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Electorate must break corrupt culture in all parties

Monday, August 31, 2015

One five-year term of extremely poor governance practices—a period during which corruption reached the level of legislation in the national Parliament and became deeply entrenched in several aspects of governmental and institutional operations, a time when negative race relations, exacerbated by government appointments, financial allocations and government contracts etc—does not buy the People’s Partnership (essentially the United National Congress party) a second term. 

Rather, the culture of aggravated corruption and/poor governance should cast the UNC into the political wilderness for the next five years. From there, the party would have to undergo root and branch transformation in its organisational structure and leadership.

To vote the UNC into office for the 2015-2020 term would be for the electorate to endorse the governance, behavioural practices and leadership qualities of deflection and dalliance (it is always someone else) displayed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. It would be to invite the party and its politicians to continue to entrench the political practices of the last five years in the body politic; it would take another 20 years with social surgery and chemotherapy to eradicate the cancer cells of corruption and nepotism.

For one observable phenomenon, the UNC has already sold blue-chip shares in the national Treasury to the corrupt elements of the business community. This has been visibly demonstrated in the obvious hundreds of millions already spent in the campaign; clearly not the kind of chirrup, chirrup pennies knocked together from cake sales, membership fees and thousand-dollar donations from the community parlour and hardware.

One international estimate has it that the kick-back payment from contracts could be as high as 15 per cent of the value of the contract. So even if the UNC wants to mend its crooked ways and go straight over the next five years, their investors would be calling on them to render the pound of flesh they already purchased in this campaign.

This columnist has listed in some detail the practices referred to above in three previous columns; it would be pointless to repeat them here. Moreover, the corruption of which I write are not arcane activities hidden away from the public view, but are there for all to recognise, even the most ardent supporters of the UNC.  

Indeed, the Prime Minister and her ministers in this campaign have not so much sought to defend against the allegations of corruption, nepotism and poor governance practices; rather than attempting to defend the indefensible they have focused on the government’s track record of social welfare and infrastructural works. 

If a government spent over $300 billion in budgeted funds over the five-year term and had nothing to show for it, then led by the Prime Minister, all ministers should be facing a long-term periods in the Remand Yard in which they have left ordinary criminals to rot for periods exceeding ten years.  

The electorate has to intervene to break this pattern and practice of a corrupt culture, deepening over decades and through different administrations, to save the country from perdition. The cleansing must also make it quite clear to the party that is placed in office that citizen intervention will become imbedded in the political culture.

The electorate must send the message that its intent on transformation and activism in the affairs of government, that there will be no relenting of its effort in the affairs of the society, that it will inquisitively push the door to the mythical honeymoon bedroom to prevent any deviant romance with corruption from getting started.

The intellectual weakness of this government has been exposed by the crash in oil and gas prices. A situation that has been impacting on the economy for over one year has not been addressed in a fundamental manner by the ministries of Finance and the Energy, commissioned to do so by the Prime Minister. 

Instead of pursuit of solutions, the PM has harped on the populist theme of protecting the social programme with vote-catching statements. Such measures do not address the core of the problem. On the other side Dr Rowley and PNM are saying believe in us to cope with the problems thrown up by the crash in the oil and gas prices. Such prices have been coming down over the last 12 months; fiscal adjustments only deal with the immediate.

What of the long-term? How is the economy to be transformed? I heard Dr Rowley saying that “diversification has become a cliché.” It may very well be so, repeated a million times because of the nature of the Plantation Economy (Best and Levitt). The fact is however that Caribbean economy has not evolved out of the mono-crop implant of colonial production. 

The solution is not giving a $1 million grant to fire-affected workers, but rather how is the government to induce the creation of tens of thousands of sustainable jobs through productive employment. 

How do the party/ies, if elected, plan to build an export platform? What are the foreign policy adoptions that will immerse T&T in the international community in a productive manner? How is the victorious party to instigate activity in the Caricom Single Market and Economy, which has long been stalled and perhaps now unworkable because of the passage of time and opportunities lost.

Let the pretenders to the throne answer these and other questions; they must not be elected by default.


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