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Mass intervention to avoid political armageddon

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Will the reported one-third of the population that has consistently stayed away from meaningful participation in party and electoral politics on the side of either the People’s National Movement or the United National Congress allow the cycle between the two under-performing parties to continue?

But the question faces the entire polity, as halfway into the term of the People’s National Movement, the Government has given no indication that it can conceive of the means to effect the required transformation of the economy and society.

The PNM has liberally wasted the political currency it received at the 2015 polls, the electorate having registered total disgust and dissatisfaction with the UNC government’s mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism.

Trinidad and Tobago has reached a juncture where even elements of the hardcore UNC and PNM support bases, whose preoccupation is with wrangling for their five years to pillage the treasury in their tribal interest, must recognise that the kind of economic and social transformation needed cannot be achieved through the established political culture.

Since the aberration of 1986, the attempt to bring political forces together to tackle change became victim of the fight for dominance amongst the political tribes, the UNC and the PNM have divided the years in office and the hundreds of billions gathered from the energy revenue without even an appreciation of the transformation required.

Both parties in government have had their share of critical support from the trade union movement, the NGOs, segments of the business community, and groups of the population untied to them.

That support, given on the basis of national interest, quickly peeled away when it became clear that the parties in government did not seek to at least attempt something different. The fact has been that in their present form and pursuing the same ideology of the post-Independence period, the oligarchies—the leadership classes of the parties in government and opposition, could not have attempted a transformation that is outside of the frame of reference of the parties.

A newspaper column is not the ideal forum for detailed analysis of how the parties have governed, but a few of the major indicators can suffice. The outstanding achievement of PNM rule in the period has been the liberalization of the financial sector, and the monetization of the natural gas industry, assisted by high energy prices. There existed then within the PNM and in the technocratic class of the public/state sector an unusual capacity.

However, very questionable use was made of the resources gained from financial liberalization and the natural gas industry. Physical administrative infrastructure was constructed at record costs, but little was done to enhance the non-energy infrastructure and to seed the required innovation in the non-oil sector–the commercial sector wallowed in the excesses of government expenditure of the period.

The tales of corruption with Udecott at the centre of it, a prime minister who grew increasingly self-centred and unaccountable, and who was eventually voted out of office and chased out of his party’s headquarters culminated a nine-year period of ultra-dominance by Patrick Manning’s PNM.

Basdeo Panday’s leadership was significant for bringing Indo-Trinidad to the political throne for the first time. He was clever enough to have incorporated a few non-Indos in his governments including Robinson’s Tobago party.

The airport racketeers—Panday was once moved to comment that a “feeding frenzy” had been taking place, engorged on billions.

However, Panday’s ineffectual “smart man” management of the politics crashed the party and government; turmoil reigned; a couple parties grew out of his party to challenge the UNC.

Race relations worsened and the UNC was swept out of office.

New leadership in the UNC and a political partnership placed the party in power and with much hope. Within one year the coalition began untangling, Persad-Bissessar proved incapable of holding the party together.

To be continued…


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