Monday, June 25, 2012
Okay! Here we go again with a reshuffled Cabinet that held one or two mild surprises. The biggest surprise was also the most important appointment ... that of banker Larry Howai to be the new Minister of Finance in place of Winston Dookeran, who goes to Foreign Affairs. On the one hand, Mr. Howai's appointment has been greeted by most members of the business and banking communities with a large degree of happiness. The business people look at how Mr. Howai is reputed to have turned First Citizens Bank around and are obvioulsy hoping that he can and will do the same for our troubled economy. The banking community is thrilled that one of their own is in charge of the economy. Either way it appears to be a "win/win" situation.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, while I personally have a great deal of respect for Mr. Howai and like him a lot, I am not certain that he is exactly "what the doctor ordered" at this time. Or, to put it another way, I am not certain that he wouldn't have been a better "fit", say, as Governor of the Central Bank, a post that is becoming vacant fairly soon. You see, at the end of the day a Minister of Finance is a politician. And a good politician has to be able to sell his policies to the population at large. If the politician comes up with excellent policies for, say, the economy, but is unable to convince the general population that his policies will work and that we will all be better off, then no matter what, the population will refuse to swallow whatever bitter medicine that the politician wishes to hand out or believes to be necessary. A classic example of this was when President George Bush (the first) was forced to raise taxes when he had promised that he wouldn't. He did the right thing economically for his country, but the electorate punished him by voting him out because they didn't understand why he had to raise taxes.
Now, I have never met a banker who is a good salesman. The truth is that they don't need to be. They have a product that everybody wants and needs: money! They are accustomed to sit in their airconditioned offices, drink coffee, and wait for the grovelling hordes to come to their tables to beg for a few crumbs. Further, Trini bankers in particular are notorious for offering their customers an umbrella when the sun is shining and taking it away as soon as there is a hint of rain.
Well, there is more than a hint of rain in our economic skies. Some would even say that the drizzling that started a few years ago is threatening to turn into a downpour! Mr. Howai is going to discover fairly soon that he doesn't only have to please the bankers and the rich businessmen, but he also has to please the man in the the street who has been seeing his life get harder and more expensive and jobs beginning to decrease. He is going to have to come up with 'out-of-the-box' thinking, for even if assuming (though not accepting) that his predecessor's policies were the right ones, he will have to get the country to accept them ... a task at which the inarticulate Mr. Dookeran failed hopelessly. In other words, he is going to have to persuade the electorate as a whole (and not just the bankers and businessmen) that he has the country on the right track. This will be difficult when, for example, my favourite doubles vendor complained to me on Sunday that his little business was down from two years ago and he now has to work seven days a week (he used to take Mondays off). It's difficult to find a smaller businessman than a doubles vendor!
So, let's see what will happen. Only the most churlish will not wish Mr. Howai well. But only the most foolish will not realise that he has a heck of a mountain to climb and that he is going to have to use skills that he never had to use when he was a banker ... that is, of course, if he wants to be a successful Minister of Finance!
And turning quickly to the second most important change ... Mr. Jack Warner as National Security Minister ... it is going to be interesting to see how Mr. Warner, probably the Caribbean's most adept, adaptable and competent politician, will handle this poisoned chalice. For make no mistake, if he fails at this his reputation as a "can-do" guy will certainly take a big "hit". On the other hand, if he does make a noticable dent in crime then Mr. Warner's reputation in this country will be higher than the mountain tops regardless of whatever Mr. Blatter, FIFA or anybody else might choose to throw at him.
So, the race is on once more, the "horses" having been on hold for more than a month. In the coming weeks and months we'll begin to get a pretty good picture of whether or not this particular 'race' will produce the results that we all so desperately crave.
P.S. Proven performers to watch: Vasant Bharath at Trade; Ganga Singh at Environment.
Posted by Robin Montano at 2:23 PM
Thursday, June 21, 2012
A number of my friends and followers have been asking why I haven't written anything in this blog for the last month or so. The answer is simply because I regard everything that has happened recently as really worth nothing and, quite frankly, beneath the value of commentary. For example, Ms. Nalini Dial's rant on Facebook about the terrible murder of the daughter of Ms. Marlene Coudray was crass, low and absolutely contemptible and certainly not worth the amount of publicity that it was given.
In another vein, the resignation of Mr. David Abdullah and the withdrawal of his "Party" the MSJ from the Government received a heck of a lot of publicity but really and truly in terms of the overall effect on the politics of this country amount to less than "diddley-squat". I had put the word "Party" in inverted comma's in the last sentence when I referred to the MSJ because the truth is that as of today (and yesterday and probably tomorrow) the MSJ couldn't make its deposit in any constituency in good old T&T. The "Party" is a one dimensional collection of labour leaders who "get high on their own supply" and have am inflated sense of their own self importance. They have absolutely no solutions for the better governance of this country save and except that in their view workers are not given their fair share of the national pie or cake. The time to pay attention to the pronouncements of the MSJ (or indeed any political party worthy of the name) is when it can command the support of a reasonable section of the electorate. Until then .... well, the least said is probably the better.
Frankly, what I have been waiting for (like the rest of the country) is the impending Cabinet reshuffle which is due out now, maybe even today. And, like most persons the office that I shall be looking at the most is that of the Ministry of Finance. For make no mistake, this impending reshuffle can make or break Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's government. Although she has three years left, the truth is that after next year people's attitudes will begin to harden, and even if, say, by year five, things start to turn around, history has shown that the electorate will punish the government by voting them out. And the only way to turn things around is to improve the economy or at least make people believe and accept that what is being done is the best that can be done in all of the circumstances ... a task that the inarticulate Winston Dookeran has patently failed to do. Look, Mr. Dookeran may have been a very good Finance Minister and he may have done the best that he could in all of teh circumstances. I personally, don't think so, but there are a lot of people who disagree with me on this. But this is not my point here. My point is that he has failed to convince the country that what is being done is the absolute best that could possibly be done in all of the circumstances. Even those who disagree with me on his actual performance agree with me on this. And the art of politics is being able to persuade people to follow you on a particular matter (or matters).
So we will all find out fairly soon what the Prime Minister has in her mind and what she is going to do. It is clear that whatever her faults, the Prime Minister does understand the value of timing. The fact that she has had us all on hold for all this time shows at the very least that the lady has political courage and understands the game of political brinkmanship better than most.
Posted by Robin Montano at 10:00 AM