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Red and Ready revised
Last Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley effected his second Cabinet reshuffle in the space of 13 months since taking office. On March 17 this year, he dismissed Marlene McDonald as Minister of Housing and Urban Development and last week he dismissed Nicole Olivierre as Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs as well as Ancil Antoine as Minister of Public Utilities.
All three dismissed by Rowley from his Cabinet to date are elected MPs. This has caused a growth in the number of backbenchers to four—McDonald, Antoine, and Olivierre have joined Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde. This must be a matter of some concern as the PNM amended its constitution in December 2012 to remove the veto power of the political leader over people to be chosen as candidates of the party.
There is an undercutting narrative that suggests Rowley still has an informal final say over candidates even though the formal-legal process has been altered to remove his veto. Whichever one it is, one has to presume that the PNM is following its new rules.
The controversy that led to the dismissal of McDonald earlier this year was well known to the PNM and came up during the screening process, yet the Central Executive of the party went ahead and approved her as the candidate for Port-of-Spain South and she won. Ancil Antoine (D’Abadie/O’Meara) and Nicole Olivierre (La Brea) were deemed to be suitable candidates to be put forward by the party after exhaustive screening exercises. The reality is that the party screening process is suitable for selecting a potential representative for a constituency and may not capture the essence of what is required for ministerial talent.
Only the Prime Minister can make a determination about ministerial talent which then becomes a matter of prime ministerial judgment alone. With three dismissals in his first 13 months, Rowley is off to a start that does not differ significantly from former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Another issue that must also be reviewed is the reduction in the number of defeated candidates originally brought into the Senate. Clarence Rambharat lost in Mayaro and was made Minister of Agriculture through the Senate, while Avinash Singh lost in Caroni Central and was made Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. They were not touched in the reshuffle. However, the other two defeated candidates placed in the Senate, Hafeez Mohammed (Barataria/San Juan) and Sara Budhu (Caroni East) are both now gone. The former made way for Rohan Sinanan when he was exposed in an online scandal and resigned. Sinanan was sworn into office as a Senator on June 14 this year and Budhu’s appointment was revoked last week to make way for former San Fernando Mayor Kazim Hosein.
Sinanan and Hosein were made ministers last week. In the case of Hosein, Rowley was satisfying a call made last year by Imam Rasheed Karim of Ummah T&T who wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a Muslim to be included in the Cabinet. According to a report by Kalifa Clyne in the Guardian on September 23, 2015, Imam Karim told Clyne: “There is no reason a Muslim minister cannot be appointed. The PNM had Muslim candidates for the election and even if they did not win a seat, Clarence Rambharat did not win in Mayaro and was still appointed a minister.”
Rowley took care of that request in his reshuffle last week.
He also made a pivot to the Hindu community with his selection of Rohan Sinanan as a Cabinet minister. This rebalancing of the Cabinet, bearing in mind the status of Sinanan as a deputy leader of the PNM alongside the elevation of Hosein into the local government chair, had obvious political value in bringing diversity to the Cabinet which was not evident when ministers were sworn into office in September 2015.
With an increase in the number of government backbenchers in the House of Representatives to four with three ministerial dismissals to date, the number of senators serving as ministers has increased as well. There are now seven ministers in the Senate—Rambharat, Hosein, Sinanan, Khan, Gopee-Scoon, Baptiste-Primus and Moses—and one parliamentary secretary, Avinash Singh.
In the midst of all of this, there was an almost unnoticed promotion of Stuart Young from Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister to Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
This reshuffle comes at a time when the Government is about to face two elections, one in Trinidad and the other in Tobago, and after that there will be a very difficult economic period to endure. During the general election campaign of 2015, the clarion call of the PNM was that they were “red and ready” for government.
The initial analysis seems to suggest that some of that readiness did not immediately transmit itself into the Government and this reshuffle was necessary to kick start the process going forward.
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