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PEOPLE AND THINGS: Woman is boss

Peter W. Wickham

PEOPLE AND THINGS: Woman is boss

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THERE ARE THREE possible perspectives on the historic action taken by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last week which reflect political inclinations in either direction and a third pertaining to the more central issue.

Supporters of the People’s National Movement (PNM) would argue that Persad-Bissessar’s reaction confirms suspicions about her government and the fact that she has dismissed a dozen other ministers implies that the People’s Partnership (PP) coalition has an abnormally large quantum of “bad” apples. Adherents to this perspective would argue that instead of plodding on, Persad-Bissessar should simply “pull the plug” and return to the people for a fresh mandate.

Supporters of the PP would, of course, not call for an early election and might prefer Persad-Bissessar to complete as much of her programme as possible. Such people would therefore consider her action harsh, excessive and akin to what Martin Daly described as a “political bloodbath”.

Such events are rare in the politics of any country largely because these reflect poorly on the party and as such are ill-advised, especially on the eve of a general election. Adherents to the PP faith would instead have preferred Persad-Bissessar to defend her ministers and sort out the mess internally. This would mean, of course, that she would have needed to take a side in this complex issue that set Attorney General Anand Ramlogan against National Security Minister Gary Griffith and, by implication, that would have suggested that one of her ministers was not being truthful.

Alternative path

Such a resolution, although ideal, would have been be challenging and Persad-Bissessar therefore took an alternative path that I find both novel and prudent. She has effectively decided to identify more with principle (which is apparently being placed above both party and personality) and, in so doing, has fired her closest ally (Ramlogan).

Commenting on the central issue, Persad-Bissessar said: “I will not sit idly by while the office of minister of national security, the attorney general and the PCA are compromised. These office holders cannot remain in those positions.”

This is a perspective that seeks to elevate the principle and dignity of these offices above that of the particular office holders. She has therefore placed principle ahead of party and this appeals to those of us who are watching from Bridgetown.

The politics of the Trinidad situation is also fascinating since these last five dismissals bring Persad-Bissessar’s total to 18 and these have come from all corners of the partnership.

She has dismissed Congress of the People (COP) MPs like Anil Roberts and COP inclined senators like Mary King, along with United National Congress (UNC) insiders like Ramlogan. Their sins have ranged from unintentional non-disclosure to alleged corruption and, in the case of Ramlogan and Griffith, the dismissal was to preserve the dignity of their respective offices.

Political scandals

Certainly, no leader in the Caribbean has ever come close to this record of dismissals although we are not short on similar political scandals.

To say that Trinidad and Tobago has traditionally been identified as “party central” for political corruption would not be unfair since it was, after all, the home of “Mr Ten Per Cent” – former PNM Minister John O’Halloran and his colleague Desmond Carty – who coined the phrase “All ah we thief”.

These traditions have sadly persisted over time and the UNC has also been caught up in this mess, as reflected in formal corruption charges being brought against former Cabinet ministers Carlos John and Brian Kuei Tung.

It could be argued that Trinidad and Tobago’s politics is badly in need of a dose of integrity and to the extent that Persad-Bissessar’s approach is interpreted as a step in that direction, she might yet be vindicated politically.

On the pessimistic side, however, one has to agree that her political strategy is risky since she has also made her party quite vulnerable and much will depend on the team she assembles for the 2015 election due shortly. Clearly, she cannot return to the people whose reputations have been damaged by her own censure and she will need to find at least a dozen new MPs with the moral and political characteristics she seeks to identify with.

If the 2010 election is properly understood, Persad-Bissessar’s PP won. However, her victory was not dependent on coalition partners COP, NJAC or TOP. She has therefore quite rightly demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with partners, but also an equal understanding that she is not politically vulnerable either on account of numbers or proximity to the next election.

This political strength and tenacity might not be as obvious were she a man, but is clearly noticeable as many skewed gender perspectives anticipate very different political behaviour from her. Thus far, this political strength has been reflected in her moves to amend the constitution to achieve objectives that are both politically strategic and seek to enhance governance. If then the population sees this most recent move as consistent with her push towards an enhancement of the political atmosphere locally, she might yet be rewarded when she faces the polls.

Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).