To borrow a line from the Evita musical “dice are
rolling and the knives are out.” As I write on Thursday the country has
taken on the air of campaigning with public meetings, and high political
Kamla vs Keith drama dubbed variously as the “raging bull vs the
matador” and “bombshell vs bombshell.”
In the past two columns in a wide ranging interview
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appeared to be the puppeteer
rather than the puppet, with a steely grip on her party and government.
She however repeatedly admitted that her government has fallen short on
communicating to the people leaving the door wide open for criticism.
Last week, fast on the heels of the no-confidence
motion filed by Opposition Leader Keith Rowley on February 17th the
Prime Minister, in meetings up and down the country, dismissed the
motion reporting to the people on the economy (“stable on the path to
growth with inflation and unemployment down”) on infrastructure
(“upgraded”) on pension (“raised to $3000”) on housing (“4,500 homes
constructed”) and performance.
She has had, to all appearances, the full backing
of her 28 government MPs, including Jack Warner, who despite recent
rumours of a rift, has stated—Bible in hand—in a public meeting that
‘till death do they part’. If a no-confidence motion is passed the PM
has 7 days to resign after which the President can appoint a member of
the house who commands the majority or declare a fresh general election.
None of this is likely to happen. In an exclusive
interview last week Wednesday Dr Rowley told me he himself did not
expect the Kamla Persad-Bissessar led PP government to topple nor did he
expect the Prime Minister to make the same mistake as his former leader
Patrick Manning by calling an early election.
How is your leadership style different to that of
your former leader Patrick Manning? I am a great delegator. People work
with and not for me. I don’t want the leader to be the sole voice of the
party but the party to be reflected in the leaders’ voice. I encourage a
wide expression of views from the PNM who are all free to speak on
behalf of the party. It doesn’t always appear that you have the support
of your party.
I have no concerns about my leadership in the PNM.
I have the comfortable support of the vast majority of PNM members and
supporters. I have been there since June 2010. I was elected unopposed
at a PNM convention. The executive has been fully supportive of my
stewardship and assignment. It is my trust that we are singing from the
same hymn sheet and when that doesn’t happen, well we are a democratic
What have you learned from the mistakes from your
own party and particularly from former PM Patrick Manning? The biggest
mistake is to allow the party to be subordinate to the leader. That is
trouble because office holders easily immerse themselves in
self-importance, in hubris. I was exposed to it, am cognisant of it, and
that’s why you need people around you that are not afraid. They begin to
do things that are unreasonable, senseless, and detrimental to the
I presume you are speaking of Mr Manning
Yes he was the leader. Your “no confidence’ motion
has been dubbed by Dr Roodal Moonilal as ‘ill-timed, ill-conceived and
dead on arrival.’ You always knew you could not win. It was always 29
against 12. Why now? Have you read it? The motion says an ‘unending
series of events’ have demonstrated ‘the PM’s gross incompetence’ and a
‘persistent confusion and encouragement of wrongdoing in the conduct of
the national affairs.’ There is a pattern. This is no longer a new
government. Here we are, some 20 months on, one third of a term, almost
40 percent of a 60 month term over. We didn’t go for their throats in
six months, or one year.
No. We didn’t do that. Now that we have given them
a chance to create their own record, we are forcing them to examine what
they are calling ‘missteps’ which is in fact deliberate wrongdoing which
they only acknowledge when they are caught out. This is our chance to
ask the questions on behalf of the people. If the government satisfies
the population that there is no merit in our vote of no confidence, we
simply did our job.
When you were sworn in as opposition leader you
were heard wishing it was as PM. Were you hoping this motion of no
confidence in the current PM will take you there?
When the next general election is called the PNM
will be in a position to present itself as a credible alternative, and
it is our expectation that the majority of citizens will choose us as
against an offer to let the PP continue. As leader of the PNM I am
preparing my party to win. A CNC3 poll up to 89 percent of respondents
said you should resign if your motion of no confidence fails as it
undoubtedly will. Is this political suicide? Are you hoping for a snap
There is no question of my resignation. If you look
at history, the ‘motion of no confidence’ is commonplace. In a normal
debate one cannot raise the conduct of the PM. It’s an opportunity to
call the government to account if truth is allowed to prevail I don’t
pay attention to polls as I am reliably informed they are being
manipulated by respondents on the government payroll, given phones and
cards and assigned to call to stations. We are not relying on the votes
in the parliament or a snap election because 29 MPs will obviously vote
for self preservation. I am more concerned by the 1.4 million people
involved and their opinion at the end of the debate.
I am not worried about my career. I am troubled at
the state of the country. I am the opposition leader.
I’ve taken a paid job and an oath to act without
fear or favour. The government doesn’t like it but the vast majority of
decent citizens deserve this. It is for the government to dissuade
people from believing what I have said.
Many say the PNM accusing the PP of corruption is
the pot calling the kettle black. Does the PNM have that moral
authority? I am the first to say that you will see a grave similarity
between the corruption that caused the PNM government to fail and what
this government is offering as a replacement. The very same Prime
Ministerial actions—unaccountability in state enterprises which allowed
Udecott to grow into a cancer contributed to the PNM’s demise and
breathed life into the PP—are being repeated. Everyone wanted change.
Did the population just get a different person to do the same thing as
I was on the committee of BWIA when it was bankrupt
and bleeding. Experts reviewed it and when they reported that flying to
London was a ‘no go’ if you are going to stop the losses at BWIA so we
sold the gates. The decision Caribbean Airlines to get into long haul
flights into Europe was surprising. When the PM was confronted with a
public spat between the Minister of Works and the chairman of a public
enterprise, the runaway Caribbean Airlines, she chose to bury it and in
fact removed the transport folio from Jack Warner the minister who
advised her to take the matter to the Integrity Commission.
You see how similar it is? In 08 the previous PNM
government, after a confrontation, dismissed a government minister over
allegations of corruption. In 2011 a minister complains of a conflict of
interest on the part of a chairman. Whose side does the PM take? Did the
Parliament know there was a report from the minister about conflict of
interest, referred to the integrity commission? The PM says this motion
of no confidence is frivolous and vexatious. Not to the people.
The Mary King experience is another example. The
conflict of interest was raised with the PM. She did nothing and sent it
to the AG who reviewed it with the knowledge of the PM. It was only when
the Express broke the story that Mary King had to go as part of
political damage control. I am the Opposition Leader and my job is to
ensure there are checks and balances in a democracy. I am just doing my
Others say you will simply succeed in making the PM
Being PM is not a popularity contest. It’s about
discharging your responsibility, of increasing quality of life, of the
protection of institutions. Citizens are relying on that. The government
is in denial on the state of the country. Instead of governing, it
continues to fight the 2012 general election. You can see that with the
number of public meetings and the ads after the vote of no confidence
was brought up. If she was not fazed why did she campaign and advertise
for three days straight before the vote?
There are a lot of people who support the Prime
Minister. But I want to ask them if they are prepared to support the
matters I am raising. They will say ‘who I support’ and ‘what I support’
is not the same thing. It is important to bring her to task for her
failure to deal with the conflict of issues raised by the former
minister of transport Jack Warner over Caribbean Airlines. Instead of
dealing with it, taking it to the Integrity Commission as he suggested,
she took away his transport portfolio.
How can she now have the moral authority to
discipline any other minister who is falling short, who can say ‘What
are you talking about? We are all in the same boat.’It’s important for
the PM to retain the moral high ground, to be called to account. When
that is lost then ministers feel free to carry on their own areas of
It’s a question of the PMs conduct mirroring itself
down the ladder from T&TEC and the award of contracts by persons subject
to ongoing police investigations, unchallenged preferential treatment to
fly by night companies, bid rigging at NP, hiring a telephone operator,
one Reshmi Ramnarine to head the nation’s Security Intelligence
Agency—until the story broke in the press and she was forced to accept
her “resignation”—down to the security guard at the airport.
That’s why it’s important that the PM sets the
tone. We need her to answer questions on deceiving the population with
respect to pensions, calling a state of emergency to deal with street
crime in the absence of the Police Commissioner who proceeds to direct
his men to pick up people, arrest them, charge them, and release them,
admitting there was no evidence. There were never consequences for that.
Our institutions are weak. That is why the office of the PM has to be
What are you ultimately hoping to
achieve with the vote of no confidence? I want to create better informed
public that will pay attention to a value system that is not being
operated in the public interest, a public not informed by gimmicky
propaganda and advertising, an informed population which makes for a