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PM strong on infrastructure, social programmes

...soft on economy, governance
Published: 
Monday, August 24, 2015

Part 3

As this column winds up the examination of the leadership qualities displayed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (leadership geared towards transforming the society as opposed to simply managing the administration of government) the first focus is on how the PM led her government’s economic performance.

Diversification of the economy from total dependence on gas and oil, and managing the difficulties posed by the crash in international energy prices over the last year were two major challenges requiring incisive leadership from the Prime Minister for the short, medium and long term. Her performance in managing the economy resulted in annual average $5 billion dollar budgetary deficits, most of which are going to consumption and social welfare. 

Excess spending has been accompanied by an overall decline in Gross Domestic Product as recorded by the Central Bank: two years of decline, two years of less than 1 per cent growth and one year, 2011, of a 2.1 per cent increase in GDP. That amounts to an average of less than one per cent in growth over the last five years.

Movement to diversification required that there should have been the development of an export base in the non-traditional sector. Manufacturing has stagnated at approximately nine per cent of GDP. 

The reports of the International Monetary Fund and Moodys have pointed to fiscal indiscipline and the lack of diversification. Local economists Farrell and McGuire have been writing about the twin problems of excess spending and the failure to begin serious diversification of the economy.    

Other leadership failures of the Prime Minister: the refusal to move from the Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice without a substantial rationale for not doing so. The PM threw up a mock petition to Caricom leaders for T&T to accede to the CCJ as a final court of appeal only on criminal matters. It was a petition she knew would fail as such an application conflicted with the elements of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which established the CCJ.  

Where the PM’s leadership has made a positive impact has been in a range of social welfare programmes and grants; in achieving quality results in the CSEC and Cape examinations—however there has been no visible transformation of the system and little impact on deviant behaviours at schools. 

However, the construction of a reported 100 schools is a significant achievement. A report/analysis on the laptop programme has highlighted serious deficiencies in the implementation of the programme. 

Another law school is more of the same. The enhancement of the post-graduate capacity for research and technological development through the University of T&T, in Debe, would contribute far more to the economy.

The PM’s leadership has achieved triumphs in infrastructure development: advance with the Point Fortin Highway, the distribution of houses already constructed and the building of box drains have been part of the successes of leadership at the transactional level.    

Persad-Bissessar’s strength as a leader has been in the area of image-making: the caring mother and grandmother; meeting what she considers an immediate need of providing $1 million to workers from a burnout supermarket is a good example.   

She has been a positive figurehead for her supporters; her leadership has been in social welfare, the creation of social and health infrastructure; but transformational leadership in the economy, in politics, the economy and governance transformational leadership has been deficient.  

Healing race relations has proven to be beyond her leadership capacity; those antagonistic and competitive relationships have been exacerbated.

Under her leadership the allegations of corruption in government have flourished. So too has the PM presided over serious damage to institutions such as the Parliament, the Integrity Commission, the office of the Commissioner of police has been levelled to a 10-days wuk, even the emerging Debates Commission has been undermined because of personal leadership incapacity to debate free of appendages.   

What of Dr Keith Rowley’s demonstration of leadership over the five-year period in opposition? His first task was to reformulate and transform the People’s National Movement from the near demolition of 2010. He grabbed the leadership of the party from Patrick Manning; he refashioned the party inclusive of internal constitution reform; he gathered around him people of capacity and ability. He put his leadership up for test in internal party elections.  

On occasion, like with the first PP budget, Dr Rowley lent constructive support; but government often claimed his leadership of the opposition in the Parliament was obstructionist. Rowley led his party to three resounding election victories; he has survived a withering attack against him by the UNC. He has been portrayed as a rapist and the son of a rapist. 

His record of standing up for what he believed to be right in the PNM against his then leader, Patrick Manning, has been turned against him in an advertising campaign, yet he has survived. 

Questions remain over Dr Rowley’s method of handling the so-called Emailgate Affair. Did he go too far in pressing the case of the alleged emails, so much so that he became entangled in the authenticity of the emails?   

There are questions over his temperament. But at the same time, there are those who would argue that the times require no-nonsense leadership. The next couple weeks will challenge Dr Rowley’s capacity to lead the PNM to victory. If successful, the real leadership challenge will begin.

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