People should know how $ spent
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, June 24 2012
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Minister of Communications, Jamal Mohammed...
Intent on tackling issues of accountability and transparency, newly-appointed Minister of Communications, Jamal Mohammed, yesterday said one of his first priorities in office will be to devise mechanisms to apprise citizens of how their taxpayers’ dollars are spent.
“The Ministry of Communications is a challenge,” he told Sunday Newsday before the start of a Congress of the People (COP) walkabout in San Juan.
“Since this Government (People’s Partnership) has come into place — it is two years now — we have had two budgets where we have budgeted over $100 billion and I feel that the people of the country have a right to know what that $100 billion has done for them — a sense of accountability, a sense of transparency, the right of the people to know, the taxpayers, who are the owners of that money.
“They have a right to know what was done with that money and how it has benefitted them and impacted their lives. That is my most important role, to inform the people of how the Government has spent its money.”
One of the surprise additions to the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, Mohammed, who unsuccessfully contested the San Juan/Barataria seat on a COP ticket in the 2007 general election, hails from a respected political and cultural family in the country.
His uncle, Kamaluddin Mohammed, was once a senior Cabinet minister within the People’s National Movement (PNM) and was often regarded as former Prime Minister, the late Dr Eric Williams’ right-hand man. His father, Sham, also enjoyed a stint in politics and was the founder of the television talent series, Mastana Bahar.
Jamal’s sister Nafeesa Mohammed, also an avid PNM member, is currently the chairman of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation. Mohammed, who has served as a temporary Government senator, yesterday said he had the full support of his family, even though his sister was on the opposite side of the political fence. “She loves me as a brother and a sister and we are cool. We agree to disagree with dignity,” he said of his relationship with Nafeesa.
Mohammed, who quit the teaching profession to enter into politics, was a communications officer in the Ministry of Legal Affairs at the time of his appointment as a Cabinet minister. Regarding his other objectives, Mohammed said he also intends to facilitate a greater synergy among members of the Government during his stint as its official spokesman.
“We all have to operate with the same vision and the same strategic plan, to understand each other. So my job would be to make everybody on the same plate, singing out of the same book, that we understand what we are supposed to be doing and we have the same vision,” he said, adding that he expected some challenges in this regard.
“Of course, you must have different views from people. But once you adopt a policy, those who are involved in the implementation of the policy must be all on the same page.” A father of two daughters, Mohammed also expressed some concerns over the manner in which information was disseminated in the country via social networking sites.
“We live in a global village and communications is influencing a great deal, the way we live in our country,” he said.
“I hope it is not too late because it has had some effects on our country that are not good. So we have to inform and educate our people on how do we deal with the challenges of the globe and with this new sense of information with Internet, Facebook and Twitter.”
Saying he had not been briefed about his new portfolio, Mohammed said the Cabinet reshuffle was executed by the Prime Minister with the best of intentions.
He said: “If you listen to the premise upon which she made these changes, she is always thinking, looking ahead to get the best fit for the right people and she has, in her wisdom, selected the people who she feels have the best resource and capabilities to do what is required at this time.” Mohammed also had fond words for those who were omitted from the reconfigured Government.
“Those who have been let out from the last Cabinet, they did an excellent job within their capabilities. And I have to admire people like Brigadier John Sandy, who has a lovely personality, and Verna St Rose-Greaves, another fighter in our society. All of these people made contributions so it is just another step in the progress,” Mohammed said. Mohammed said he also did not regard Winston Dookeran’s shift to Foreign Affairs as a demotion.
“It is not a demotion. When you look at what he has done for the past few years and all of the challenges that he faced, he did not sweep anything under the Cabinet,” he said.
“He faced everything head on and he was able to stabilise this economy. If you realised what was happening in 2010, we were on the verge of financial collapse but because of his steady wisdom and his vast experience in finance, he was able to stabilise the economy and set us on a growth path and hopefully, with a little bit of stimulus and some more activity in the economy, things will improve. I don’t think is a demotion.”
Mohammed said when he last spoke to Dookeran, he got the impression the former finance minister “wanted a break”.
“I think he has done his duty and has served Trinidad well and now he has gone on to another stage as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and we have yet to record and understand the extent of his contribution not only as Minister of Finance, but from his involvement in the politics from since 1981. And part of my job as Minister of Communications is to make sure that the people, especially young people, understand the role that a man like Winston Dookeran has played,” he added.
In a brief telephone interview from his El Socorro home yesterday, Kamaluddin Mohammed said he was very happy for his nephew.
“He is a good boy, very talented,” Mohammed said.