I have read with great interest the Terrence Farrell two part EXPRESS NEWSPAPER series on the leadership and performance of the Hon Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar. From his perspective, it will appear that she has been a poor leader and a non-performer. If this were so, how is it that the economic and financial fundamentals reveal a country that has progressed since May 24 2010 and that has remained politically and financially stable despite having to deal with the $24 billion CL FINANCIAL sink hole inherited when she came into office. Had this country not been well managed over the past five years and had there not been fiscal discipline, the situation today would have been far different. I am the first one to admit that we have made errors but the mark of a successful leader is to admit the error, learn from it and rise above it. In this regard, Mrs Bissessar has always had the humility to admit her errors and has continued to have a very high favourable rating of her leadership from the many polls conducted over her term in office.
As it stands, T&T has an import cover of at least thirteen months, a Foreign Exchange balance of US 10 Billion and a heritage fund balance of over $5 billion US. Inflation remains single digit and unemployment is under 5%. The demand for middle income housing continues to be high, keeping the construction sector buoyant and as well the purchase of new and foreign used vehicles registered 33,826 in 2014, up almost 7,000 over 2013. Foreign investment continues to come to TT. All of this suggests that there is confidence in the future of TT and that the vision of the Hon PM of “prosperity for all” is being realized. In this regard, the poverty rate has also declined. To suggest that the PM had no vision for TT is being deliberately “cokey eyed”.
For example in terms of her vision, education has been a core element of the many strategic initiatives taken to empower the citizenry. Whether it is the distribution of 95,000 laptops to students ( now every child from Frm1 to Form 5 has a computer) and teachers or the provision of 36,000 spaces for early childhood education (including the building of 53 new Early Childhood Centers), thereby achieving universal childhood education, or whether it is the reduction in serious crimes by close to 50%, (barring the murders), to the non- partisan onlooker, leadership and vision has been a feature of the PM’s tenure. It is also to her credit that she has kept a coalition together for five years. Obviously it takes leadership, negotiation skills and interpersonal adeptness to have achieved this.
Mr Farrell also comments on her moral stature. Where was the morality when Ministers and State Officials would be accused of wrongdoing and instead of removing them, they were either promoted or the voices of the people would have been ignored. Today, persons accused of wrongdoing under the PNM are afraid to return to TT. Where Mr Farrell is the morality when the Maha Sabha was denied a radio license but one was granted to a PNM Official within a week? Kamla Persad Bissessar’s track record for upholding integrity in public life has been well demonstrated and documented in terms of the decisions she took to remove Ministers and State Officials. No Prime Minister has gone the distance she has gone to protect integrity in public life, nor has fulfilled as she has done, her duty as leader having sworn to the oath to act without fear or favour. No doubt she continues to hold a clear distance in national popularity compared to Dr Rowley.
Her vision for providing better health care has seen many impactful initiatives. Following her visit to China, arrangements were made to have a team of brain surgeons come to TT to perform complex brain surgeries. Today many patients can testify to the success of this program, as well as the program to reduce the backlog of surgeries by partnering with the private sector hospitals. On the urging of the PM, 41 health centers are now open longer hours and as late as nine pm in strategically located communities so as to increase the availability of primary health care closer to their residences and also reduce the pressure on the hospitals. The teaching hospital has been opened in San Fernando with 216 additional beds, 108 are for paediatrics. The El Dorado Nursing Academy has also been opened, the facilities at the Sangre Grande Hospital have been expanded, the Arima and Point Fortin Hospitals are about to start. Needless to say, the long awaited oncology center is under construction after almost a decade of delays.
It will be interesting for Mr Farrell to also examine what was the state of the drilling program prior to 2010 and what is it today, including the number of rigs now engaged in drilling activities. In the midst of all of the work that has been done to resuscitate the economy, the ease of doing business has been drastically improved and was recently lauded by International rating agencies. Change in the country has also been reflected in the vision for rural reconstruction and the implications of this for a broader and more balanced geographic distribution of the wealth of the country and the creation of opportunities for rural communities. In reading Mr Farrell, I wondered how come he was a stranger to all that is happening around him.
It is unfortunate that a distinguished and generally well respected person like Terrence Farrell could have fallen victim to the propaganda of the PNM thereby losing his regard for rationality and balance, the marks of a true professional.
Deputy Political Leader United National Congress