Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 23rd 2015 Contents APRIL 2015 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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Addressing the People s National Move-
ment s (PNM) election candidates and
campaign managers in Maracas Valley,
St Joseph, on Saturday, the party s polit-
ical leader, Dr Keith Rowley, made a
point that should be central to the coun-
try s political discourse at this point.
Referring to the United National Con-
gress (UNC), the main party in the People s Partnership admin-
istration, Dr Rowley said: "...They have mishandled so much
public funds that they have enough to buy whatever they need
to be elected and our response to that is that the public is suf-
ficiently well informed to reject that approach of thieving and
buying an election and we believe in the innate decency of the
vast majority of our citizens who will make the right decision
to reject that sort of thing."
In deconstructing the speech of the PNM leader, it seems
that he was making the following points:
• That the UNC is corrupt because it has organised the award
of construction and other contracts to party financiers with
the clear understanding that a significant percentage of the
"profit" from those contracts would be kicked back to fund the
lifestyles of certain officials and the party s elections campaigns;
• That the public of T&T is aware of this attempt by the
UNC to buy the 2015 general election, would see the attempt
for what it is and would have no part of it;
• That it is the PNM s belief that an overwhelming majority
of the population of T&T are decent people who, as a result
of their principled upbringings, would refuse to be bought.
Now, in absolute fairness to both the Government and the
Opposition, the following points need to be made about the
address by Dr Rowley:
His reference to "the vast majority of our citizens" may
not be correct as the record of 60 years of universal adult
suffrage voting in T&T is that both major parties have their
core supporters who would vote for their party s representative
in their area if that person were a donkey or dead.
In other words, there is a group in this country who will vote
for the party that the prime minister represents even if she
were being led away in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit on
the eve of the general election. And there is a group of people
who would not vote for that party even if their lives and liveli-
hoods depended on it. Let s be real, here.
I believe, however, that Dr Rowley may have been referring
to the group of middle-income potential voters, educated to at
least tertiary level and comprising people from the country s
two major ethnicities, the mixtures and the minorities who live
in the handful of constituencies that are considered to be mar-
If Dr Rowley s argument is that this is the group that will
decide who administers T&T s resources from 2015 to 2020,
then he is, of course, absolutely correct;
Anyone who has read VS Naipaul s The Suffrage of Elvira
and The Mimic Men knows that T&T s politics has been corrupt
and rotten through and through from before Independence.
Many of those educated, middle-income, marginal-constituen-
cy-living people, of whom reference was made previously, would
argue, however, that the current administration has taken cor-
ruption to a whole different level compared with previous
That being said, unlike some sub-Saharan African states,
the current administration has been careful to ensure that its
corruption did not get to the stage where the quality of life of
the majority of people was affected.
The People s Partnership administration, therefore, has con-
tinued and added to the PNM s entitlement policies by ensuring
that at least half of each of the last five budgets has been
allocated to subsidies and transfers that fund education up to
tertiary level, healthcare, public housing, electricity, water, gaso-
line, public transport, fast ferries, cheap inter-island airfares
and a host of social programmes in order to improve, in the
short term, the quality of life of a majority of the population.
It seems to me---and while this may be controversial, I
believe it is true---that the public funds that the Government
intends to distribute to the population in 2015, in time for the
general election, are not the same funds that the UNC has
While the "mishandled" funds will be used to fund the general
election campaign, the Government has put itself in position
to distribute billions of dollars in back pay to public servants,
teachers, university lecturers and employees and others by June
or July by agreeing to 14 per cent wage hikes for public servants
It has also positioned itself to distribute billions of dollars
in payments from the Clico resolution to those who did not
accept the Government s 2012 offer and has promised to top
up those who did accept the offer. Both of those payments are
likely to be made before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar
rings the general election bell.
I may have missed it, of course, but I do not recall reading
or hearing that the PNM has questioned or complained about
either the 14 per cent wage hikes---and the resulting billions in
back pay---or the billions that will flow back to Clico policyholders
from the resolution of the January 2009 collapse of that storied
A rough estimate of the number of recipients in these two
sets of billion-dollar payments is that 38,000 public servants
and teachers will share the billions in back pay and some 15,000
policyholders will share the billions in Clico payments.
So, in my view, the question that Dr Rowley must ponder
is whether any members of the group to which reference was
made earlier---the educated, middle-income, multi-racial, mar-
ginal-constituency-living people---are likely to be among the
53,000 beneficiaries of either the back-pay billions or the Clico
I believe that there is no doubt that a significant percentage
of these so-called floating voters---those who I am convinced
will decide the outcome of the 2015 general election---will be
recipients of either the back-pay billions or the Clico payouts.
For me, it is inconceivable that these groups do not intersect
in some way.
The real question for Dr Rowley to consider, therefore, is
whether the Clico policyholders---and those public servants and
teachers who are due to receive both billions in back pay and
higher salaries as a result of direct Government policy---would
feel and demonstrate political gratitude to the People s Partnership
Are the estimated 53,000 recipients of Government back pay
and Clico payouts---both timed to coincide with the calling of
the general election---likely to hold their noses from the stench
emanating from the corrupt Augean stables of the UNC and
vote back in the party?
Are the estimated 53,000 recipients of Government back pay
and Clico payouts likely to ignore the many missteps of the
Government---Reshmi, Section 34, prisongate and emailgate,
etc---and the degradation of the country s public affairs (up to
and including Vernella Alleyne-Toppin), while cashing their
Government or Central Bank cheques?
Or is Dr Rowley right to believe in "the innate decency of
the vast majority of our citizens who will make the right decision
to reject that sort of thing" by taking the back pay and the
Clico money and voting against the UNC?
I am quite convinced that these two payments---plus the dis-
tribution of 100 state-built houses a week---are likely to be
important in the upcoming general election. Only time will tell
how important and whether the 2015 general election will be
similar to the 1981 poll---before which there were generous dis-
tributions of both back pay and public houses.
If I am right that the payments will be important, can Dr
Rowley build an election campaign that ignores the fact that
thousands of public servants, teachers and Clico policyholders
will receive windfalls from the Government/Central Bank. Or
can the PNM campaign seek to delegitimize and downplay the
importance of those payments?
I am on record, in this space, as stating that those payments
have the potential to be calamitous to the T&T economy if the
appropriate investment instruments and policies are not put
in place, and in time, to ensure that this flood of money does
not create a tsunami of inflation, which will be inevitably
followed by an earthquake of currency depreciation.
Will either Dr Rowley or Finance Minister Larry Howai read
from my hymnbook---the former by casting aspersions on the
disastrous impact of the payouts and the latter by putting in
place the investment instruments and policies to save the T&T
Or will both men ignore the analysis in this space and suffer
the predictable consequences?
And, anyway, should the so-called floating voters cast their
ballots for the PNM without having a very clear idea of how
that party intends to manage T&T s resources differently to the
Is Dr Rowley right
about 'buy elections'?
PNM political leader, Dr Keith Rowley
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