Black Immigrant Daily News
Crime and murders featured prominently in the politics of 2022 with Government taking licks from the public and political opponents over the record high murder rate. – Photo by Sureash Cholai
AS THE country emerged from the pandemic and its resulting lock downs, job losses and economic stress, Government might have looked forward to an ease-up in their burden but in fact, faced new stresses from the fallout from climate change and a crime upsurge in 2022. And generally in running the country.
The year began with Government facing the wrath of trade unions over a proposed vaccine mandate for public sector workers, to fight the pandemic which has taken over 4,200 lives. But with efforts plateauing at a 51 per cent vaccination rate nationally, salvation came by way of the emergence of the less lethal (albeit more contagious) omicron variant.
Party elections were predictably won by incumbent leaders, quite overwhelmingly, despite low voter turnouts perhaps reflecting some underlying national discontent beneath the virtual duopoly of TT’s race-based version of the Westminster political system. In the PNM elections in December, Dr Rowley comfortably beat challenger Karen Nunez-Tesheira, former finance minister from the Patrick Manning regime. Rowley won 8,424 votes, Nunez-Tesheira got 345 and Junior Barrack, a paltry 99.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar – File photo
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in June, was re-elected UNC leader, easily defeating her former health minister Dr Fuad Khan. Persad-Bissessar got 11,556 votes to Khan’s 644.
Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh in December dubbed Rowley a “ghost PM” for not visiting flood-hit areas, although playing golf with Sir Viv Richards upon recovery from covid19.
Indarsingh hit, “Now, in this time of national emergency and calamity, the Prime Minster, who bolted to the golf course with speed and fervour, slouches distantly, numbly, and cowardly, peeping from behind the curtains at Whitehall rather than courageously attending to his citizens in their time of crisis.”
Rowley, hit back alleging UNC “flood politics” and “photo-ops.”
“Their idea of caring is to put a hapless leader (Persad-Bissessar) in a little boat and pull her through the flooded street.
“I pass on that. My focus is to be part of the team that is available 24/7 to respond and manage the dangerous changing environment.” A new party, the NTA, was launched by former police commissioner (CoP) Gary Griffith, who reapplied for his old post and is now vying to replace Dr Rowley as Prime Minister.
After the PDP’s sweep of the THA polls last year against a tired-looking PNM, leader Watson Duke on May 1 held a gala launch of his PDP in Trinidad at the upscale setting of the Hyatt Trinidad with guests wearing all-black clothes, promising needy communities 1,000 loaves of bread per week and an “in touch” style of politics.
He trekked up the hills of Laventille, greeting local youth.
However, within months, he fired Farley Augustine as PDP deputy political leader after a very public spat over a group of Tobago performers in New York. By December, the entire THA executive led by Augustine plus other PDP officials had resigned from the party, to sit as independents in the assembly.
Apart from control of the THA, this development could certainly impact the chances of the two Tobago parliamentary seats being snatched from the PNM in the next general election.
The Prime Minister – claiming a need for time to allow local government reform initiatives – in early November gave a one year extension to the terms of municipal councillors, thereby most likely postponing local government elections by a year. Persad-Bissessar hit, “Keith Rowley is running scared of the public.”
With mid-term local elections often viewed as a barometer on national government performance, voters will not now have the chance to express themselves, amid much current discontent over potholes, water-supply, food prices, crime and the cost of living…and murders.
Any political knock-on effect of this remains to be seen, one way or the other, amid lingering memories of his predecessor the late Patrick Manning who postponed the polls a whopping four times.
Parliament remained a robust forum for the Government to announce policy and for the Opposition to demand accountability. Debates on bills, questions to ministers and the reports/papers laid updated the population of progress (or lack thereof) of a constellation of matters affecting the country’s well-being. Much was revealed at the sittings of Parliament’s joint select committees (JSCs.)
However fallout persisted from the October 2021 sitting of Parliament’s Electoral College to debate an impeachment motion in President Paula-Mae Weekes over the CoP merit list, after which Rowley had chided the conduct of opposition MPs. The Senate in February approved Independent Senator Anthony Vieira’s motion condemning the conduct of some opposition members.
Underlying the whole polity was the fact of a country kept afloat metaphorically on a sea of hydrocarbons. The great news in 2022 for TT’s energy revenues, were the high global oil and gas prices plus increasing production of both hydrocarbons. The national mood might also have been buoyed for a while by TT’s diamond jubilee Independence anniversary celebrations.
Conversely trade union leaders were not smiling as they spent months vigorously resisting the CPO’s four per cent wage settlement offer including holding street protests, even as TSTT sought to lay off hundreds represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU.)
The Government faced a public mood deeply saddened by details emerging at the commission of enquiry into the deaths of four divers in a pipeline owned by Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd on February 25, and by a year of shocking murders including art dealer Mark Pereira and mass shootings including Moruga mother Sachel Elliott and her baby daughter Nova Brereton earlier this month.
This year saw the Government take licks from its opponents over its handling of national security amidst a record high murder rate, which at the time of writing, was one short of 600.
Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam’s Hosein, in a private motion in November lamenting the murders, linked unemployment to crime and urged more opportunities for TT’s youngsters.
While Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings in his budget speech in October had promised Youth Shade House and Youth Agricultural Homestead initiatives, Hosein told MPs the “the odd, one-off programmes” were insufficient, saying, “It’s not about events and one-month programmes. It’s about changing systems that negatively affect young people.”
Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes in the House in late November asked about 46,000 pupils who had not taken up on-line learning during the pandemic lockdowns of schools, to which Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly replied that 180,000 pupils had returned to school and that some pupils had opted to study from printed papers not via online modes.
Perhaps the most disturbing disclosure in Parliament came in the Judith Jones report on widespread abuse in children’s homes, laid by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy in May. “Sexual interaction and grooming occur between residents and staff and security personnel,” said the report on St Jude’s Home for Girls.
The report highlighted the fact that vulnerable youngsters must leave children’s homes at age 18 when an official of Margaret Kistow Home defended the fact of three boys living at his house by saying, “Nothing was wrong with that. I doing this for years because they have nowhere else to go.”
This report prompted a motion by Princes Town MP Barry Padarath accusing the Government of child neglect, but D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Lisa Morris-Julian retorted that it was the Government which had commissioned the Jones report to lift the lid on child abuse.
With crime the population’s worst concern, the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security was shocked in November to hear that only 3,998 shipping containers were inspected out of 23,000 imported into TT in January-August. However Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Customs and Excise Division line minister, said TT’s inspection ratio was 17 per cent, ahead of 3.7 per cent rate in the US and 1,5 per cent in Europe. JSC member Paul Richards gave the hearing figures indicating the police seizing 28,000 illegal guns, worth $350 million from 2017-2022.
Parliament also received a disturbing report by the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) of younger and more violent leaders taking over TT’s criminal gangs.
& A RESHUFFLE
On a lighter note, in Parliament Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland raised eyebrows by voicing in his best Oxford accent his advice to citizens to employ bicycles and coalpots against the high cost of living, in his budget speech in October.
At the next House sitting, media photographers staked out the Red House expecting to see him pull up on a bicycle. When later told this by Newsday inside the chamber, Scotland seemed bemused by the attention, even amid widespread social media memes – disparaging yet humorous – including a man with Scotland’s face neck-deep in flood waters holding high a bicycle.
St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen, days later quipped to MPs, “I wonder if that particular member left Parliament that night and went home and lit coals to heat water to make a cup of tea?”
At the sod-turning for an Oropune Commercial Centre last month, Minister in the Ministry of Housing Adrian Leonce urged residents “to seize the opportunity to become business owners and positively impact your community”, and when asked by Newsday about any message to the population against the backdrop of the crime upsurge, urged people to truly grasp their legitimate opportunities.
In a mini reshuffle of Cabinet in March, Faris Al-Rawi demitted the post of attorney general (AG) to become Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, where he quickly took national centre stage to lead the country’s fight against landslips and prolonged flooding. Reginald Armour, SC, became AG.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, seen here charging his laptop in Parliament, has overseen seven budgets from 2015 to 2022. –
Clarence Rambharat resigned as Minister of Agriculture to be replaced by Kazim Hosein (former local government minister), aided by newly-named Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture Nigel de Freitas, who was replaced as Senate vice president by Dr Muhammad Yunus Ibrahim.
Camille Robinson-Regis became Housing Minister, switching portfolios with Pennelope Beckles who became Planning Minister.
Opposition MPs have since left the parliamentary chamber upon Armour’s contributions, claiming him unsuitable.
In June a Miami-Dade Court disqualified him from representing TT in its civil lawsuit over the Piarco Airport corruption case, the court heeding complaints by defendants that Armour had used to be their defence counsel in criminal proceedings over the Piarco matter.
The polity was peppered by lawsuits by individuals claiming to be pursuing their legal rights.
Nunez-Tesheira took legal action as she complained about the holding of the PNM election over several days and alleged she was denied access to key election details such as voter lists.
Griffith’s lawsuit prevented Rowley laying in Parliament a report on the issuance of firearm user licences (FUL) under his tenure, amid media reports of allegations of bribery in the FUL process.
So, the past year has certainly been tumultuous one for the Government, navigating the pandemic including vaccination sceptics, running the country, and surviving the ups and downs of party politics, all against a backdrop of uncertainty of public revenues, people’s socio-economic well-being and even the weather.
Yet amid its challenges, the Government can at least compare itself favourably to the UK which in the past year has had three prime ministers – Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak.