In or out?
Saturday, December 1 2012
People’s National Movement Chairman Franklyn Khan has hit the nail on the head: the time has come for the Congress of the People to decide once and for all, whether it is in or out of this coalition government. The COP cannot continue, as Mr Khan has rightly pointed out, to relentlessly oppose the policies and practices of the People’s Partnership, yet seek to remain a member of that alliance. It is simply untenable for the COP to function simultaneously as both Opposition and Government, to constantly abandon the accepted Westminster principle of collective responsibility, which demands that they publicly support government’s position even though they may not agree with it privately.
The twixt and tween of the COP and its continuous public statements which conflict with government’s, are creating confusion in the minds of the electorate and threaten to destabilise the government. The to and fro is causing such political chaos that it is also splitting the COP: some of its MPs march in unison while others are out of step. The Wayne Kublalsingh hunger strike has placed the COP at loggerheads with itself and with its partners in administration.
It is certainly completely unprecedented and undermining for a senior Cabinet minister to publicly rebel against his government and dispatch a press release which is in stark contrast to his Prime Minister’s and cabinet’s position, not unless he intends to resign his post or wishes to be fired. For a Minister of Foreign Affairs on official business abroad to act in this was is amazing. Minister Winston Dookeran’s plea for compassion for Wayne Kublalsingh is a direct challenge to the Prime Minister’s stated position. By being abroad, he may have been out of the policy loop, as the Prime Minister suggested in a politically clever rebuttal, but prudence and respect for his Prime Minister dictated that he make no public declaration on the matter until he was briefed, lest he be at cross purposes with his leader, the Cabinet and the parliamentary caucus.
If Mr Dookeran disagreed with Government’s handling of the Wayne Kublalsingh hunger strike, he should have raised his concerns privately with the Prime Minister. Instead of circumspection, he engaged in what can only be seen as rebellion, going as far as to state that government’s policy lacked compassion and would make Trinidad and Tobago appear decadent and uncaring in the eyes of the international community. Such a remark is tantamount to labelling the government as decadent and uncaring. How can a Foreign Minister pretend to continue to be part of a regime which he has so disparaged and defied?
Mr Dookeran may argue that he was moved by international reports to issue a statement seeped in sentimentality for a man seeking to hold his government to ransom, but we do not and cannot agree with Mr Dookeran’s assertions that a BBC report is grounds sufficient for government to reverse its position on the highway.
The BBC is not running Trinidad and Tobago. More to the point, Britain is no stranger to hunger strikes and its treatment of protesters has often come in for heavy criticism.
Suffragettes who went on hunger strikes were subjected to force feeding, nowadays considered inhumane. Three women died as a result of that force feeding. IRA prisoners have repeatedly used hunger strikes to protest British policy and prison conditions and several have perished for their cause.
Mr Kublalsingh is not a political prisoner, nor is he being ill-treated by an uncaring decadent government. The Prime Minister has met with Mr Kublalsingh and the Highway Re-Route movement and a study addressed their concerns. They have refused to accept its findings. Dr Kublalsingh is the one who decided to starve himself. We believe that it is unreasonable for the COP, (or some of its members) to insist she hold further conversations with Mr Kublalsingh, or soften her stance, particularly since Mr Kublalsingh and the Re Route group have taken the matter to court.
Mr Dookeran fired his salvo from Santo Domingo and its mark was the Prime Minister. The ball is now in the court of Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar. This is a bold attack from within the ranks. Can and should she tolerate such open rebellion? Can she afford to fire another minister so soon after her dismissal of Herbert Volney? We believe that Mr Dookeran´s statement has left Mrs Persad-Bissessar with little choice but to excise him from her Cabinet.
Mr Dookeran is of course entitled to his opinion and he may well be right but he can’t have it both ways. It displays incredible weakness. If he disagrees with the policy of the Government, of which he is the Foreign Minister the honourable thing to do is to resign and leave the “uncaring, decadent Government.”