Sunday, June 24 2012
ALTHOUGH Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar said her Cabinet reshuffle entails no criticism of any Minister, it is clear to us that there were elevations, demotions, lateral movements and as yet indeterminate changes made to Ministers in their post. It is only logical to reward performers and replace non-performers.
That said, the biggest losers in the reshuffle were three persons who now leave Cabinet.
These are outgoing Minister of National Security, Brigg John Sandy; outgoing Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Verna St. Rose-Greaves; and outgoing Minister of Tobago Development, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, who leaves Cabinet to become a junior minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development.
Sandy had launched very worthy ideas such as the Mentorship Programme and Fatherhood Fair to try to sway the next generation away from a life of crime, but with regards to tackling the current crop of bandits, he was not seen as projecting himself as being large and in charge. St. Rose-Greaves showed the passion and insight of years as a social worker, but was surely tainted by the Sheryl Miller scandal in her own ministry, and then by her outspokenness against the death penalty and abortion and gay rights which are controversial issues in TT upon which Cabinet has not pronounced.
Alleyne-Toppin’s loss of Cabinet office comes after she was embroiled in a controversy over her improper use of her State-funded credit card.
The reshuffle also had clear winners. To be named new Minister of National Security is a huge boost to the prestige of Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner, who formerly had persevered when he had lost his “Transport” portfolio, to be left as mere Minister of Works, from which he had temporarily also lost his Programme for the Upgrade of Roads Efficiency (PURE) Unit. Despite his loss of office as FIFA vice-chairman, Warner has bounced back in TT, having retained his post as UNC chairman, and now having been given a large and important ministry.
Often ranked as TT’s best-performing minister, he is regarded as a “doer”, a man of action who makes things happen and just as importantly, is able to project this air of activity to the population.
However, questions still hang over Warner regarding the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) cash-for-votes scandalin te build up to the last FIFA presidential election. So while Warner is likely to get things done in his new ministry, nonetheless, some will ask whether a man under the international spotlight over the CFU/FIFA affair should be entrusted to overseeing the nation’s policing and security services.
Another big winner in the shakeup is Dr Lincoln Douglas, who moves from a junior minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development to become a full Cabinet Minister as Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism. Other junior ministers also elevated to Cabinet are new Minister of Tobago Development, Dr Delmon Baker, and new Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, Clifton De Couteau.
Four new entrants to Government join Cabinet with full ministerial rank — Minister of Finance, Larry Howai; Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Ganga Singh; Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Marlene Coudray; and Minister of Communications, Jamal Mohammed.
While former Minister of Finance, Winston Dookeran, had done a great job in straightening out the nation’s balance sheet — paying VAT refunds and debts to Clico policyholders and contractors — he nonetheless failed to stimulate activity in the economy. No-one was convinced that he was on a path of moving the economy from stabilisation to growth. It seems like it is indeed time for a fresh face to now try to spur the economy and inject some confidence into the local private sector whose participation is a central plank of this Government’s economic plans, but who so far have stayed sitting on a record $6 billion in excess liquidity now lodged in banks rather than invested in projects to grow the economy. Can Howai, a non-politician but a respected banker, now be that man to instill some sorely- missing confidence into TT’s economy?
Ganga Singh is the beneficiary of what seems to be a new ministry made just for him to continue at a new level his work as former WASA CEO under this Government and as Minister of Public Utilities in the former UNC regime (1995 to 2001).
Jamal Mohammed becomes a Minister, apparently suffering no fallout from recently having mis-spoken as an Acting Senator in urging the electronic tagging of past offenders so as to get proof of any of their new crimes.
The surprise naming of Coudray as new Gender Minister diverts from the firing of St Rose-Greaves, but also allows Coudray to demit office as San Fernando Mayor so as to placate the COP, who had said that despite them nominating her as Mayor, she had then defected to the UNC where she was recently elected deputy leader. The COP’s Navi Muradali can now move from Deputy Mayor to Mayor.
Coudray is currently mourning the death of her daughter, Michelle, who was murdered in Jamaica.
While we welcome the elevation of new Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Vasant Bharath, in recognition of his diligence as Minister of Food Production, we hope the momentum of his work can be maintained by his successor, Devant Maharaj. Nizam Baksh has certainly been promoted to become Minister of Public Utilities, from the lowly portfolio of Community Development.
While he loses his international stature as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Suruj Rambachan has likely been named as the new Minister of Local Government in order to spearhead the People’s Partnership’s (PP’s) efforts in next year’s local government elections, so this change is actually not any demotion.
Tourism Minister, Stephen Cadiz, might do a good job in this key sector, to mitigate his demotion from being Minister of Trade.
It strikes us that Persad-Bissessar has increased the size of her Cabinet by creating four new ministries — National Diversity and Social Integration; Science and Technology (headed by Dr Rupert Griffith and separate to the Ministry of Tertiary Education, under Fazal Karim); Communications; and Environment and Water. One must ask are all these little new ministries actually viable, and do they represent a new thrust by the Government into new areas, or are they just a means of getting Cabinet perks for favoured sons and daughters?
Some say it is TT’s largest ever Cabinet. Meanwhile, the move lets Persad-Bissessar keep the COP happy in the coalition, as most high profile COP Ministers remain untouched, namely Sport Minister, Anil Roberts; Legal Affairs Minister, Prakash Ramadhar; Minister of Public Administration, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan; and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Rodger Samuels.
At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Prime Minister, whose duty it is to try to get the best “fit” of persons to positions in her Cabinet.