Size doesn't matter.
Responding to concerns about the expansion of her Government as a result of last Friday's Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday: "It is all well and good to talk about numbers and size. But what is important is that the focus areas of concern to the population are being addressed by the reconfiguration and composition of the Cabinet."
She defended her decision to increase the number of Cabinet ministers in her Government (to 33), making it the largest Cabinet in this country's history (in addition to seven non-Cabinet ministers), and bigger than the Cabinets of countries such as China (which has 27 members) and the United States (23) with massive populations. She was speaking with reporters shortly after the swearing-in of new ministers at Knowsley building, Queen's Park West, Port of Spain.
Questioned on the cost to the taxpayers of this larger Cabinet, the Prime Minister said: "There are so many issues to deal with. I do believe the composition of the Cabinet as it stands is better poised for greater delivery, greater performance and implementation."
Four new ministries were created —Environment and Water Resources, National Diversity and Social Integration, Science and Technology and Communications and five ministers took the oath of office. The Prime Minister said she did not agree with the view that there was an unnecessary proliferation of portfolios.
"I don't agree that portfolios are created just to have warm bodies there...the new portfolio areas are areas that we need to give more focus to. The Ministry of Science and Technology, it was an area that we put in our manifesto, and spoke a lot about in the (election) campaign...so I wanted to give that greater focus than where it was, as an appendage to Tertiary Education portfolio. Environment and Water Resources, this is an area that we were very strong about in our manifesto and we felt it needed to have stand alone status."
The Prime Minister explained that the vision for this ministry was based on the Singapore model. "It is to put focus on water from the time the rain falls from the sky, hits the ground and runs off, down to the sea. Every drop of water would be tapped or trapped as the case may be. It (the Ministry) would deal not only with the flooding issues but the drainage division as well," she said.
She also sought to explain the rationale behind the establishment of the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration.
Persad-Bissessar said this ministry would deal with issues such as patriotism, national heroes, protocols.
"The concept is that as we celebrate our diversity, there must be also unity...it would deal with concerns that arise in a diverse society in which we seek unity" as distinct from the Ministry of Multiculturalism, which picks up expression and artform of culture, she said.
On the establishment of the Ministry of Communications, she said communications has been the Government's weakest area and everyone who has spoken in the retreats state that Government did not seem to have an appropriate communications strategy.
On the concerns expressed about the appointment of Jack Warner as National Security Minister, who resigned from FIFA amidst allegations of corruption, the Prime Minister stated: "Allegations are allegations and will forever be allegations. Should they not have been allegations, somebody would have been in jail".
She said she wished Warner success in dealing with crime because his success was important to all the people of Trinidad and Tobago. She said she lives in hope that he can do the job.
Asked whether former National Security Minister retired Brig John Sandy was given a posting in Geneva, she said Sandy was offered a posting, the details of which were still to be worked out.
The Prime Minister said the target for newly appointed Finance and Economy Minister Larry Howai was to diversify the economy.
She said she took Economy from the Planning Ministry and attached it to the Ministry of Finance because she believed that Government needed to do more to kickstart the economy. She said former Finance Minister Winston Dookeran did well, stabilising the economy.
Mr Howai has a wealth of experience in banking. There is liquidity in the banking system. These are areas I am hoping we can tap into through the experience of Minister Howai, to get our economy kicked off for growth," Persad-Bissessar said.
She added that this was also why she created the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investments under Vasant Bharath, because it would be an important arena to bring more money and investments into the country.
She said some of the visits abroad would soon start to pay dividends in the form of more investments.
"Chandradath Singh, the High Commissioner to India would be here shortly with some of those investors coming out of India, there are others out of Panama and you need someone to take all of it and co-ordinate it," she said.
Did she ask Howai to join the party? "I did not ask him to join any of the parties," she said, apparently amused by the question.
She said she had not discussed with Labour Minister Errol McLeod whether he had plans to consider becoming an independent, after the party to which he belongs, The Movement for Social Justice, withdrew from the coalition, last Sunday.
Asked to comment on McLeod's statement that he had no political affiliation, the Prime Minister said: "I am not sure what those statements were. I do not recall those statements and he has not brought it to my attention."