The offer of resignation of minister Sharma and its acceptance by the prime minister has brought into focus the number of resignations and/or dismissals of ministers from this government, sparking a national debate on this subject.
The latest ministerial change comes on the heels of the call by COP leader Prakash Ramadhar for Mr Sharma's resignation on Sunday 30th March. "RESIGN OR BE FIRED", the front pages of the newspapers of Monday the 31st shouted. Within 24 hours of Mr Ramadhar's call, it was answered affirmatively.
Resignations and dismissals were very rare, if not absent from the governance of prior regimes. Is it that the characters of past ministers were different or better than those of the present? I submit not. The thing that is different is the dawning of a change in the culture of politics in Trinidad and Tobago, heralded by our present coalition government. What we have been witnessing for the past four years, as bad as many people may think, is a coalition government that, by its very nature of coalition, has shown a commitment to holding ministers of government responsible and accountable.
As an illustration, I will give an example: if one person owns and operates a business company individually, he can if he chooses to install an air conditioner at his home which does not belong to the company and pay for it from the company, and he can put it in the books of the company as an expense, and no one will be the wiser, including the inland revenue, but if the company is owned and operated by two partners, no partner will allow the next to do such thing.
I will be the first one to admit that this UNC/COP coalition is very far from perfect, certainly not what I and many others expected; however, coalition necessarily brings with it a heightened internal sense of accountability. It is this additional check that has some ministers no longer at their desk.
The most significant problem of this coalition in my view is that it was hurriedly baked before the elections of 2010. The leaders then had no choice, as the system or constitution we operate under does not allow for any other way. This is why constitutional reform is critical to the prosperity of this beloved country of ours, where the third force must be an essential part of the governance of this country. Election results of 1981, 1991, 2007 in Trinidad and Tobago where third parties got votes by the hundreds of thousands and not a darn seat should not be allowed to happen again.
I am not making a case for the survival of the COP because I share the view of Professor Patrick Watson that the third force right now is parked up, and there no guarantee whatsoever that they will vote COP in the 2015 elections. On the contrary, their (COP) conduct in this government may be held against them, and may cost the COP the vote in the next election. But the third force has been here for the past 35 years and will be here for the next 35.
Now we are in the middle of the PNM's internal election; the candidate for leader -- Mrs Penelope Beckles Robinson -- stated that she is open to talks about proportional representation. However, the incumbent leader candidate, Dr Keith Rowley, criticized Ms Beckles, stating that proportional representation is a dagger in the PNM's back.
So Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, Winston Dookeran, Prakash Ramadhar, Basdeo Panday, Penelope Beckles Robinson and many, many others appreciate the need and benefit to the people of this country of some form of proportional representation but not Dr Rowley. He is saying that proportional representation is not good for the PNM and therefore, should never be allowed to happen. Dr Rowley, as usual, is putting the PNM first and his country after. This brand of self-interested politics is what a coalition government aims to place in check.
Let me end by giving credit where credit is due, to the political leader of the COP, who continues to make a significant contribution to this country. Perhaps he could say a lot more than he has and he could be heard more loudly and clearly than he has been, but I say wholeheartedly and without fear of contradiction that Prakash Ramadhar is neither weak nor is he a sellout. He is principled, valued, and steadfast in his political and personal integrity, an invaluable member of any organization he is a part of and more so to those that he is leader of.
Former Mayor of Arima