Following the statements made by Mr. Maxie Cuffie during the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday (Thursday 7th January 2015), I am calling on the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, to remove him immediately from the post of Minister of Communications and replace him with someone who can respect the office of all Parliamentarians and their roles as elected representatives of the Citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Mr. Cuffie’s response to, or rather his dismissal of, questions surrounding the opening of the Couva Children’s Hospital demonstrates contempt, not only towards me as a Member of Parliament, but to the dozens of patients across the nation who are being deprived of a timely and efficient public health service, which the Couva complex can provide once its operations are commenced by the Government.
This attack however, is only the latest in a volley of attempts by the PNM to censor the Opposition and the media as they carry about the business of the people, untrammeled and unimpeded, since becoming the government of this nation. Not only have they sequestered the Cabinet members in an attempt to insulate themselves from public scrutiny, but now their appointed representative at the weekly press conference has openly expressed his decision to not respond to any questions or concerns that may have raised by Members of the Opposition. Such arrogance is reflective of an autocratic administration not seen since Mr. Patrick Manning served as Prime Minister, and may be indicative of a return to the imperial style of governance that the PNM have been synonymous with in the past.
While a “honeymoon” period is customary for all governments to become acquainted with their office, that time has now expired, and all Ministers should be held accountable to the public for the functions of their respective portfolios. During the term of the People’s Partnership administration, of which I was a Cabinet member, we strove to ensure that the media and the then PNM Opposition were afforded regular opportunities to raise their questions and concerns, which we respectfully acknowledged and furnished with timely and relevant information in the spirit of transparency and accountability. To this end, we incorporated an additional session within each Parliamentary sitting that allowed the Members of the Opposition to refer questions to the Prime Minister directly for immediate response, which was in addition to the already established tradition of Members being able to submit questions to Ministers regarding the Ministries and agencies under their purview. This was also in addition to the People’s Partnership’s commitment to maintaining a cordial relationship with the media, by inviting them to conduct interviews with all Ministers and government officials on a regular basis, in addition to having relevant Cabinet Members present at the weekly press conference, so that the reporters could engage with them directly on any matters being discussed.
Instead, the PNM has dispensed with the previous latitude the media had become accustomed to, and instead have created a system wherein they can control and divide the information that they release in an attempt that one can only assume is to conceal the facts of that which is taking place in the management of our country and our treasury. This becomes more apparent when placed in context of Mr. Cuffie’s pretext of the Opposition attempting to “sidetrack” the Government, when one considers that this administration has placed almost all substantive projects on hold due to extensive audits, and as such are basically twiddling their thumbs while the people are forced to wait and wonder when public ventures will resume.
As a politician that has served both in Government and in Opposition, I have always maintained a professional relationship with the media, to provide accountability to the people I represent and serve. This principle represents a cornerstone in the foundation of any democracy, and the PNM government should recognize and respect this axiom, lest heading towards an autocracy. I therefore call upon the Prime Minister to clearly define the relationship between his administration and the media, especially where it relates to any concerns raised by Members of the Opposition, or any individual or organization that disagrees with their decisions, and to remove the Minister of Communications, unless his position reflects that of the entire Government.
Dr. Fuad Khan
Member of Parliament for the Barataria/San Juan Constituency