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Will govt’s ‘achievements’ influence voters?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Having budgeted to spend approximately $250-$300 billion in its five-year term, the Government must have made a significant contribution to economic activity and met a variety of social and human developmental needs. The question is, will the critical parts of the electorate be sufficiently satisfied with the programmes and achievements of the People’s Partnership government to want to return it to office in the general election? 

Last week we noted that the PP squandered the substantial political currency it received in 2010 through poor governance practices, its failure to respond convincingly to allegations of corruption and more.

This week the focus is on how the Government is expected to fare electorally (2015) based on its performance in attempting to stimulate economic growth and meet the several social and human development needs of those who have to vote: will the achievements count for something when the voter goes into the voting enclosure?  

For instance, will the increase in GDP, the state of medical care, reform of the Public Service, direct and indirect job creation by the Government, economic growth, social welfare programmes and the like, will the non-party supporter be sufficiently impressed by the performance of the Government in economic and social matters to want to say to the People’s Partnership, effectively the United National Congress, we could take another five years of your administration?

As stated above, the “critical” electors are the “political douglas” who are not fanatical party supporters of either tribe. The polls are indicating that it is those electors who will make the difference in the marginals; the tribes having voted for their parties in home constituencies. The pointed question here is: what are the factors upon which such voters will make their decisions?

Catching a sense of those realities, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is seeking to have her ministers undergo an image makeover to appear to be less “arrogant” and more “caring.” The PNM leadership too has not only sought to do a makeover on its political leader Dr Rowley, but from its early candidate selection, the PNM seems intent on presenting a slate of candidates more reflective of the society than has been the norm with this Afro-centred party.  

As a means of selecting those areas in which the Government, by its own choosing, has done some of its best work, I base the assessment in part on an online report in which the Ministry of Planning and Development (MPD) points to government achievement in selected areas of the economy and society.

On the issue of crime and security, the MPD states, “While there have been considerable reductions in serious crime over the last fiscal year, it is noted that there are still many challenges.” Among the challenges: continuing low detection rates, and an escalation over the last three years in the number of murders committed. And while the report does not identify them as challenges, the gang culture has not been countered and crime remains very much part of the youth sub-culture.

To add to outstanding problems must be the effective dismissal of the Canadian Commissioner and deputy and the failure to appoint a commissioner, having the incumbent on a “ten-days” plan. Crime has been a major platform upon which governments have been voted out of office in at least the last three elections. Will the critical electors be satisfied that the government has made them feel safer and is therefore deserving of their vote?

The reduction of food price inflation from 20 per cent to nine per cent is an achievement of significance noted by the MPD. The cost of food is obviously significant to the average citizen/voter. Has she/he felt that 11 per cent decline in food prices? Food price inflation apart, the MPD’s Web site recognises outstanding challenges in the agricultural sector such as a $4 billion food import bill and the challenge to have agriculture increase its contribution to the GDP.

The failures of the agricultural industry continue while former Caroni workers remain without farmlands and other farmers and those in the meat industry vigorously protest Government’s treatment of the sector.

Hospitals remain a priority area for improvement, states the MPD. That is nice language for the complaints of malfunctioning hospitals, avoidable deaths, especially in maternity wards. The performance of the health sector as it touches on the lives of people at their most vulnerable, ie, when they are ill and in need of medical care, is surely a matter upon which the critical voters could decide to cast their votes for or against the government/ruling party.   

The MPD records a steady increase in the GDP to $89 billion; growth in the arrival of foreign direct investment to the level of US$2.5 billion while the Cinderella non-oil sector has reached $57 per cent of GDP, are all good-news items for the Government.  

However, the ministry notes that the fundamental challenges of the economy remain: the need to increase exports and for the economy to become more competitive. Are the stated achievements of the Government likely to persuade the electorate to return the PP to office?

To be continued 


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