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GOVT’s credibility squandered

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If you are in touch with the politics you could almost see Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her insiders with moist index fingers upright searching for which way the political wind is blowing, hoping for a change in direction to call the election and pull off an unlikely victory.

Last week we looked at the economic and social conditions (including an increase in the GDP) and whether or not electors will cast their vote for the governing People’s Partnership on the basis of the situation. Since then, the price of oil has plunged to US$60 a barrel range from the highs of over US$120.

In his budget, Finance Minister Larry Howai based his revenue stream on a US$80 per barrel and US$2.75 per mmBtu for natural gas. In the instance of gas, there has been a decline in the market price in Europe and Asia, while from other markets the budgeted price is holding, but overall the trend in prices is downward.

Responding to the fall in oil revenue, the Finance Minister has made a $45 million cut in the allocation to each ministry, but he and others have been seeking to make the impact seem, if not inconsequential, one which will not do serious damage to the economy.

But falling revenue and its consequential lower-than-forecast economic growth—Central Bank Governor Rambarran has revised the growth figures from an earlier projection of 2.5 per cent for 2014 to 0.5 per cent—will matter. Loss of revenue means less money for the Government to spend in the budgeted-for election year 2015. 

The Government can resort to increased deficit-spending to meet electioneering desires, for instance a $50 million gift to the Christian churches. There surely will be increased deficit spending to purchase votes when the campaign gets warm. Such spending, however, is likely to attract quite an amount of attention from opposition parties, media reporting and commentators.  

The question is whether on balance increased deficit-spending and or borrowing in different forms will entice non-traditional supporters of the UNC to vote for the UNC/PP combine? It seems quite unlikely that the “political douglas,” the ones without tribal and party ties to the UNC or PNM, will be bamboozled by such political/electoral and economic sleight of hand.

So too will there be questions as to whether electors at the lowest economic levels will be influenced by financial gifts; sure, they will take what is on offer, but alone in the electoral booth, old tribal/party loyalties are likely to take precedence.

Without question there has been a measure of infrastructure upgrade, but the complaints and blocked roads continue. While not having achieved the “water for all” promise of a decade ago, WASA’s figures show significant increases in water supply to all communities. Will such an achievement be isolated by electors from all else and persuade the undecided, tribally unconnected elector to choose the UNC/PP?

Perhaps those achievements will be weighed against other factors. Ultimately, voting for the UNC/PP coalition by the political douglas in the marginals and those constituencies along the East-West Corridor is likely to be based on criteria other than those listed above. The fact is that the lustre of 2010 has long worn off, the coalition no longer exists and the COP has disappointed those who thought the party could make a difference.

The incapacity of the Government to penetrate and smash the criminal culture; its inability to answer with any sense of integrity the many allegations of deep-seated corruption in which members of the executive are said to be involved, indeed said to be the driving force; poor governance practices, including favouring its ethnic constituencies; prime ministerial failure to take proactive, adequate and definitive action against several ministers, among them Warner, Ramlogan, Rambachan, Roberts and others to the satisfaction of the non-tribal electorate, are the more likely issues upon which those outside the tribe and party will cast their vote.

Tracking polls have consistently found crime, corruption, governance practices along with jobs and health services and others to be the most important issues for responders. But the question still remains whether concern for such issues will be converted into voting at the polls; perhaps what is needed are exit polls in which electors say why they voted for the party inside the booth.

This initial assessment of the electoral possibilities is not about suggesting which party will win the election; that kind of predicting can be best done closer to the election and through more specific polling and examination of political behaviour on the ground.

Fact is, too much is left to be done at this stage; so much time is there for parties and politicians to commit political suicide; candidate selection; selection of and focus on issues; so much more time for more revelations and accusations of corruption—and much more could happen to attract voters or push them into the hands of the other side. I return to where I started: the UNC/PP has squandered its political currency in unrighteous living. It does not mean sure defeat but poses serious challenges.

• To be continued


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