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What now for Trinidad and Tobago?

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The tasks facing the new administration of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in Port of Spain are literally quite humongous. Chief among them would be restoring the faith and confidence of the people of Trinidad and Tobago in governance and the government of their country.{{more}}

Pre-election polls and all political analysts had identified three issues as being the priorities for the population. These are crime, corruption and the economy. Worryingly though, those same polls had indicated that the majority of people had little confidence in the ability of any of the two major parties, which have exchanged places as Government and Opposition, to tackle any of these issues satisfactorily.

The new prime minister himself has agreed that the economy must be given priority and one of the first tasks will be the preparation of the 2016 Budget, due by October 31. That is hardly surprising. The economy is heavily dependent on the energy sector and with plunging oil prices on the world market, from a high of well over US$100 per barrel to current prices of just above US$40, massive adjustments will be necessary.

The challenges will be first, how to cope with vastly reduced revenues without either derailing growth or cutting crucial social expenditure, and secondly, the need to address the urgent task of diversifying the economy around its energy base. Successive administrations have failed to do this.

Crime is another issue which cries out for attention. While statistics have been produced showing a decrease in crime, the murder rate is high, making the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and visitors too, worried about their security. Unrest in the security services

has not helped either. There have even been instances of state witnesses in important murder, drug and corruption cases being murdered.

Dr Rowley has promised to introduce, as a matter of urgency, what is called “whistleblower legislation”, in order to protect those persons who have important information about crime to feel safe in sharing that information with the security services.

This would definitely help in tackling the endemic disease of corruption at the highest levels, which has been plaguing Trinidad and Tobago, and worsening, whether it has been Panday, Manning or whoever is in charge, dating back, in fact, to the days of T&T’s revered founding father Dr Eric Williams. Under the last administration, though, there is a perception that corruption had reached catastrophic proportions. Perpetrators, inside and outside government, have been getting away scot-free and precious state resources were finding their way into the hands of the corrupt.

Related to this, and of relevance to Vincentians and citizens of the Eastern Caribbean, is the unresolved situation emanating from the collapse of the CLICO/BAICO empire. Investors and policy-holders in these parts have been left holding the wrong end of the proverbial stick, and the past administration has not fulfilled agreements by its predecessor for compensatory payments. It will be interesting to see how the new PNM administration would respond in this regard.

There are many other issues of regional relevance too – regional integration and trade, and interestingly, the Government’s position on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). That regional court has its headquarters in Port of Spain, but the twin-island state is yet to fully subscribe to it. Will Dr Rowley correct this contradiction?

These are among the matters on which the new administration will be judged. Will it live up to expectations?

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