Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday announced sweeping changes to her Cabinet, which saw the elevation of "can-do" Jack Warner to the National Security portfolio, the transfer of Winston Dookeran to Foreign Affairs, the introduction of successful banker Larry Howai to the challenging role of Finance minister and the reintroduction of former minister Ganga Singh to his old portfolio, Water Resources and the Environment.
The Prime Minister also brought into her Cabinet Marlene Coudray, who has been the source of turbulence within the People's Partnership and the cause of distress for the Congress of the People (COP). But if the COP sees the appointment of Coudray as a slap in the party's face, the Prime Minister could argue that her Cabinet "reconfiguration" has strengthened the COP's membership within the Partnership. She brought in two additional COP persons— Singh and Jamal Mohammed (as Communications minister)—and promoted a third, Lincoln Douglas, to full Cabinet status.
The Prime Minister stressed her changes were not an indictment of the performance of anyone. However, the firing of Brigadier John Sandy and the movement of Warner, widely considered to be the "action man", signalled her growing unhappiness with the seemingly intractable problem of crime.
Similarly eyebrow-raising is the movement of Dookeran, founder and first leader of the COP, whose tenure in Finance was bedevilled by the continuing slump in the performance of the economy. Though the Prime Minister spoke approvingly of his stabilising the economy, especially at a time when the CLICO problem existed, she nevertheless shifted him. No doubt, she would be hoping that Howai, who had been at the helm of First Citizens during its successful turnaround, would reverse the sluggishness in the economy.
Demoted were Stephen Cadiz, who was transferred from Trade to Tourism, and Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, who moved from Tobago Development minister to minister in the Ministry of the People. It is not clear whether she would retain her Cabinet status in her new portfolio. However, Alleyne-Toppin's Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) colleague, Dr Delmon Baker, has clearly been promoted to Cabinet status, having been given the Tobago Development Ministry at a critical time when the People's Partnership is putting so much store on the outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
Other movements included Chandresh Sharma to Transport; Vasant Bharath to Trade, Industry and Investment; Winston "Gypsy" Peters to Community Development; Emmanuel George to Works and Infrastructure; Devant Maharaj to Food Production; and Nizam Baksh to Public Utilities (which excludes re- sponsibility for water resources).
The Prime Minister did not touch Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie, COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, COP deputy leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Anil Roberts. Fazal Karim retained Tertiary Education, though his ministry was split, and a new Ministry of Science and Technology was created, which is headed by Rupert Griffith
The Prime Minister has increased the size of the Cabinet. While she fired two Cabinet ministers (Sandy and St Rose-Greaves), she added four Cabinet ministers—Howai, Singh, Coudray and Mohammed, as well as elevated to Cabinet status Douglas, Baker and Clifton De Coteau (who is the minister of the newly created Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration). It would mean it is the largest Cabinet ever in the country's history.
The National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) element in the Government has been strengthened with the elevation of Embau Moheni to minister in the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration.
In bringing in four new faces, the Prime Minister would have had to fire four senators. Sandy, Verna St Rose-Greaves (who held the Gender portfolio) and Nicole Dyer (parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications) are out since their former portfolios have been given to other persons. But it is not clear who is the fourth senator who would leaving.
Nela Khan would now be Deputy Speaker as Jairam Seemungal becomes a minister in the Ministry of Food Production.
The Prime Minister continued to use the word reconfiguration. But by the sheer scope of the Cabinet changes and the personalities affected, yesterday saw a major shake-up. She said there was no room for egos and agendas in the team, which she presented with "great pride and honour".
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