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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The message from late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams which Rio Claro resident Michael Burton brought to Prime Minister Keith Rowley at last Tuesday’s Point Fortin “Conversations With the Prime Minister” may never be shared publicly. But it’s debatable whether it would have taken back seat to the message about his Government which Rowley received from that night’s event.

Burton intrigued the gathering by telling Rowley about the message he’d travelled from Rio to bring. Since Rowley decided he needed to hear it in person as it was “my message” (he said) both met after the meeting. Burton insisted it be delivered privately and not in anyone else’s presence.

Point was only the second in Government’s interactive “Conversations” public feedback series. But Government hardly needs to get further into the other 39 constituencies to understand how J Public feels.

Ground sentiment was crystal clear: things ent nice. Which wouldn’t have comforted key PNM ministers, now concerned about simmering to seething ground sentiment in some areas plus the political and other consequences in the past, present and 2020 future.

At the last “Conversations” in February in Camille Robinson-Regis’ eastern constituency, concerns about MP performance only slightly outweighed those on national issues.

Five months later, Tuesday’s second “Conversations” in South showed equal numbers of both—and rising urgency. “Point” concerns and updates stood alongside crime and other national concerns including the area’s increasing status as entryway to foreigners entering plus operating locally.

What struck a chord however was Michael Mills’ angry lament on an alleged PNM attitude of neglect of Point—a direct indictment on MP Edmund Dillon. Rowley, clearly stung, noted the area’s had “good reason to support PNM...So don’t come with dat!”

Point “Conversations” was selected at a period when Dillon’s National Security portfolio has been in the hot seat more than usual. The event presented yielded raw homeground sentiment on crime issues without any cover-up for their MP. In synch with the tone, Rowley’s suggestion (to one constituent) to raise his issues with his MP who visited his constituency, was tempered with a note of warning (MP-wards) that he “hoped” he did.

(But neither Dillon or his boss would have been overjoyed that CNMG’s subtitle beneath their “Conversations” segment at 8.26 pm was for another programme which normally aired then—“Mad Men”.)

Exactly when “Conversations” may roll around to Rowley’s constituency, Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s, PNM’s Tobago seats (or even Marlene McDonald’s Port-of-Spain South) remains to unfold. One Point attendee who said he’d learned a lot from the meeting, urged more.

Apart from complaints and concerns Rowley’s repeated admission that Government isn’t talking “enough” and needed to “communicate” was confirmation enough that Government was lagging on messaging—more crucial now in constrained circumstances facing T&T and the administration.

Loopholes have featured in myriad issues from presentation of certain legislation to property tax. Crime commands its own collection of shortcomings.

As T&T’s Number One problem under the past PP, it’s still such for PNM. But while the PP’s signature challenge was corruption, the PNM’s is economic management. In current circumstances, the worse the economy, so too, crime. Recent developments have shown increased security responses to kidnapping resurgence. But it’s still insufficient to be the strong deterrent that’s vital following culprits’ demonstrated determination to do “business”, as T&T’s business environment contracts further.

Rowley’s rhetorical query on Tuesday—what a new government may do differently—isn’t one which the UNC’s prepared to share answers on yet.

PNM was as much on the defensive in Point, as UNC was on the offensive at its Bamboo Village meeting on Monday though crowd participation was limited to unqualified support.

UNC’s self-proclaimed “countdown” to removing Government received another boost recently when leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar won legal ground against Government concerning the Children’s Life Fund. At her side, were UNC attorneys Wayne Sturge and Gerald Ramdeen.

Whether both continue in the Senate within her upcoming changes, lies ahead, as do the messages from this. Answers are also in the offing on whether the changes will be those that are necessary to truly give UNC a second chance at Government—or are simply cosmetic. Vying for Government, UNC will have to walk the talk on what it says Government isn’t. Or would be seen as merely mouthing the same platitudes PNM’s perceived as doing.

New faces already being tested on UNC frontlines include PRO Anita Haynes and executive member Imam Rasheed Karim among others. Haynes, new “face’ of the UNC, is expected to do just that—expand UNC’s national profile beyond traditional South-Central UNC support while central regional co-ordinator Karim is expected to tap into Muslim support.

Who’s message will be on point? Three more years will tell.


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