The Public Unravelling of a Sitting T+T Prime Minister

He must have surely reached very close to his tipping point in the face of an avalanche of attacks mounted with increasing intensity from all sides in this political war of words where no prisoners are taken.

How else could any reasonable person explain why Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister find himself in a verbal altercation with businessman Inshan Ishmael who managed to goad the usually stable statesman into telling him “Haul Your Arse”?

Never mind, as Rowley says, the true context of the statement was lost in the redacted version posted by Ishmael on Facebook , there’s no gainsaying that the damage has been done and Ishmael is laughing all the way to his religious retreat kindly donated by the PNM government at pepper corn rental.

What might have been of greater significance in this public spat was that Rowley’s slip is beginning to show.

With the swift passing of each eventful day since the People’s National Movement (PNM) returned to office in September 2020, it is becoming more and more difficult to defend the party and its government from the sustained onslaught of its critics.
Whatever the medium, the many forces now lined up against TT’s grand old party have been moving forward with savage force – almost together as one –as if with a common plan to rout an organization which has held its ground on behalf of the people despite the ravages of COVID 10 pandemic and decreased energy prices now beginning to show some promise.

Chief among the targets is the dapper Attorney General upon who a gamut of criticism has been inflicted for matters including
• his passing of a number of “bad” laws,
• the rental of his family’s properties to the state at whopping sums;
• the still unopened investigation of his children having been photographed with big guns on the Defence Force’s shooting field;
• His latest hairstyle and make-up
With all its admirable gains through the rough years in the aftermath of taking over a bankrupt economy from the People’ Partnership Government in 2010, the Rowley regime now finds itself on the back foot.

Like a boxer smelling a knock-out victory at the sight of his opponent’s wobbling legs, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her bands of supporters by political convenience are landing punches left, right and centre.
There is no respite here – no time to rest, no waiting to exhale. The mighty monolithic PNM is tottering and groaning under a licking which the marauding forces delight in as they anticipate the fall of the proverbial dragon that can no longer do the Balisier dance.

Who or what can rescue the party now?
In 1981, when the regime seemed to be about to take its first great fall, it was its leader and the country’s founding father himself, Dr Eric Williams who saved the day by departing from the scene in body and soul, triggering a massive PNM sympathy vote and its re-election to government

What was of great interest then was the devastating loss by the Organization for National Reconstruction (ONR) led by former PNM Attorney General Karl Hudson-Phillips which had flattered to deceive with its glitzy Advertising and Public Relations–driven campaign which drew hordes of support but could not garner one seat in the entire country.

In 1986, the ONR teamed up with the Indian-based United National Congress (UNC) and a number of smaller parties to form a momentum to uproot the PNM from power for the first time in 25 years.
Now, in 2021, with four years to go before the next general elections, the PNM is being seen by many as a government which won’t last the full term. This undermining of the government is evident in the obvious holes being bored into the fabric of once-hallowed institutions which are now suffering from a loss of public respect by people inside and outside government.
Suggestions that public opinion is swaying against the PNM government can be seen in a numerous quarters, starting with the “Express” editorial of September 30 which pointed out:

” In presenting the 2021-22 budget on Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert must demonstrate that the Government is in touch with the population, their needs and anxieties. In outlining his expenditure plan, he must defend his priorities, show how they fit into a stabilisation and recovery strategy, and how he intends to pay for it.
“The public will be looking to him for clarity and frankness on the state of the economy, and for assurance that the Government has an effective recovery plan that can be trusted”.
“The paper continued: The Government’s failure to pay the salaries of employees at the State-owned Educational Facilities Company and Lake Asphalt T&T Ltd is unnerving to the thousands of State employees who are already worrying about job security. If the Government could have found the money to pay the salaries of Lake Asphalt’s workers within 24 hours of their protest on Tuesday, it could have found that money before”.
As it currently stands:
• Teachers are preparing to sit down on the jobs,
• Nurses are protesting for regularization of contracts,
• Trade unions are calling for increased wages.

There’s also the worrying case of the Police Service Commission (PSC)’ awkward handling of the case involving the appointment of a new Commissioner under the chairmanship of Bliss Seepersad.

Faced with a three resignations from her Board, Seepersad is the cheese standing alone but still unwilling to step down as expected by the general public even as the President is accused by some of “doing nothing”.
(UPDATE: Facebook’s “Newsource” stated at 1.54 pm on September 30 that Bliss Seepersad resigned.)
Meanwhile, former Commissioner Gary Griffith who is looking for a second term, is playing himself with lawsuits and volumes of public statements as revelations and accusations are flung about that one government minister has fired him.
While he has attempted to keep himself away from the fray and the limelight, Prime Minster Rowley, in his capacity as Head of the National Security Council, has not been able to stay completely out of the proceedings and, at the risk of being accused of meddling in affairs which do not concern him, has been trying to stem the tide of negativism that abounds in the press, Facebook, social media and the Parliament.

Hot and sweaty with the smell of triumph in the air, Opposition Leader ‘Kamla’ and cohorts such as veteran Opposition Senator Wade Mark and Dr Roodal Moonial have been waxing eloquent on a number of issues on a daily basis in and out of Parliament, with no care being necessarily taken to ensure accuracy in their pronouncements.
The philosophy here may be that if you throw enough mud on the wall, then something must stick. In this environment where the PNM is under fire, everything involves scoring points against the government.
Quite apart from losing his cool with Inshan Ishmael, Rowley seems ready to inflict what he feels must be some well-deserved blows on Persad-Bissessar,
his long-time nemesis.
“She (Persad-Bissessar) made a career of attempting to denigrate my person and character according to her hopeful preference, but the next time she decides to describe and label, I will describe her fully”, Rowley told Ria Taitt of the “Express”
Which is exactly what Persad-Bissessar would like: to see the Prime Minister bring himself down into the gutter in reaction to her constant taunts which seem to be taking a toll on the man she once naughtily describes as an “oreo”, “the blank man” and ”the black man”.
Looking like a man in a fit of pique and ready to fly off the handle (which Persad-Bissessar would surely delight in), Rowley commented in response to Persad-Bissessar’s description of him as being “unkempt and grubby”:
“At least her description of me applies to my clothes which are easily changed frequently”

Rowley has not publicly responded to other public comments which are flying fast and loose in social media, some of which, like that of Opposition Senator Anil Roberts, can be downright disrespectful but very pleasing to his large captive market
“Keith Christopher Rowley has lost the plot…has become unraveled (and) cannot contain the raging bull” , said Roberts on his Radio 97.5” Doubles and Coffee” programme last April.
The “Raging Bull” is in reference to a term once used to describe Rowley by his then PNM Political Leader and Prime Minister the late Patrick Manning.
“My little daughter knows that you (Rowley) lazy…that you don’t care about the country…are an embarrassment and when we go into a pot hole she says “It’s Keith Christopher Rowley who made that pothole”.
The demonization of Rowley continued with Roberts accusing the Prime Minister as “lacking character” in the way he responded to Inshan Ishmael who was only telling him he had to close his business and send home 14 employees because of not receiving FOREX to import cars to sell while others were getting.
“How can you tell Inshan Ishamel to go to hell?’, Roberts shouted on the air waves.
Evidence of the confidence brimming in the hearts of the opposition forces can be seen in a Facebook post by Sheldon Bhaal, who asked: ”Why don’t the Opposition force an early election as they did with Mannning?”
Obviously weak in public relations capacity, the Rowley side has been putting up a gallant but feeble counter-offensive with efforts by people like old faithful National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds who resorted to Facebook to state:

“My PM is a serious and honest man! He is as principled as Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her lackeys are unprincipled, slippery and dangerous. Nutcase Inshan (Ishmael) must have provoked y PM”.
The PNM Women’s League and the party’s PR team has been making their own salvos but do not seem able to turn the tide that’s surging forward in these fast changing times.
Even the formidable Energy Minister Stuart Young has been pilloried for certain moves made by the National Gas Company (NGC) involving expenditure of huge sums interpreted as the result of bad decision-making.
In this regard, a few people have also taken to social media to pounce on Young for certain activities in which his step-daughter was alleged to have been involved and which are now before the Court.

Kamla might have even gone a bridge too far by bringing in the Energy Minister’s brother for his work with a bank and its purchase of shares in another company.
In his Constituency, photos of work by the MP water to bring water to long awaiting residents, were used by anti-PNM social media activists to pour scorn on Young for the long delays in delivering basic necessities here.
It is already well known that Young had been having internal problems with some of his executive elements and he openly brought this to the attention of the constituency about a couple years ago..

As the environment gets thicker and thicker with negativity, even usually neutral elements such as the Chaguanas-Port of Spain taxi drivers seem intent on helping drag dragging the government down by imposing huge fare increases from $11 to a whopping $15 for a one-way ride.

In addition to its problems in Trinidad, the loss of half of the seats by the PNM in the Tobago House of Assembly elections last year put the party in a new situation where a great deal of doubt was cast of the ability of the young party leaders there to bring victory home in elections due soon.

With the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) looking hot and energetic as never before (after wresting six seats in the THA election) observers are seeing confidence brimming in the eyes of this new party which feels it can take Tobago after 25 years of PNM.

So as the thunder rolls ominously in the empty stomachs of the unemployed , the dry mouths of the hungry and the darting eyes of the angry, Rowley and his shaky but resilient PNM government must come up with much finer lyrics and must deliver some “goodies” soon, if they want to contain this teeming crowd and remain in government in this round.

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