Monday, October 21, 2013

Commentary: Making the right choice - a tough decision for voters

The campaigns are over and the only business left now is for the voters to mark their ballots. For many, that is a simple exercise; they had decided on a choice even before the campaign began and before the parties named their candidates. 

But there is another constituency for which the decision is not that cut and dried. And it's growing. For tens of thousands of people - many in the 18-29 age group - there is no party connection even if their parents had traditionally held on to one party through loyalty. They have looked for a political home where they can find comfort and where they can expect delivery of a better life.

For them what matters is leadership and a genuine adherence to good governance. None of the parties contesting Monday's elections has given that clarity, which leaves many of these floating voters confused.

As an observer I can only write about what I have understood from the platforms.

First, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) led by David Abdulah, which has had a low key campaign and is only running 16 candidates spread all over Trinidad. 

Remember that this is a breakaway group from the People's Partnership that has vowed to topple the present PP regime. There has been no compelling message from this party, other than its oppostion to the PP. 

Remember also that MSJ is a partner with the People's National Movement (PNM) through the Round Table that was created in 2012 to protest section 34. That Round Table included not only the MSJ but Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, the former RAMJACK partner of Jack Warner.

The MSJ, therefore, with is 16 candidates spread among the corporations cannot solve anyone's problems and electing one of their candidates will change nothing. The wise voter would be able to see that and act accordingly.

But what of the other three parties? 

Let's start with the People's National Movement (PNM) that ran on a theme of BELIEVE. 

The PNM asked voters to believe in the party and its leadership to make the necessary reform to local government. But if you rewind to the years they were in office (Dec 24, 2001 to 24 May 2010) their legacy one of failure to introduce any local government reform. To compound the contradiction, the PNM postponed local elction three times on the promise to introduce reforms that never went to parliament.

Add to that, the various broken promises over the years that they held office up to 2010 and the question for the voter is this: what to believe? Even if you can believe that with their new leader the PNM might actually work on reform, the reality is that their reform cannot come unless they are in government. And on October 22 they would still be a long way from being in government since no general election is due until 2015.

The voter has to also consider the rurual neglect during the last PNM regime, amounting to political spite since most of the rural regions are seen as traditional UNC strongholds. If they failed to develop the regions while they were in government, why would a discerning voter believe the PNM can do it today?

Electing a PNM councillor means that you can expect no change from the PNM because the councillor would have to operate within the present system in which the central government provides the funding and the Corporation answers to the minister iof local government.
The same applies to any opposition party electing councillors. 

That is the dilemma Jack Warner and his Indepedent Liberal Party (ILP) would face. Jack has stated that his councillors would be driven by the same work ethic that has made him popular among voters. His party has attaracted strong support, taking away both PP and PNM supporters. But what really is the ILP offering?

It says the present regime is corrupt to the core and that a part of his mission is to see the fall of the government. So his promise is for better governance based on integrity and accountability. What the voter must ask is whether a party in opposition can have the kind of impact that Jack and the ILP are promising.

In the present structure of the local government system the central government - which remains the PP - determines the budget for each corporation and the system is under the jurisdiction of a minister of local government. Therefore there are two things to consider. The first is that an ILP councillor or a PP or PNM one would have to follow the same rules and request funding for projects from Port of Spain.

That would determine what and how much can be done. The disadvantage is that the government determines priorities before allocating money for local government and a government councillor would be following his/her party's priorities, which would mesh with the government's because they are flip sides of the same political coin. 

And we know from exprience that a private party and a private citizen cannot dip into his/her pocket and fund government projects.

The second issue is governance and accountability. The ILP has no track record, except for Jack. Serious questions have been raised about the inegrity of some of candidates so what standard is the voter going to use to make a judgment? 

The one thing is Jack's promise to run a tight ship, deal with anybody who gets out of line and not tolerate any form of corruption. He has claimed that there is rampant corruption on the PP side and has made allegations to support his case. So he is saying whatever is allocated would be used well and therefore the results would be better than anyone else.

That is a matter of trust. The question voters would need o ask then is can you trust the ILP to keep these promises and to operate any different from another political party? 

The platform talk from the ILP has been a bit confused. Jack has blamed the government for not doing anything for the people from day one. But that seems like an indictment on himself since he served with the government for three years and boasted every day about the PP being the best government ever.

If I were voting this would be a point of confusion. When did the PP stop performing? Was Jack the only cabinet minister who performed? What has Jack and his party been able to deliver except promises since April 21 when he left the government?

I know Jack very well. He is a good man who means well. But being a benefactor to one consituency and delivering to that constituency is very different from running a government and several corporations. But then on Thursday he added another dimension to the message - back to RAMJACK.

If I am a voter - especially a UNC or COP member willing to give the ILP a chance - I would be very concerned about the role of Ramesh in the ILP politics. You may recall that he, Jack and Winston Peters (Gypsy) formed the group that foced the UNC to have internal elections in 2010 that Kamla Persad-Biossessar won with a commanding majority.

Ramesh is the man who betrayed Basdeo Panday within weeks of the UNC winning a clear majority in the 2000 general election, was later brought back into the party and won the Tabaquite seat in 2007, then broke with Panday again, joined with Ramesh and dumped him in favour of Kamla and now, having parted company with Kamla, he is ready to embrace Ramesh again.

That takes on even greater signficance because now Ramesh is aligned to the PNM through the Round Table that includes the PNM, MSJ and Ramesh. What is the signal from Jack when he says it is time for RAMJACK again when the RAM part of the team is aligned to the PNM? Are we seeing the birth of a new political partnership engineered by Jack and Ramesh to team up with the PNM and MSJ?

If I am voting on Monday I would ask these questions before making a choice.
And then there is the PP. Why vote for them when everybody has been saying they are corrupt and incompetent. Well they have shown that in three years they have delivered in every part of the country. There is something to see, something to experience and a promise of much more to come. They have created a development revolution and it's everywhere.

Kamla and her team have kept promises on local government reform and they have kept promises on delivering services. I do not wish to go into the long list that they have presented. What is clear is you can see their work. They have done it in three years in spite of all the allegations of mismanagement and corruption and the obstructionism from those who do not share the PP vision.

The other issue is that the day after the election the PP would be in government and would be singing from the song political song sheet with members of their group who get elected. That translates into more of what the voter has seen in three years.

The choice is very clear. If this government has been so backward, so corrupt, so uncaring as the opposition claims, how was it that it could achieve so much in such a short space of time? 

If I consider all these arguments I would vote for the PP. And here's why.
This is a local election and the government would have to face the people in a general election in 2015. No matter who gets into the corporations what they will get done is what the PP government wants - nothing more. 

So I would give them an opportunity to continue because I know that in less than two years I could vote them out.

But suppose they perform well during this new probation period? 

That's what the opposition parties fear and that is why they want to take control of the corporations. But the bottom line is this - no matter who controls local government Kamla and the PP control the treasury and without such control we can talk as much as we want the central government would be in control.

Of course the opposition can take control of the regional institutions, fold their arms and refuse to do anything and then blame the PP for the lack of progress and delivery. That would be a betrayal of the people, but since when do politicians worry about that?

So before you vote on Monday consider the points I have raised. And vote wisely because when you don't vote you forfeit your voice. And for the first time in our history your vote will also determine who is an Alderman in your corporation.

I would choose the PP because I have seen a level of delivery that is unprecedented in every part of the country. No other government has been able to do that much so the PNM has no moral authroity to even ask for my vote. 

And while Jack remains a friend with whom I have worked for many years pro bono, I would wait a while and see what his party really represents when I see the constitution and know who are the party's elected executive.

I am not going to tell you how to vote. But I have made up mind and have offered you reasons for my choice. 

Consider what I have said and vote for the candidate who offers the best promise to produce effective results. You hold a great responsibility in your hand and I urge you to use your vote wisely to determine your destiny and the destiny of our country.

Jai Parasram - 20 October 2013

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai