By: Capil Bissoon
Port of Spain, Trinidad – Franklin Roosevelt had his new deal that transformed the US economy after the depression. Lyndon Johnson championed civil rights legislation at the federal level. Bill Clinton, the beneficiary of James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid” fame, created a vibrant US economy based on middle class jobs. Barack Obama’s legacy will most likely include the “Affordable Health Care Act” and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
These were all transformational leaders with very big ideas.
As leaders, they shifted paradigms. They made vast improvements, put America noticeably along a better path to equality, world dominance and prosperity and changed the ways Americans looked at themselves.
Roosevelt met an economy ravaged by the depression. When he departed, America was a knowledge-driven economic powerhouse with an expanding middle class and a sustainable path to world leadership.
Johnson inherited an America still feeling the effects of Jim Crow and segregation especially in the South. After his presidency, legislatively speaking, America had progressed significantly along the long, hard road to becoming a more equal/perfect union. America now glorifies diversity —a mandatory course in most MBA programmes.
Regrettably when I examine what is on offer from the People’s National Movement (PNM), I see nothing in their utterances to date that leads me to believe this country is in for a transformational moment under a future Keith Rowley-led government.
This is particularly worrisome as all likely dissenting voices, like Penny Beckles and Amery Browne, have apparently been purged from a future Rowley cabinet. He will be the only item that matters and it is to him that we will have to look for glimpses of a possible transformational future on the PNM side.
Very little I have seen or heard from Dr Rowley suggests that he is up to the task of transforming Trinidad and Tobago from being a high income developing country, which we have been since independence, to developed country status—the stated goal of Vision 2020, which by the way was from the last PNM administration which Rowley has simply renamed Vision 2030.
I listened intently to the PNM’s offerings on the platforms hoping for that moment of enlightenment and transformation. Instead I discern two things mainly.
Firstly, an often repeated version of “Great is the PNM and it shall prevail”. This involves listing past PNM achievements in the hope that somehow this will translate, in the absence of stated policies, to superior future achievements.
These utterances conveniently ignore the fact that many of the intractable problems we face were created by the PNM. These include: a hugely expensive and unproductive public service which the IMF says is a drag on our development, a police service that is not output oriented and is a law unto itself, state enterprises that demand burdensome annual budgetary transfers, a judiciary that cannot deliver swift justice, subsidies (like the fuel subsidy) not sufficiently targeted at the needy, an education system based primarily on regurgitation and on certification, an economy totally reliant on energy, and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Today’s PNM seems unwilling and unable to articulate a vision to deal with these PNM created challenges.
The second offering on PNM platforms are trademark and incessant statements about corruption and bacchanal. Who thief more than whom. Who own malls in Europe. Why the Integrity Commission should be disbanded. Why Jack Warner is not in cahoots with the PNM. In short, who have more cocoa in the sun.
While high on entertainment, they say nothing about why the PNM did not vote for the procurement legislation or support proposed constitutional reform legislation to empower voters as was the case with recall proposals; or detail proposals on campaign finance reform.
I believe that T&T would be a much better place if the PNM could somehow, on the basis of well thought out policies, force all governments to be even better than they are. Our country would benefit immeasurably. The PNM has underperformed in opposition and are most likely to so do if elected.
Ideally this election should provide voters with a choice between two competing plans and policies to take T&T forward.
Voters must be presented with contrasting visions on health, education, crime, job creation proposals, economic diversification, the environment and on creating a knowledge driven society.
Voters would then assess these two visions and vote accordingly.
To her credit, Kamla Persad-Bissessar has spoken about campaign finance and constitutional reform, infrastructural development, computers for all students, trained more doctors and nurses, begun the process of decentralising government offices and stood firm on the social safety net.
I continually await the PNM alternative policies.