A COMMENTARY BY SURUJ RAMBACHAN MINISTER OF WORKS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Like me many of you would have been following the political happenings over the life of the current PP Administration. Coming into office with a Constitutional majority, the population gave a mandate to the Kamla Persad Bissessar led administration to effect changes and bring about a better Trinidad and Tobago.The population was fed up of the arrogance of the PNM and particularly of the then Prime Minister Patrick Manning as well as many of his Ministers. In effect, the people wanted a change not only to get more productive use of the nation’s resources but also a leadership that understood the plight of the people and which leadership would have the courage to effect change. The citizenry has begun to assess whether the PP Government deserves another term in Office.
In looking at the performance of the PP administration, there is no doubt that in terms of delivery of infrastructure as well as the management of the economy, the current administration has done exceedingly well. To have returned the country to growth in GDP following several years of decline, as well as to manage the finances of the country away from disaster following the CLICO and HCU debacles, and yet grow the economy, keep inflation at a single digit level and unemployment at an average of 5% is a remarkable example of good management. But in addition the country now has an import cover of above ten months as well as foreign reserves and savings in the Heritage and Stabilization Fund of approximately US$5,154.0 million, (32.985 Billion TT dollars). These statistics point to a leadership and management of the economy which remained cognizant of the volatility of the world economy and choose a path that ensured both financial stability and economic growth.
The stability of the country is reflected in the fact that TT continues to attract foreign direct investment as well as investment in the energy sector. Investors do not come to your country unless they feel safe and feel assured that their investments are being made in a country that will enjoy political and economic stability over the short and medium term at least.
It is interesting that while opponents of the PP Government paint a picture of gloom and doom, motor vehicle sales are up, leisure and entertainment services are enjoying a boom period, bank profits are up and the private sector conglomerates continue to report profitability on an annual basis. To add a bit of salt to the discussion TT is seen by Johnnie Walker Black as one of its most lucrative markets, marked by the recent visit of the Voyager. As an observation, I am yet to see a bar in Chaguanas or on Ariapita Avenue or in Penal empty on weekends. People are spending money because they are earning money! And to demonstrate that people have money and are making money, the demand for houses between 750,000 and 1.5 million continues to be high!
The PP Government came into office determined to correct the imbalance between rural and urban development and as well to bring government closer to the people. There has never been an era in the political history of TT when citizens have felt as free to criticise and /or support the political parties of their choice as has occurred under the leadership of Kamla Persad Bissessar. The proliferation of talk shows on both radio and TV has never been as numerous or as animated as over the last four years. Even the newspapers have shown on which side of the political fence they stand, a right to which they are entitled. The essential point is that freedom of speech has been fully supported by the government.
The PP has differentiated itself from the PNM in several important ways. Highly visible amongst these is the replacement of the thrust to build big buildings to the thrust to build institutions which empower the citizens and contribute to a sustainable economy and society. AS such the UWI South Campus, the El Dorado Nursing Academy and Allied Health Training Institute, The San Fernando Teaching Hospital, the Couva Children’s Hospital, the 74 new ECCE Centers and Secondary and Primary Schools constructed are all testimony of a fundamental shift in how this government has been responding to the needs of its citizens.
In the field of sports the country’s sportsmen have enjoyed better success that ever before compared to any similar four year period. This is due in no small measure to the people centered development of potential vision of the government. Soon the aquatic center in Couva will be completed. While this mega project is being done, the government has responded to the needs of the sporting communities across the country by building close to 100 new pavilions as well as illuminating over 100 playgrounds. This feat is unparalleled in this country under any administration and reveals that this administration is intent upon correcting the imbalances in the way development and distribution of resources proceeded under the PNM.
Traffic congestion and ease of commuting is one of the perennial complaints of the population. This administration has completed several projects aimed at alleviating the traffic woes and has a number in the pipeline. Who can forget the torture on both mornings and evenings at the Couva Flyover, now a thing of the past. Who can forget the pile up and back up on the highway at Freeport Flyover which has now been considerably reduced. Who can forget the new bridge at St Helena as well as the St Helena Bye-pass road to Piarco Airport which has made the journey to Piarco through Kelly Village easier. Who can forget the Golconda to Debe section of the hew highway which has reduced the congestion coming out of Penal and Debe on to the highway. Who can forget the completion of the Uriah Butler Interchange? To come over the next few months are the following:
- the completion of the expansion of the Diego Martin Highway
- the completion of the new Valencia Bye pass road to Sangre Grande
- the start-up of the Curepe Interchange
- the opening of the St Marys to Mon Desir section of the new Highway to Pint Fortin as well as the first phase of the very highway from Dunlop roundabout in Pt Fortin to No 8 Road.
- the completion of the Trincity bridge expansion, a nightmare to motorists
- the rebuilding of eleven major bridges over the next twelve to fifteen months across the country.
It might be argued that the government has not been doing well on the matter of crime. The statistics show that serious crimes have been falling dramatically. However, the murder rates continue to be a challenge. Because murders are so high profile it tends to deflate the other successes we are having on the crime front. But even as we discuss crime the nation is challenged by a wave of deviancy at the level of our schools, high amongst them is bullying. The government is not unaware of these matters at our schools and we will have to take, in my view, a stronger stand on deviancy in schools. Legislation to make parents share the burden of punishment must be enforced! This is one area where citizens want a more firm hand from the government and one which I support as a Member of Parliament. Despite the challenges of a higher murder count, the government has shown great resilience and courage and continues through improved intelligence to achieve many drug busts as well as for the first time the Police arrested and charged a gang leader under the Anti-Gang Act. It is comforting that the Magistracy has been increasing the fines on persons charged and found guilty for DUI offences.
Food Production has improved under this administration, but I am of the view that those who collect the data on food production are lapsing. There is no shortage of fresh vegetables in this country! I am also of the firm opinion that the Central bank in its measurement of GDP is ignoring several areas of growth in the country especially in the services sector and in rural development. While there are complaints by the banks that lending is not as high as they wish it to be, is it possible that businessmen are using cash generated from their businesses to expand their investments rather than borrow at high rates compared to what they get for leaving money in the banks. The Central Bank should do a study on this matter as well as review how it measures GDP. This economy may be faring much better than the statistics suggest.
In terms of governance let us be fair to the government and to the leadership of the current Prime Minister. Criticize it as you wish, but the PM was awarded a Democracy Medal for adhering to the Constitution and holding elections as they became due, win lose or draw. The Government elected a President who was accepted by the entire nation. The government has maintained the separation of powers and has adhered to the rule of law. The PM has faced a major no confidence debate on her leadership and won hands down despite the attempts to undermine her leadership by the opposition. On the international front the PM (whether it was at the United Nations or at the Commonwealth) has flown with distinction the flag of TT and has won the admiration of world leaders. The visit by very high officials from China and the USA as well as the desire by Latin nations for stronger ties to this country supports the conclusion that the PM deserves an “A” for foreign affairs.
On another point, the relations between Church and State has been very cordial. While there existed in the past administrations a person in charge of ecclesiastical affairs, the PM has made real the quality of the Church/State relationship by financially supporting the various groups and as well engaging in conversations as are required for the moral health of the nation. The creation of the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism was a great political stroke in that it helped to define the philosophy of this govt with respect to the acceptance of multiculturalism and space for all.
There are other areas where the quality of governance stands out. These would include the work of the Ministry of the People, the Children’s Lifer Fund and the laptops for secondary school students program.
All in all the PP Administration has been doing well. People complain about the fact that the govt is not communicating its achievements and delivery. I disagree. There are elements in this society from day one of the term of office of the PP who were vex that PNM had lost the elections and wanted the PP to fail. The PP has met these challenges from its opponents head on. When it was necessary to debate the no confidence motion we debated it. When it was necessary to fire Ministers and Board Officials the PM did it without fear or favour. Though bloodied and bandaged at times, the govt has come out of the hardest of times. It is again on the rise, a rise inspired by the people of this nation who have now concluded that this is a government for the people!