Anyone tuned in to the ebb and flow of current-day politics in Trinidad and Tobago would be aware that for at least three years now, it’s been known that the 2015 general election, now scheduled for Sept. 7, would be a significant marker in the country’s political evolution. That’s because for at least three years, the regime voted into office by a comfortable margin in 2010 has been on a self-destructive course, the comfort zone of that champagne time in 2010 now but a misty memory. A term of office marred by unabashed power abuse excesses and runaway corruption would do that to any government. And so has it been for the crew led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, creating a level of dysfunction in the government ranks that has added potboiler elements to this election season.
It need not have been this way for Bissessar and her government. Patrick Manning, her predecessor in office, had clearly outlived his usefulness by the time he called that 2010 election, half-way through his administration’s term. A ridiculous then-existing culture within the Manning-led People’s National Movement (PNM) allowed Manning to hold on to the party leadership, even as his role at the helm obviously could mean nothing but disaster for the party. Bissessar, heading a coalition cobbled together, was the beneficiary of a head-strong Manning’s channeling of imperialistic style authority. Meaning, she had only to be the “un-Manning” to sail effortlessly and successfully through the five-year term handed to her on a platter.
Instead, Bissessar proceeded to lead a government that has been riddled with scandal, a government that has shown a jaw-dropping disregard for playing by the rules. Our characterization here, several times previously, of the Bissessar administration as the most blatantly corrupt the country has ever had, is a call one makes without fear of (unbiased) contradiction. There has been an overall recklessness in the manner of discharging the government’s responsibilities to the people that was a dramatic departure from tradition, only, unfortunately, hardly for the better. Some of the more shocking examples of this indifference to process and / or guidelines have had their day in the swirl of controversy, whether concerning hiring practices, award of contracts or any other cavalier misuses of the privilege of governance.
One area where the classless flaunting of governmental authority was regularly paraded and was perhaps the ultimate unready for prime time knock on the government, was in the conduct of parliamentary business. Many were probably not surprised at how this played out, once Bissessar handed the speaker’s job to a party hack upon whom she could depend to toe the party line, come what may. This ongoing sorry exercise reached its nadir a few months ago when a government member was allowed to mercilessly slander Leader of the Opposition Dr. Keith Rowley in a personal attack that would have landed the member in court for defamation, had the diatribe occurred outside of Parliament. Obviously pre-arranged within the government caucus, the disgusting display went down with the complicity of the lackey masquerading as speaker and with Bissessar mysteriously exiting the chamber just before it began. For a second act, the government used its majority to suspend Rowley, in the process trampling all over constitutional limits and parliamentary protocol.
The Bissessar administration has also made history, of a kind one would prefer kept under wraps, in the virtual revolving door of cabinet appointees that has existed for five years. Early on, the prime minister pointed to the glut of personnel changes as a feather in her cap — an indication she was prone to act whenever those situations warranted. With time, and changes occurring faster than folks could or cared to keep track, the Bissessar defense and diversion became ever more threadbare. That she was of a piece with whom she identified as transgressing colleagues became increasingly common consensus.
Further complicating things for the prime minister has been the presence in the mix of one Jack Warner. Facing problems of his own from his alleged FIFA-related wrongdoing, Warner, once bosom buddies with Bissessar, is now sworn enemies with her and her party. And he is committed, he says, to hanging out as much dirty linen on Bissessar and her posse as he’s aware of. No one should doubt Warner’s being in possession of lots of stuff on this regime, he having reportedly been its principal financier in 2010 and a cabinet member until they parted ways in 2013. When, for instance, Warner confirms what was all along surmised in the public square — that kickbacks were standard operating procedure in the Bissessar government — Warner ought to know.
Whatever Bissessar figured to be irritants in her path as she aimed for a re-do of 2010, chances are today’s terrain isn’t quite what was expected.