BY JACK WARNER
General Elections are less than a year away and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must know that machinations are already in place to develop a critique of his administration’s stewardship over the last four years with a view to present a cogent argument to convince the national community why the PNM should not get another five-year term
The Prime Minister started off well. The power of his rhetoric was commanding. He forced the population to stop and take note and coerced them into reposing that faith and trust in him that under his leadership this country will be a better place.
Dr Rowley promised that the sad memory of past administrations would fade into oblivion as he would provide transparent leadership. He said that his management style would be defined by open conversations with the nation and he would demonstrate marked accountability to taxpayers that would leave even the doubting Thomases without a doubt.
Under Dr Rowley, our youth were to find opportunities for development. They were supposed to be the focus of his administration, and he even identified that trust as a symbol of hope on which other young people could rely and believe that they too will have their day under the Rowley sun.
But alas! Instead of being afforded the chance to live the dream that Dr Rowley promised, things have not merely fallen apart but our world has collapsed.
Instead of transparency, we are plagued with high-density opaqueness. Instead of accountability, decisions made by the Rowley administration are shrouded in secrecy. Instead of conversations with the national community, all we have is a deafening silence except when the Prime Minister feels the need to defend himself. Whether he believes it or not these will come to plague him come 2020 when the General Election date is announced.
The need to return to the original moorings
I have given to the Prime Minister a fair preamble because I wish to advise him of the need to return to the original moorings to which he was tied when he was voted into power on September 7, 2015.
There are a number of questions for which the Prime Minister needs to provide answers before the election date is called in 2020.
There are a number of issues which the Prime Minister needs to clarify before the people of Trinidad and Tobago are convinced that he should be trusted come 2020 for a second term in office.
High on the agenda is the failed Sandals deal that was supposed to emancipate this country from the throes of economic disaster and assist in the diversification of our economy from oil and gas to tourism.
To be honest, if you ask the average citizen what this Sandals deal was all about, no one, not even the intelligentsia in our amidst, can offer a response to this question.
No one knows how we, as a people, were supposed to benefit from this deal and similarly, we do not even know what we have lost because the Sandals deal fell through.
We do not know how much taxpayers’ dollars were wasted chasing behind the Prime Minister’s dream to build a Sandals in Tobago. Neither do we know what has become of the assets purchased to start the pursuit of this deal.
We heard about sweetheart arrangements similar to what Adam Stewart gets from Barbados and St. Lucia. We hear about the tax breaks that Stewart would have been offered. We read about duty-free items that he would have been allowed to import, while other hoteliers would not have been given such privileges. And we are left bereft trying to understand why would Stewart withdraw from the deal after so much was offered to him by the Rowley government.
Before the 2020 General Election, there must be clarity to the nation on this Sandals deal. The Prime Minister must come clean and my advice to him is to host a programme “Conversations with Keith” and explain this Sandals deal and tell the nation what truly went wrong. But then again this may be wishful thinking, for, in the last four years, the Prime Minister has not even conversed with half of the nation’s constituencies, and those with which he so sparingly conversed were all, PNM constituencies.
The people have a right to know
It is difficult to imagine the content of the Prime Minister’s platform agenda for the people of Tobago come 2020 after under the turmoil and suffering he put them through since he was voted into power in September 2015.
Now Tobago very early in the game and before General Elections in 2015 openly declared their hand and showed that they were fed by with the People’s Partnership and all parties aligned with this coalition.
Prior to coming into power, Tobagonians, without a no-vote campaign, gave to the PNM a unanimous vote and the mandate to look after them without an Opposition.
In 2015, Tobagonians confirmed that this is what they truly wanted by again unanimously voting for the PNM to represent them in the Parliament.
Yet shortly after ascending into power, the sea bridge collapsed.
Up to this day, Tobagonians do not know why the Superfast Galicia that was doing an excellent job was literally pushed off our sea bridge.
The suffering encountered by Tobagonians included inflation, especially on food items and building materials; foreclosures of loans resulting in many Tobagonians losing their investments; and unemployment as the tourism industry died a painful death. And while the pain exacerbated, the Government remained mum on why the Superfast Galicia departed and when a proper replacement will return.
Up to now Prime Minister, you have not told the nation about the deal with the Cabo Star that was delayed in China, was stuck in Panama and even ended up on dry docks in Trinidad and Tobago.
The people have a right to know what went wrong. How much money was wasted? Who was responsible for these bad decisions? And what the Prime Minister proposes to do to ensure his people do not have to suffer ever again in such an oppressive manner.
The nation wants to know about the deal with the new ferry HSC Jean de la Valette and how much it is costing taxpayers to operate. Is it operating at a profit or a loss and if it is the latter by how much? And what about the two new boats that were supposed to be building on the ports in Australia? Is that deal still on the table for the people of Tobago?
The Dragon Gas Deal
The Prime Minister may not understand or value the importance of holding conversations with the people. But if he does not level with them on the issue of the sea bridge, this will affect him come 2020.
There are many conversations the Prime Minister needs to have with the people and so the earlier he starts, the greater his chances of winning. Clarity must be provided to the challenges the people are currently facing.
For example, the Prime Minister needs to talk to the people about the present status of the much-trumpeted Dragon Gas deal and indicate to the nation how it would have benefitted.
The Prime Minister needs to talk to the people about the sale of Petrotrin and tell them whether or not he was duped by Wilfred Espinet. But if he does not talk to the people, they will never understand.
Rumours abound and the Prime Minister needs to clear the air and tell the nation whether WASA and T&TEC have been placed on the chopping blocks and whether employees at TSTT would suffer.
The Prime Minister must inform the nation about the five thousand housing contract that was cancelled with Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co Ltd (CGGC). This contract was worth some 72 million USD. When it was signed it was hailed by the rank and file in the government as better than a sweet bread, and top officials were jostling for a photo op with the Chinese firm. What really went wrong?
Who would crash a contract like that and for what reason?
Secrecy breeds conspiracy and the deafening silence surrounding the prime minister and his government on far too many issues suggests that he cannot be trusted.
My advice to the Prime Minister this week is to clear the air on the many issues which he knows are plaguing the nation. Mr Prime Minister, you need to open the conversation line.
Many are willing to give you a second term but lack of communication with your people is your greatest impediment.
Take my advice Mr Prime Minister and establish “Conversations with the Prime Minister” and give to your party an honest chance for a second opportunity to serve our country.