By GUEST WRITER ANDY WILLIAMS THE PITBULL OF RADIO
The Manifesto of a Political Party is a clear, conspicuous, published declaration of the intentions, motives, and views of a Party and forms the basis of the Party’s political campaign in the lead up to a General Election. It is a political road map that informs the electorate of the objectives and plans of the political party and more importantly, specifies what it would do, should it be successful at the polls and thereafter form the new Government.
Once elected into Government, the Party Manifesto is the bedrock of the new Government’s roadmap for the nation’s development. In this regard, a Party Manifesto can be seen as a moral and social performance contract between the political party that forms the new Government and the citizens.
Doing it together
The PNM 2015 Manifesto was pitched under the tag line, “Let’s Do It Together”. It contained the PNM’s planned policies, objectives and actions encompassing twenty-two sectors, intended to impact all major aspects of life in Trinidad & Tobago. It reads like a fairy tale of hopes and dreams, promising magical pixie dust solutions that would rebuild the country, thereby resulting in overall improvements in the quality of life for all.
The PNM Manifesto 2015 stated that the task was to, “rebuild our economy and restore a system of good values and faith in our public institutions”. It also specified that “one of our first tasks will be to restore Integrity and Morality in Public Affairs by introducing and enforcing a Code of Ethical Conduct for Members of Parliament”. It was the bedrock promise of a party that sought to rescue the country from the stigma of corruption, real or perceived, under the then PP Government.
The PNM Manifesto 2015 also claimed, “Under the PNM Government, the following general principles of behaviour will apply for all Parliamentarians, from both Houses: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Accountability and Leadership”. These were soothing, yet sensational buzz words that were, undoubtedly, intended to convince the nation to vote for a Party that would run the affairs of T&T in the best interest of the people and was that prepared to be held accountable for doing so.
According to the Manifesto 2015, on the matter of economic policy, “The key objectives of our economic policies thus include Macroeconomic stability, strong institutions and investor confidence, Sustainable growth and diversification, job creation and promotion of social justice”.
PNM Manifesto Vision
The PNM Manifesto 2015 contained a convincing message from the Political Leader of the PNM, “In summary, we in the PNM envision a society where integrity and morality in public life are of the highest priority and the Government serves the public good above all else, and where decisions are made and actions taken by the Government in the best interest of all concerned”.
In this context, there is a need to examine the contractual performance of the PNM Government in the delivery of its 2015 Manifesto promises, and otherwise, to the people of T&T. Now that five years have come and gone, were those promises simply rhetoric, false, and mere platitudes intended only to get people to vote for the PNM; or were they clear, unambiguous and sustainable actions that the Party has conscientiously and faithfully delivered by this social and moral contract?
The Government has not introduced the promised Code of Ethical Conduct for MPs. While early efforts were made to install the Procurement Regulator to oversee public procurement, the legislation to give effect to this Office has been stalled for several years and remains in stasis. The direct handling of procurement by members of the Cabinet for mega-purchases of boats and ferries is not consistent with good governance and integrity in public office.
A series of scandals involving PNM Ministers over the past five years have plagued the PNM Party and sitting Government. A Minister was fired for sexual misconduct; another was charged on seven counts of fraud and misconduct; another was brought before a New York court for elder financial abuse, fraud and embezzlement; a Senator was convicted of DUI and remained in office; a Minister was recorded promoting political race and bias in allocating food cards/hampers, and several questionable land-related matters involving Ministers have come into the public arena.
The sale of the CL Financial TT$6.3B traditional insurance portfolio with a loss of TT$300m; purchase of ferries to service Tobago Sea Bridge via Cabinet involvement; and the meteoric rise of NCB Global Finance’s involvement in government financing have all attracted questions and public concerns. The sudden, irrational closure and sale of the Petrotrin Refinery was a death blow to the economy and will create hardships for generations to come.
The economic policies and the managing of the economy over the last five years have left much to be desired. According to the Central Bank publications on the state of the economy, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the value of economic activity within a country, stood at TT$165B in 2015 and a marginal increase to TT$165.9B in 2019; this reflects a stagnating economy. Inflation was at 5.6% in 2015 and is estimated to be well into double digits in 2020. Unemployment was at 3.7% in 2015, forecasted to be well into double digits in 2020.
In 2015 the Net Public Sector Debt was TT$76.5B, in 2019 it was TT$102B. In 2015 External Public Debt was at TT$15.2B, in 2019 it stood at TT$27.7B. In 2015 the HSF contained US$5.8B, in 2019 it increased from earned interests only to USD6.2B since no direct HSF deposits were made by this Government. The Foreign Reserves in 2015 was US$11.3B, subsequently reduced to US$7B in 2019.
In essence, the economy is stagnating; foreign reserves have been dwindling; the cost of living rising; unemployment is rampant, and the country’s HSF nest egg is being depleted while operating costs to run the country are being financed by external debt. Vanity projects continue to be the main thrust and are being paid for under external financing.
T&T has been broken
By design or otherwise, T&T has been broken and the infamous comment “I can’t breathe” quite aptly summarizes the economic and social cry of the nation and the people of this once prosperous nation.
The recent steep drop in oil and gas prices and its negative impact on foreign earnings exposes the failure of this Government to diversify the economy.
Massive retrenchments/firings, escalating inflation and a stagnating economy spell doom and gloom even before the advent of COVID 19. The post-COVID 19 economic and social challenges will pose major challenges for whichever Party forms the Government in 2020.
This dire situation is further compounded by the Government’s unholy alliance with the sanctioned and US-indicted Maduro Regime in Venezuela and is in direct contravention of the Rio Treaty, deemed by many to be a foreign relations nightmare of epic proportions.
This may very well result in US sanctions, not only to certain persons and companies in this country; but quite possibly also, US economic sanctions against T&T itself. Having regard to above, if one is to ascribe a Performance Grade to the PNM Government for its performance over the past five years by its 2015 Manifesto and otherwise, that grade would be a resounding FAIL.