A Commentary by Suruj Rambachan MP, Minister of Works and Infrastructure
Despite the myriad of challenges confronting the PP Government, there is absolutely no question that the government has been demonstrating resilience and continues to meet its objective of prosperity for all. The “nay sayers” and unrepentant critics of the PP government remain in denial mode about the performance of the government but more particularly about its staying power. It is to the credit of the Hon Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar that she has successfully held together a coalition to the amazement of the political scribes who do not have the generosity of mind to credit her with her astuteness as a political leader of a coalition.
In an environment of greater political accountability which is a citizen value promoted by the PP Government and the Prime Minister, the public search lights have been fully switched on to examine the way the government operates and the public has therefore had a major role to play in the process of governance, which hitherto has not been a feature of government in T&T. This has been occasioned by the leadership style of the PM who believes in listening to public opinion, consulting and building consensus. But above all, she has stated that doing right whatever the political cost is her mantra. For those who claimed to have voted for change, this is a perfect example of qualitative and process change that has occurred under this government.
Even in matters of major legislation, including the Procurement Bill, the Government has engaged in wide consultation and has even let the Bill lapse so as to accommodate the views of the Opposition. This indeed is “new politics” and exists because of the new “human beings” in the seat of government, human beings who understand the cry of the citizens for greater participation in how they are governed. This government has been cautious on the side of favouring public views and opinions rather than on the side of what the government thinks is right. It is a form of governance rather alien to our culture but it has elevated public participation in governance to a new level. This is change in action.
The manifestation of this is in the fearless manner with which people in T&T express their opinions, whether on radio, in newspapers or during public consultations. The expression of such strong views is being regarded by the Opposition as dislike of the government. One should not mistake a difference in opinion to be dislike. The new political and culture is one in which the people see a Government as acting on their behalf and as such want through dialogue and questioning to be involved in how those decisions that are to be implemented are arrived at. They want to part of government. This is a culture promoted by this Government and it is one of the pillars upon which the PP govt was voted into office .There is nothing wrong with this but equally it does not mean that because they disagree that they are against the Government. What this government is doing is giving value to the opinions of all citizens and in the process has broadened the “governing” group in the society much to the joy of the people.
No government has allowed for as much participation and consensus building as this one. No government has been in touch with the people as the PP Government, the most recent example of keeping in touch being the National Conversations of the PM. Under this government consultation and participation has been taken to new heights. In addition, transparency and openness has been another feature of the operations of the PP Government. The most recent example is the laying on the Parliament table the report of the Life Sport Audit and as well making it immediately available to the media. This is change in action, a fact that has not been acknowledged by the media scribes.
In parliament the government has been answering over 90% of questions filed by the Opposition, a far cry from what the PNM used to do by deferring answers until the questions lapsed. Answering questions is not only strengthening democracy and open government but it also demonstrates one aspect of the philosophy of the PP Gov’t which is transparency. This will further be strengthened by the introduction of the new standing orders in the new term beginning August 2014, when the PM will also answer questions on the floor of the Parliament. This is change in action. It is the first time since we have had a Parliament that the standing orders have been reviewed with significant changes for the way the country will be governed. This speaks volumes for the widening of the philosophy of participation and meeting the needs of the citizens in the context of how decisions are made and implemented at the level of parliament and the ministries. It is only because this government and the PM cares about the rights of citizens that such radical changes to the standing orders have been made.
In all of this the PP has been engaged in a process of giving value to the citizenry. This is different to adding value to the quality of life citizens enjoy, which incidentally is also a major goal of the PP Government. It is important that in the process of governance that citizens are given a sense of value. This is best done by listening to them and valuing their opinions. The encouragement of this has produced a robust dialogue between government and citizenry. This has been done in an atmosphere that lacks rancour, fear and intimidation. No one has been dismissed from their jobs as a result of having a contrary view or as a result of being critical of the government to the point even of libel and slander.
There are many other ways in which the citizens have been given value. Amongst these are the introduction of the Children’s Life Fund, the strategies to reduce poverty, the building of Early childhood schools leading to universal early childhood education, increase in GATE and national scholarships thus empowering more young people, increase in old age pension, changes to the national insurance scheme including lengthening the period of leave for maternity, more letters of comfort, more persons now receiving pipe borne water, 216 more beds in San Fernando Hospital, physical decentralization of number of institutions for tertiary and technical education, more support for our NGO’s particularly our religious and social institutions, improvement to physical infrastructure and cheaper loans for first time home-owners at 2% interest rate amongst others.
The PP gov’t is in a good position to say “We Value to Our Citizens.”