Reshuffle, musical chairs
Thursday, July 5 2012
THE surprising and as yet unexplained decision by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to expand the number of ministers in the recent Cabinet reshuffle was a tacit dismissal by her of the clear need for cost cutting in a period of falling energy prices, contracting export markets and dwindling revenue. The increase in portfolios will mean the acquisition of additional office space, larger staffing, greater electricity and telephone bills, a rise in travelling allowances and perquisites.
All of this at a time when not simply Trinidad and Tobago (TT) but the whole world, with the exception of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, is being hit by market loss. Perhaps the only marked plus arising out of the reshuffle has been the assignment of Larry Howai, recently retired Chief Executive Officer of First Citizens Bank, as Minister of Finance. Howai replaces Winston Dookeran, former Finance Minister, who has been assigned the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Unfortunately, Dookeran had not been the hoped for success as Finance Minister, and presided during thecurrent fiscal year over the largest allocated budgetary expenditure Trinidad and Tobago has known, all of this at a time of sharply sliding revenue and, consequently, a depleted Budget. Foreign Affairs is an entirely different portfolio thrust from that of Finance and Dookeran is viewed more as an academic and backroom technocrat than as an international relations person.
We pose the question: Is Winston Dookeran the best person to represent TT at this critical period of the nation’s history at such international fora as the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States? While, the People’s Partnership predecessor Government, the People’s National Movement, employed the fiscal measure of reducing both corporation and personal income taxes in a bid to encourage individuals to spend and/or invest more and businessmen to increase investments, what significant policy strategy did the present administration, or rather the former Finance Minister adopt?
Admittedly, increased government spending was an outgrowth of the ongoing international financial crisis, in an bid to make up for the shortfall in business activity and to keep a reasonable level of money turning around within the economy but, clearly, only up to a manageable point. New Finance Minister Howai, however, is faced today with TT's highest national expenditure and highest national debt ever. Meanwhile, although Howai is new to the Finance Minister portfolio and no one expects him to achieve miracles, particularly in the context of the global economic downturn which has resulted in sharply reduced export markets and, ipso facto revenue, nonetheless as the rest of the nation we are anxious to know the plans he is developing for the turning around of the economy.
While Howai's long experience in banking, particularly at the top level which would have routinely involved studying detailed analyses of business trends and the political development as well as making informed financial decisions, is of crucial importance to his Ministry of Finance portfolio, nevertheless his inexperience in the cut and thrust world of politics may prove at times uncomfortable. In the meantime, the outright creation of new ministries as well as the reconfiguration of yet others and the shifting of divisions or departments out of their traditional ministries is puzzling.
Is this the latest version of musical chairs? What was the logical basis for the removal of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) from the Ministry of Public Utilities and repositioning it under the Environment Ministry? Were issues at WASA such that the authority had to be shifted? What factors influenced the decision making process leading to this and other changes?
What guided the reasoning behind the creation of the Ministry of National Diversity? How will this help the country’s economy? What was the rationale for the Prime Minister’s shifting of Jack Warner from the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to preside over the National Security Ministry? Indeed, the nation is no wiser with respect to the reasoning behind the entire Cabinet reshuffle. There are no signals of planning coming from within the People’s Partnership, only rhetoric.