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PNM, UNC’s continuing internal challenges

Published: 
Saturday, November 18, 2017

UNC MP Roodal Moonilal wasted no time in Parliament yesterday assisting Government with advice.

After OPM Minister Stuart Young confirmed Government spent $222,178 hosting its September Hyatt “Spotlight” forum on T&T’s economic challenges, Moonilal deadpanned, “You think it was a good idea to spend quarter million dollars at the Hyatt to tell the country you bankrupt?”

Earlier, Young had been “helpful” to UNC’s Rodney Charles who’d asked what to tell landslide—affected constituents.

“I’m surprised you don’t know what to tell them,” Young said, detailing measures to assist.

“(So) Tell them ‘don’t come to your MP—go to the Government’.”

Prime Minister Keith Rowley, fielding Opposition queries, was also helpful—to a point—on one issue.

“I’ll answer no more questions on this matter!” he thundered after repeating explanations on his China trip redo.

There was a shot of the fire which Rowley aimed on the Opposition during his PNM convention address last Sunday.

Criticisms of UNC that day would however have had to be balanced with shots which were “fired” at his executive and government by PNM’s own convention delegates.

Majority theme: improvement of reach and communication between Government and members. PNM PRO Young may have been miffed by a constituent delegate’s observation that the “PRO failed to meet expectations and needs help.”

(Young seemed to be vying to meet his boss’ expectations Thursday when he vented about perceived misinterpretation of Rowley’s China trip.)

Most significant was delegate Wayne Griffith’s lament about foot soldiers feeling alienated, Government officials needing to be available and small contractors being “squeezed.” Port-of-Spain South delegates said Griffith represented both Laventille and PoS constituencies.

Diego Martin member Dane Wilson’s T shirt—“Ah vex but voting PNM”—likely also echoed similar views.

Such complaints from PNM’s heartland underscores the disconnect between Government and party. Deepened disenchantment confirms Government’s messages are off target in-house when aim should have been easiest.

The executive’s not unaware. PNM chairman Franklin Khan’s opening statements appealed for unswerving support for Government and PM “in the challenging times.”

How the hierarchy—grappling with national outreach-remedies internal reach and fulfils Rowley’s convention pledge to “be closer” to members, remains ahead.

PNMites messages were sharp for good reason: next year brings PNM leadership polls and start of preparations for three elections.

The Opposition UNC also faces internal challenges even after upcoming leadership elections where incumbent Kamla Persad-Bissessar will prevail after Vasant Bharath’s volte face.

Bharath’s statements however signal that isn’t the end, but likely, beginning of a new UNC phase.

Continuing to canvass members and shadow Persad-Bissessar all the way to 2020, he’s ominously said, “The people will decide what we do ahead if UNC doesn’t put its house in order.” Bharath could emerge in devil’s advocate role which his finance colleague PNMite Mariano Browne has played concerning Government’s activities.

Whether his group’s push forces more vibrant UNC performance or whether his profile ascends if it doesn’t, lies ahead.

His play (not quite unexpected since he’d voiced concerns about the process) harks back to 2006 when Winston Dookeran built the COP out of members disgruntled with Basdeo Panday’s leadership.

Bharath, while technocrat like Dookeran, however lacks the latter’s profile. His leadership stocks could suffer following recent moves.

Persad-Bissessar’s unopposed officers—while majority heartland people—signal new blood at chairmanship level via Corridor-based Peter Khanhai and Tobagonian/PoS based deputy Jearlean John.

Lack of MPs on the team, apart from David Lee, may signal changes in the 2020 MP lineup. Or wariness and acknowledgement that some—like MPs Ganga Singh, Bhoe Tewarie—have voiced concerns about party operations.

Persad-Bissessar may face minor skirmishes from sole contender Christine Newallo-Hosein. Whether her campaign has post-election effects in Parliament remains ahead.

How well changes by both PNM and UNC leaderships concerning their respective challenges resonate with members within and national audiences without, is the next chapter.