By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 28, 2016
Tomorrow is Election Day. It is the first time the populace will have an opportunity to express their views about their new government. Although one expects the PNM to triumph in this campaign, it has not evoked the same passions of the last election, nor for that matter, the same urgency. Whatever its outcome, it will be a referendum on the prime minister’s leadership.
In June this year, in a foreword to Dr. Rowley’s autobiography, From Mason Hall to White Hall, I noted that last September citizens voted for a brilliant scholar, an eloquent orator, and an articulate individual to become the prime minister of the country.
My sense was and still is that Dr. Rowley is adequately prepared to guide this society in a positive direction. He came of age politically when West Indian nationalism, Black Power, was at its height nationally and internationally, and the moderate and not-so-moderate socialism of Michael Manley and Fidel Castro respectively were in vogue.
In 1981, when Dr. Rowley entered politics, the profession enjoyed a higher status in the national consciousness than it does today. People had greater respect for politicians, and the latter engaged in substantive policy and ideological issues. People expected more of their politicians. Today’s “roti diplomacy” (how much one spent to entertain guests at national festivals) has taken over from “rum and roti politics” of yesterday where one plied voters with rum and roti to get their votes.
In earlier days, one could espouse certain principles, even though it contradicted the leader’s views. In his autobiography, Dr. Rowley asserted: “I always felt that the membership must assert itself in the party. Because of how the party evolved from Dr. Williams, who was a political colossus, the political leader subsumed the authority of the membership, and incumbents were often running the party without sufficient concern for the views of the interests of the party.”
Dr. Rowley says he introduced a “one-man, one vote” policy, something for which I still have many reservations, to counteract Dr. Williams’s authoritarianism. A week ago, Michael Harris took exception to Dr. Rowley’s language when he removed Eden Charles from his UN position.
Dr. Rowley thundered: “When I put my signature that you come home then you come home because I am the Prime Minister of T&T.” (Express, November 21)
Harris says Dr. Rowley’s words struck him “like a two-by-four to the side of his head.” It took him back to Dr. Williams’s boast of 1971: “When I say come, they cometh and when I say go they goeth.” This leads one to ask: How much of Dr. Williams’s leadership style has Dr. Rowley internalized in spite of Dr. Rowley’s assertion to the contrary.
Keith Rowley’s government has made some remarkable achievements over the last fourteen months. It has stabilized spending, brought the economy under control, and maintained social peace, in spite of the fact that international oil prices have declined by 60 percent since mid-2014. There have been similar declines in natural gas prices.
During the period 2006-2014 the government collected approximately $27.5 billion annually in taxes from the energy sector; in 2015, those taxes declined to $19 billion. In the last fiscal year, it declined to $8.6 billion. By 2019, the government expects to collect about $14 billion from this source. Government revenues have fallen significantly from what they were when the UNC reigned and, with it, the ability to continue the freeness.
Faced with this major economic shock, the government had the confidence to take measures that were shunned by previous governments for the past decades. It has limited fiscal subsidies (gas subsidy), engaged in serious tax reforms (VAT), resorted to necessary but unpopular initiatives (such as tax revenues), and attacked sacred cows (URP, CEPEP, and GATE). A colleague said to me: “Keith was willing to do what is right rather that what is politically expedient and that should count for something.”
In my foreword, I said Dr. Rowley’s experience prepared him adequately to face the challenges that awaited him. I argued that if Dr. Williams possessed an encyclopedic knowledge about the facts of his society and his people, A. N. R. Robinson a haughty yet humane understanding of our economic and political conditions, and Patrick Manning a fascination with greatness and a Machiavellian duplicity, then Keith is blessed with an understanding that at this stage of our development we must return power to the people in their communities which is precisely what his party offers the electorate at the local elections.
One does not know how successful the party will be in this endeavor. At least, it is worth a try.
Dr. Rowley’s government has not achieved all that it set out to do when it was elected. It has been slow in responding to the murders that keep on increasing, and black people are being shortchanged by his administration. Only time will tell how well he faces up to these and other shortcomings.
I wish him all the luck in tomorrow’s election.