By Carlton Joseph
On Monday last, voters in Trinidad and Tobago decided to buck the current trend in the region of removing the incumbent government. Instead, they voted for the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) government to stay in power. Much of the campaign focused on rising violent crime, the COVID-19 crisis and on immigration from Venezuela.
The Opposition United National Congress (UNC) proposed giving the army the power of arrest to deal with rising gang violence and the PNM proposed building more police stations across the two main islands. Both parties have had the opportunity to deal with rising gang violence and they have both failed to bring it under control. The UNC held power from 2010 to 2015 and the PNM from 2015 to present. They will not solve gang violence unless they seriously tackle to problem of extreme poverty in a land of plenty.
On the COVID -19 pandemic, UNC leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar, seems to be ingratiating herself with US President Trump, claiming that “we live in the tropics and the climate we have is one of the best in the world and that sunlight will kill COVID” she also modified US President Trump’s slogan saying ” Make T & T Great Again.” A true copycat,she even went to rallies and did not wear a mask. I am amazed at her ignorance and arrogance.
On the issue of Venezuelan Immigration,the UNC, in an advertisement, proposed creating a dome around T&T “to protect the country from all illegal outsiders and activity.” The ad claimed that the party,if elected, would have the dome “partly operational within one month and fully operational in six months.” Social media went ballistic with this proposal.
Readers should check out the Global Voices article: One party promises to build a dome to limit illegal outsiders. The comments following this article are serious and hilarious. One commentator suggested: “A whole new set of jobs to be created. Dome operator; Dome inspector; Dome janitor; Dome developer; Dome manager; Dome attendant; Dome support officers .” Another comment drew the parallel to US President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. “Who paying for the Dome? Venezuela?” Check out the social media comments, if you need a good laugh.
The election results reveal that the country’s major problem is racism with both parties holding on to their “safe seats,” except in Moruga, where preliminary figures showed PNM’S Winston “Gypsy” Peters losing to UNC’s Michelle Benjamin. This loss is especially serious since Peters is a calypsonian and is supposed to represent the “voice of the people.” Reports from many in the fraternity reveal that Gypsy did not deliver to the people or to the fraternity. He apparently will not be missed.
Based on advertisements, and speeches during the campaign, I am surprised that the UNC retained their seats and gained one additional seat. As mentioned earlier, both parties are incapable of solving the crime problem. The COVID-19 issue was a non issue since the PNM government had done an extremely good job at containing the virus. In fact, Oxford University researchers released a report, which provided “a cross-national overview of which countries meet four of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) six recommendations for relaxing physical distancing measures”. On the list, Trinidad and Tobago ranked second just after Vietnam.
On the issue of Venezuelan immigration, the dome idea was nonsensical and seem to be based on fictional movies. Even if it was possible, Trinbago does not have the technical knowledge, technology or the expertise to develop, design and construct such a dome.
In a final message to supporters, Persad-Bissessar advised them to “Just go brave, put God in front and let’s walk behind. We fought a good fight. However, tonight I am not giving a concessionary speech. I am not conceding. Our candidates in several marginals are filing for recounts and only then we can concede. Go brave, we fought a good fight and we will continue to go and fight.”
Prime Minister Rowley addressed the nation saying: “The future in T&T is bright. We have difficult days ahead but as dark showers will bring thunder and lightning, after that there is bright sunshine. The passage of the storm is to survive and then enjoy the good weather.”
He also hinted that the next five years will be his last term in political office and he planned to hand the mantle to young politicians whom he has been mentoring. He urged the country to “go back to being one people” the priority now must be to ensure that no one is left behind and that those least able to take care of themselves must be looked after. He also vowed to digitize the country and expand the economy in agriculture.
After living in the Trump world for the past four years listening to the concession and acceptance speeches was a “breath of fresh air.” Both leaders were lucid and respectful and the democratic process was completed without the accusations of fraud or corruption.
Prime Minister Rowley must now keep his promises and ensure that no one is left behind. I believe that he is in the ideal position to make this happen. He is not seeking reelection and must make decisions that will benefit the people of the country.
Trinidad’s oil and gas resources have long given its citizens one of the highest standards of living in the Americas. But the economy contracted in seven of the last ten years and is smaller now than it was in 2008. COVID-19 will shrink the economy further. The lockdown has resulted in an increase of domestic violence and last year the country reported 539 homicides.
Dr. Rowley must focus on opening the economy carefully to ensure that when it opens, it remains open. He should quickly finalize the sale of Pointe-a-Pierre refinery to the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU). This plant has been shut down since 2018. The the longer it stays closed the greater the damage to the equipment and assets of the refinery. OWTU could end up with the proverbial “White elephant.” This will not be in the best interest of the citizens, the government or OWTU.
Finally, congratulations to Dr. Rowley and the PNM. I believe that the party deserved to win the election based on its handling of the pandemic and because the opposition party lacked vision. Closing down the country to protect its citizens demonstrated that he acted prudently and without fear of reprisals.
Distribution of wealth has always been uneven in Trinidad and Tobago, although there is a large middle class; there are also extremes of wealth and poverty. Crime is the product of extreme poverty. The government should focus its attention on reducing poverty in deprived inner-city areas such as Laventille, inhabited by people of African decent, and small villages around the sugar belt, often inhabited by agricultural laborers of Indian descent.
If the government is able to reduce poverty in these areas , it will not only solve the crime problem but it will will solve or reduce the race problem.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph