentless campaign against East Indians in this country."
According to Mr Warner, these steps are/will be taken to end "the alienation and marginalisation of half of the population of Trinidad and Tobago".
There is nothing in what Minister Tewarie and Minister Warner have outlined that is undesirable in itself. There is no question that this must be a society of equal opportunity for all and the "development pie" must be shared throughout the country. But as in all things and perhaps more so in politics it is often not what you do but how you do it.
This Government will do well to remember that often and sometimes unfortunately: "The medium is the message".
Ashton S Brereton