Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Most Trinis will understand the question. For those readers of this blog who are not Trinidadians (and, yes, there are quite a few) what happened in 1986 was that the then PNM Government which had won every single election was severely routed in that year’s general election, losing 33 of the 36 seats in Parliament. (Indeed, there are some who say that they lost Patrick Manning’s seat as well making it a loss of 34 seats, but that it was then Prime Minister A.N.R Robinson who prevented a recount thus saving Manning’s bacon.)

It was pretty clear to most observers for at least two years before the 1986 elections that the mighty PNM was losing support at a hitherto unprecedented rate. By March 1986 it was clear that then Prime Minister George Chambers had run out of steam and that the PNM was going down whenever he decided to call an election. The unions were marching. People were complaining bitterly about everything under the sun. The newspapers were highly critical of the Government. For example, one of the issues then was the amount of vagrants that were on the streets; the Daily Express newspaper ran a “vagrant of the day” picture every day in a prominent position in the newspaper … and many of the Ministers were perceived either as arrogant or corrupt or both! During the election campaign in December of that year one of the less competent Ministers, Desmond Cartey, stood up on an election platform and proclaimed to the world that “all ah we t’ief!” What he meant was that the allegations of corruption were unfair as during the oil boom of the late seventies and the early eighties that there many, many citizens who had cheated in one way or the other, e.g. non-payment of taxes, evading customs duties, overcharging for goods and services, etc. But his most unfortunate turn of phrase was seized upon by opponents of the Government as an admission of guilt (which in a very real way, it was) and is still remembered today some twenty-four years later!

Fast forward to today: What do we have happening? The unions are acting up. The Public Service Association (PSA) has booted out its old executive which was blatantly pro-PNM and replaced it with an executive which (for the time being at least) is fiercely independent of all political parties and which is simply refusing to go along with the Government’s plan to revise the Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise by merging them into one authority. The PSA is promising some “serious heat” after Carnival. The powerful Oilfield and Workers Trade Union (OWTU) is also most unhappy with what is going on in the State owned oil company, Petrotrin, where layoffs are being contemplated.

Mr. Manning’s present team of Ministers, with a few notable exceptions, have left a bit to be desired. In a recent debate in the House of Representatives concerning the most contentious property tax, one junior Minister offended just about everybody by declaring that people had been “living off the fat of the land” and it was high time that they started to pay their way. He later attempted to explain this foolish statement away and tried to put a spin on it by saying that he was misquoted. Of course, nobody bought it. This followed a most embarrassing gaffe by the Sports Minister Gary Hunt concerning the erection of a $2 million flag at the national stadium. Mr. Hunt at first attempted to say that the flag only cost about $18 thousand. When the total cost of the flag installation came out ($2 million), the country erupted in anger. Then, four months later, Mr. Hunt, in a prime time television appearance, inexplicably raised the whole issue again by proffering a rather half hearted apology for the mistake and promising that it would never happen again. What?

The Opposition led by the formidable Jack Warner, immediately demanded his resignation. In a First World or developed country, this would have happened a long time ago. But Prime Minister Manning has defended his Minister and suggested that the nation should now “move on”.
Then there are water woes. The Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) has declared that because of a drier than usual rainy season our dams are at critical levels and all the signs are that we will experience a drier than usual dry season. Accordingly, WASA has ordered that there be severe restrictions on the use of water (no washing cars, watering lawns, etc.). On Wednesday (10th February) the Daily Express published a full front page picture of the very green Prime Minister’s residence lawn being cheerfully watered with sprinklers. The gardeners were promptly blamed and fired! But then we are regaled with a story (again in the Express) that President Max Richards’ gardeners having been doing the same thing! Most Trinis are finding it difficult to accept that ultimate blame in these stories do not lie elsewhere.

But the point here is not about water or the lack of it or Ministerial incompetence (real or imagined) or about perceived corruption. What I am trying to say is that there is a lot of grumbling on the ground. On top of that, Kamla Persad-Bissessar is presenting herself quite successfully as a credible alternative to the Manning regime. This factor, more than anything else, is making people think very carefully about where they will put their “X” next time in the coming election which is a little more than two years away. Put another way, the coming election, for the moment at least, is Kamla’s to lose. There are too many similarities between what is happening now and what happened before the 1986 elections for any PNM supporter to feel sanguine about his Party’s chances of success at the coming polls. Not only to me, but to many people who I have been talking to, the country appears to be in “1986 mode”. Can this change? Oh yes! Will it? I don’t know. Based on present performance, the PNM has a lot of work to do.

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