The current political climate is forcing us to revisit the way we vote for the people who offer themselves as representatives; the same persons who are likely to be placed in positions of power by those who control political parties. We are also subject to the philosophies of those who believe that their leadership and control are God-given rights.
We are therefore being forced to rethink the reasons for whom we vote at a time when questions are being raised about the current leadership, the major political parties and the strength of the candidates that have historically been offered. We can no longer take for granted that Party leaders know what is best for us. Neither should we continue our descent into sycophancy and vote on allegiance to one party or another. It is clear that from 1956 to now, it has not worked.
As General Election 2020 draws near, before we register our vote, we must decide the criteria and traits we are looking for in the party or candidates whom we choose to represent us. The past five years have been very disturbing because of the number of misfits who were given positions of power, positions which they did not deserve.
The era of doctor politics
For those old enough to know, these past five years remind us of the era of doctor politics when it was felt that one need not have the requirements to effectively manage a government ministry. It was the era where even a “crapaud in a balisier tie” was considered fit enough to be a Member of Parliament.
Under the PNM, there have been several such persons who fit that description, with one Hardeo Hardath who served in the Parliament from 1971 – 1986 representing the constituency of Nariva coming to mind. Hardath never spoke on behalf of his constituency nor his country for that entire period! Not once! Never! His silence in the Parliament was most defining and is best described in the article “Here today, gone tomorrow” written by Raffique Shah and published in the Trinidad and Tobago News on 26 September 2010.
Shah, about Hardath, noted that he “opened his mouth in the Parliament only when he yawned” yet he was selected for 15 years by the PNM to serve as the Member of Parliament for Nariva, a constituency which he failed to represent.
Something was radically wrong then and clearly whatever it was, the PNM never truly addressed it, because as we face the polls in 2020, we are still not clear as to the criteria being used to select persons to represent us in the Parliament. We are not sure that these persons are aware of our needs nor the peculiarities of the communities they wish to represent. Many do not live in the areas they represent and while this may not necessarily be a problem, they do not spend enough time among their constituents to make up for that shortcoming. They must be more accessible and be in touch with the people whose votes they seek.
Candidates are victorious based solely on political patronage because of most of the electorate vote with the mentality that “we “UNC or PNM til we dead” whether or not the Parliamentary representative serves their interests. Voters do not even know the names of the candidates nor have they ever seen them in the flesh and yet they vote blindly for the candidate because the party says so.
The PNM side of 2015 was a pick-up side comprising of persons who were selected for aesthetics and not for governance. They were persons who the PNM leadership felt would serve the party’s interests and not the country’s interests. Their selection seemed to have been based mainly on their youth which would purportedly place them in a position of subservience, one where they would not likely challenge the behaviours of their elders and the more experienced members.
An examination of some of the decisions made suggests a gap because as we plan for the 2020 General Election we continue to grapple to understand for instance, how Nicole Oliverre could have been selected to be the Minister of Energy. We are confused about how Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, having grown up as a Seventh-day Adventist and who may have never attended any Carnival-related activity, could have been put in charge of the Greatest Festival on Earth. We are still amazed at how Cherrie-Ann Critchlow Cockburn, who grew up in a life of privilege could have been placed in charge of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.
Now that the election is around the corner, the folly of five years ago is rearing its ugly head within the PNM. As the Party seeks to select candidates to fill the 41 seats, it is facing the stark reality that the incumbents who should have been automatic selections are being rejected by constituencies and are today searching for new representatives.
The people of San Fernando East no longer want Randall Mitchell, an attorney at law, a former Minister of Housing and currently serving as Minister of Tourism. We are not sure that they want Brian Manning either (See Page 3). Darryl Smith, the Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, who replaced the exiled Dr Amery Browne, disgraced himself at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs and is no longer a viable option. Dr Lovell Francis, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education has been replaced as the candidate for Moruga/Tabaquite (despite the denials of the PNM PRO, Laurel Lezama). Glenda Jennings-Smith, MP for Toco/Sangre Grande and former Deputy Commissioner of Police and presently a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of National Security was never a politician and never will be. The same can be said for retired Brigadier Ancil Antoine, current MP for D’Abadie/O’Meara.
Esmond Forde, Member of Parliament for Tunapuna; Glenda Jennings-Smith; and Cherrie Ann Critchlow-Cockburn, MP for Lopinot/Bon Air West are sure to be replaced. Constituents of these constituencies must guarantee that they are not short-changed this time around.
Many of them have never even run a parlour
It is therefore critical that the electorate demands that political parties do not only select persons of interest to the party but select candidates who would serve constituents’ best interests. Parties must provide a road map to determine whether the preferred candidate understands what is required as a representative and whether they are committed to the country.
The parties should also provide voters with a list of portfolios to which the candidate will most likely be assigned. For too long our political parties have been selecting popular persons at either the constituency or national level, persons who do not have the experience or knowledge to manage a Ministry.
Many have never operated even a parlour. Many may not even be able to manage their households, yet they are assigned to manage a government ministry, one with a billion-dollar operating budget. Those who do not face the electorate and are appointed as Senators often lack the necessary people skills and are often not loyal to voters.
If we are to improve as a country, we have to improve on the selection processes and we must demand openness on the part of parties charged with selecting candidates to contest elections. We cannot continue to vote blindly.
For if we do, we will elect people who will be liabilities rather than assets to our development and deprive us of valuable human capital, at a time when our best and brightest minds are most needed.