Partap aims to be model minister
By Carol Matroo Sunday, September 2 2012
Minister Collin Partap, Minister in the Ministry of National Security was fired last week by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The following article appeared in the Sunday Newsday on December 5, 2010, just as Partap was settling into his ministerial career.
From politics to model? Quite a surprise for one of several young Members of Parliament of the People’s Partnership (PP). However, 36-year-old Colin Partap, Member of Parliament for Cumuto/Manzanilla, took it all in stride when the public relations department of the Office of the Prime Minister thought it a good idea to feature one of the PP’s young ministers to the public of Trinidad and Tobago.
This young attorney, who was called to the bar in 2008, took over as MP of the constituency from his father, Harry Partap, after winning the seat in this year’s May 24 General Election.
The senior Partap, who had been MP for Cumuto/Manzanilla since 1995, has been assigned the post of High Commissioner to South Africa under the PP.
“Apparently they (PR department) decided I filled the bill so I hesitantly agreed,” Partap said during an interview at the Parliament’s library in Port-of-Spain on Wednesday.
As a relative newcomer to politics (in the limelight) and Minister of State in the Office of the PM, one would think that Partap would have jumped at the opportunity to show what he was made of.
But not so for Partap, who admitted to following his father, a former journalist, through his political career, but said he prefers to keep a low profile.
“Right now I am one of the few people in Government who can walk through a market or go to a drug store or the mall and nobody notices me. Good thing, because at least there is some semblance of normalcy in my life. I can go about doing normal things and not be in the glare of the public all of the time. People know my name, not my face,” Partap said.
“In my constituency it’s different because there they know me. Outside my constituency I rather tend to like having my personal space. I know for some MPs and ministers it’s not like that at all. They are very visible and people know them very well. It’s just that some of them have been in public life longer than I have and it’s also the duties and responsibilities that they have that they have to be in the limelight,” Partap noted.
Partap does not regret his low profile. Living in Tableland, Partap spends about five hours on the road travelling every day. Why doesn’t he move closer to his place of business in the capital city? “Tableland is nice and quiet and sometimes when you live in the city areas you don’t have that solitude of the rural areas that sometimes you need, especially with this job,” he said.
With his line minister as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Partap has large shoes to fill, some of which include constitutional reform, which he said he preferred to pursue “quietly”.
“I tend to just do my work quietly and this involves constitutional reform, which we’ve been doing quietly and as soon as we make progress the Prime Minister is notified. The other minister within the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister Rodger Samuel (Minister of State in the Office of the PM and MP of Arima), and myself are handling it. We like to do things quietly. We’ve been charged with a lot and we’re just trying to get it done.”
Partap said the challenge was that there were never enough hours in the day.
“We go non-stop every day, ill or well you have to be there because the people voted you in and you have to do the work of the people. There is no excuse not to,” Partap said.
The MP said he had a wealth of experience after shadowing his father around closely, learning what the “ins and outs” were when it came to taking care of his constituents.
Partap admitted that Government’s business was “totally different” as there were “many things we do not know what to do.”
“There are always some things you don’t know so you have to rely on your permanent or deputy permanent secretary and to that effect I’ve been lucky to have two good persons to work with. They are the accounting officers for the ministry, they guide you along the public service part of it. That part to me was not really an obstacle, but it was something you had to learn,” he said. Partap said his new portfolio has forced him to learn about public service, which he felt was an integral part of governance where there were processes, transparency and accountability that must be maintained.
“Then we had to get the staff to do the work we were charged with and that was a challenge, not only in bringing in new people, but changing the mind set of the staff we had then. I mean they were probably doing research in other areas and now they had to do specific research in specific areas,” he said. But Partap is confident he has been assigned a most competent team who are now positioned to effectively cope with the “huge” work load at the Office of the PM. The young MP is confident, too, that the new PM is in full control. “I wouldn’t say the Prime Minister is overwhelmed, but she’s in demand. She’s everywhere and I’m so glad I’m not her personal assistant because then I would have needed booster shots or something,” he said with a laugh. Partap thinks, though, that he is the luckiest minister.
“I have the best line minister you could possibly ask for. Any time you feel overworked and you get a call from the Prime Minister, it energises you. That’s the type of boss she is. There’s an aura and also the way in which she speaks to you. She can get you to do things by just asking in two words. She’s one of the best bosses to work with,” Partap said.
“If I’m feeling overworked, all she has to do is say ‘Hey Collin, how are you doing?’ and it just gives you the energy right away. She’s not a very hard taskmaster. She lets you know what you have to do and she expects you to do it and if we have problems she expects you to come to her.
“She has a soft heart, but I think she could make grown men cry if they got a bouff from her. I think the way she conducts the business of Parliament, she reaches out to everyone. I think when the history books write her story, she will go down as one of the best prime ministers of this country.” Partap has also spent his six months in office enumerating the needs of his constituents. First and foremost, he notes, is employment. Many young people are graduating from high school and other institutions, he said, who were unable to find jobs.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is to find sustainable jobs for the young people,” he said. He is looking toward agriculture, a field that most young people overlook, he said.
“Sangre Grande is an urban residential centre and Biche to a smaller extent, the rest of the constituency is purely agriculture. We need to encourage the young people to take up farming, because farming is no longer a poor man’s job, it’s big business. Most of the crops that are produced in Plum Mitan are not only for the local market, but shipped out to the international market,” Partap said.
He said a meeting with Food Production Minister, Vasant Bharath, is scheduled soon, where he wants to identify international markets and promote the constituency as a foreign exchange hub for the country.
“We want to get into other types of agriculture like aqua-culture and hydrophonics ... to bring the scientific part of agriculture to the constituency. With these you don’t need a lot of land, just basically a warehouse to do it,” Partap said. The Minister said he was also “seriously” looking into reviving the cocoa industry which had been left in ruins.
“The estates are dilapidated. I see cocoa bearing on the trees, but there’s nobody to pick it and the quality of cocoa we have in our constituency is one of the best in the world,” Partap said. Two of the other issues he is seeking to address are infrastructure (roads, water and electricity) and housing. Partap said during the period 1995 to 2001 there was a lot of infrastructural work done (under the UNC), but the area had been neglected under the PNM. However, he promised that the PP was prepared to “undo the neglect.”
“It is going to take some time, but I think the people in the constituency are understanding. They realise the resources are limited and it takes time. I always ask them to bear with me. Things will get done, every year you will see progress and I think once they see the progress they’ll be happy with it. They’re quite willing to wait. I told them they’ve waited nine years, two or three more won’t be too much to ask,” Partap said.
The Minister said it was a “bit easier” to get work done when in Government, having experienced his father’s struggles when he was MP.
“It was always a fight to even get a drain. Now we have control of the regional corporation and central government, but I’m not saying that it’s a lot easier to get things done. There are always checks and balances and accountability, and of course there is a limited amount of funding so we have to prioritise.
“In prioritising, I have started to speak to the people and I am giving them the priorities in the particular area for the particular community. I told them every year we would do a little so at the end of the five years, I want to have most of what they asked done so they can’t say after the five years I never did anything,” Partap outlined. The Minister said there was no difference between the PNM and the PP when community meetings were held. “The Prime Minister has as her mantra, ‘Serve the people.’ She did not say serve one type of people, but just serve ‘our people.’ That is the only way to develop a constituency and by way a country. Everyone has to play their part.
“The people have to be the initiators. If you want something you come and tell me because I won’t know what you want. I want you to tell me, look I want this play field, I want this road, we want pavements for the school because it’s your community you’re looking at,” Partap said.