Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kamla’s challenge after aid furore


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IT MAY not be an elegant expressiion to note that some leading representatives of the less than seven-month old People’s Partnership Government (PPG) of Trinidad and Tobago appear to have a political “foot-in-the-mouth” problem.    
Nevertheless, it is the varying ill-timed, poorly articulated and, worse, insensitive public statements that would have contributed to the feeling, at home and abroad, as the core of the problem.
Consequently, for all its known popularity and people-focused policies and programmes, the PPG seems to stand in urgent need of proper management in communicating its messages with the public – both domestic and regional.
The furore that has arisen over Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s language to express her government’s terms of responding to emergency disaster needs, serves to underscore this contention.
There are, of course, others in her cabinet who most certainly need to be more careful in their public statements and posturings.
The focus right now is on the “boss” herself.
From her very surprising and unwarranted caution of last July in Jamaica that Trinidad and Tobago should not be viewed as an “ATM card” for CARICOM partner states, the Prime Minister was to rush headlong last week into a verbal storm with her off-the-cuff remark about  aid conditionalities at times of natural disasters.
To say that her fellow Heads of Government had shown in July, and since continue to demonstrate, public restraint in their interpretations of her ATM gaffe, would be an understatement.
However, in the absence of any clearly defined aid asistance policy, or general framework for the PPG’s cooperatiion with CARICOM, given its sustained reservations over fiscal policies pursued by previous PNM administrations, the Prime Minister was to suffer the consequences of being reported under an Express headline No Free Help – without “benefits” to Trinidad and Tobago.  
Subsequently, while she was yet struggling to explain what she claimed to have been a distortion, the Express came foreward with its editorial observation on Wrong Words PM, and blamed her for linking emergency aid with benefits to Trinidad and Tobago.
Truth is that in the real world of politics and aid, there is really no such thing as “unconditional” or “untied” aid.. Voluntary humanitarian aid is one thing. On the other hand, post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance is entirely different.
This is quite known and well practiced by the very wealthy and powerful nations. This harsh reality helps to explain the double-speak and sheer hypocrisy in the continuing delays in the release of pledged economic recovery and national reconstruction assistance for earthquake-devastated Haiti.
In the circumstances, before getting herself and government into any further verbal entanglements with Trinidad and Tobago’s Community partners, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar may perhaps wish to treat as a priority, on her return home from her meeting with United States Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, revisiting the PPG’s position on emergency humanitarian aid as well as bilateral economic development assistance to CARICOM partners.
This would also be in context of her earlier explanation to the the reported “no free aid” claim, and particularly swince humanitarian and economic aid reportedly formed part of her agenda meeting with Secretary of State Clinton.
Such an initiative on her part could prove helpful in cooperation in the best interest of CARICOM/T&T relations as well as diffusing prevailing tensions, some of which are being clearly expolited for narrow political objectives–at home and abroad.
The Caribbean’s visionary Eric Williams, who had played a crucial role in the inauguration of CARICOM, was respected for his appreciation to have, at all times, some technocrats of the highest quality as advisers.  
Whatever the lingering bitterness with recent administrations of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, current challenges facing the PPG government, at home, regionally and internationally, make all the more necessary having a team of carefully chosen advisers.
To list names may be invidious, but they cannot unknown to Madame Prime Minister–though the idea of having a special advisor or committee of advisors may not be favoured by her unpredictable Foreign Minister Surujrattan Rambachan, regarded in political circles as more divisive than helpful.
Against the current politicall noise a new initiative for change in dealing with domestic and foreign policy could well prove helpful for Trinidad and Tobago and CARICOM in general as we share so many common problems. So many problems.

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