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Messaging issues —Government, Opposition

Saturday, June 2, 2018

In Senate, Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses is known as the most reserved, brief on statement, low on profile. His recent trip with the Prime Minister, however, appeared to have had some impact.

“You were missed,” Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus greeted Moses at Tuesday’s Senate sitting. Moses then proceeded on a round of “hellos,” holding court. Loquacious, laughing and loud. Even Works Minister Rohan Sinanan’s traditional East Indian wear couldn’t distract from the din.

“Rohan the Rajah!” UNC Senator Kadijah Ameen exclaimed. Their Lower House colleagues had had similar exchanges at Monday’s sitting.

“We get invited to Lakshmi School (Indian Arrival Day) celebrations—you invited?” PNM’s Terrence Deyalsingh greeted Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. “Is dat Pundit-Ji?” she countered on his outfit “…You know white is for funerals?”

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, however, had no such fashion faux pas opportunities. At Tuesday’s media briefing on his overseas mission, Rowley said: “I came in late, went to bed at 1 am and was up at 3 am.

So I’ve not been invited to nuthin.’”

Rowley returned with a suitcase full of announcements which can potentially supplement Government’s political stocks once jobs and other opportunities materialise in “weeks and months” ahead (he projected).

Plans stated on the OPM’s website are pointedly prefaced with “expected outcome” (sic) that China will “consider” (sic). Actual concrete returns remain to be seen—including what rolls over into PNM’s 2020 manifesto. Chinese assistance is listed for practically all Government’s current plans from business “hardware” and housing to hospital unit and hotel construction. Deepened T&T/China links place T&T on par with regional neighbours also using Chinese help. 

If all fulfilled, China could have a huge stake in local development in a country of significant hemispheric stature. How that impacts on complementing or detracting from the local business sector—and on the global geo-political landscape—remains ahead.

Government’s repeatedly stressed Public-Private Partnership themes and there’d been projections of increased opportunities from some plans for which Chinese help is now being sought.

Rowley’s admission that only one local group was interested in Sandals’ development may signal continuing low local investor confidence. One of the contributors to that—crime—must particularly be tackled more aggressively with expected foreign investment, especially following attacks on Chinese nationals. After the rarified air of liaising with overseas leaders and being detached from T&T ground reality, it remains to unfold how Rowley views Government’s messaging in his absence and how his own mission report’s received. Both acting PM Colm Imbert and Rowley on return, referred queries on the proposed Chinese industrial estate to Trade, yet to detail what that “plan” is.

Rowley’s announcements stand to enhance Government’s Platform Positive thrust started in the election lead-up period, an effort clearly geared to transform Government’s mid-term image from trough level to optimistic priming point. Still, the much-touted economic turnaround is yet to be felt beyond PNM boasts when a tin of sardine varies between $8/$9.85, some booksellers are phasing out magazine sales (from this month) and job cuts still occur—and likely will since Education expects more UTT programme contractions in the 2018-19 term.

If turnaround messaging’s been weak, Finance’s communication on its property valuation drive—started surreptitiously—has been as weak as its 2017 property tax push and was “outed” via rumour. For which Finance, which made no timely announcement, is responsible. However, Rowley’s returned to certain political pluses—as his smile acknowledged when asked about the Persad-Bissessar/Sat Maharaj tiff. Indian Arrival Day 2018 met the Indo-TT based Opposition UNC challenged with potential for fragmentation from two community old guard figures: the legendary Panday name and Maharaj.

Maharaj’s criticism of Persad- Bissessar’s non-sectarian stance on his hijab issues, however, stand to help her national stocks, which would be UNC’s primary concern (well beyond Imam Rasheed Karim’s presence on UNC’s executive). Wednesday’s celebrations saw both answering queries with politically correct, though decidedly mixed messages for supporters not to be swayed.

In an increasingly active political landscape, the messages from Government and Opposition will sharpen. How much acceptance will come from J Public is the question.


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