THE INTERNAL election of the People’s National Movement (PNM) has come to an end with the incumbent leader being resoundingly backed by the party.
But that definitive outcome has not dispelled the biggest cloud looming over the prime ministerial tenure of Dr Keith Rowley.
Dr Rowley’s sombre address to the PNM convention on Sunday underlined his own appreciation of the challenge facing him when it comes to crime.
Cabinet affairs and party affairs are properly matters that are kept apart, but such has been the pressure on the PM to replace Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds that Dr Rowley was forced to address it before his followers.
He dismissed the notion of rotating ministers. He also implicitly rejected the politicisation of crime-fighting efforts (though the setting of his speech on Sunday told a different story).
Changing ministers, the PM suggested, wouldn’t help.
“All this will do, as it has been doing, is to embolden the criminals, who believe that the rest of the country does not have what it takes to bring the lawlessness under control,” Dr Rowley asserted.
The statement is telling. It confirms the Prime Minister is reluctant to act because of how it might be perceived by some. In his assessment, such a move would “embolden” lawbreakers, presumably because it would paint a picture of government weakness.
There is some truth in this.
The problems created by having Cabinet portfolios move around as though in a game of musical chairs are legion, ranging from logistical issues surrounding reassignments to the loss of institutional knowledge and experience on the part of office-holders.
But with murders at their highest level in our modern history, it is arguable that it is inaction on the part of Cabinet that will most embolden criminals, not the other way around.
In the end, performance should be the rubric by which cabinet portfolios are determined, not optics.
Admittedly, “performance” is not something that is easy to measure or quantify. Whenever a murder happens, Mr Hinds is not the one who has pulled the trigger or called the shot. He can hardly be blamed for gang activity or crimes of passion.
But he does have overall responsibility for ensuring law and order in this country, a responsibility which by its nature is holistic.
Having put aside the rhetoric of deeming crime a “public health emergency,” Dr Rowley is now reverting to what he has often called a “whole-of-government” approach.
But that should be the baseline policy, not its fullest extent. Two tenures in, speaking of a “whole-of-government” approach comes perilously close to sounding as if the Cabinet is out of ideas.
This is the special peril Dr Rowley’s administration faces going into 2023.