Political analyst Prof John La Guerre

Guardian Media sought the comments of two analysts on the performance of PNM ministers in office. Here is what they had to say.

Political analyst Prof John La Guerre

Q: Can you say which Cabinet ministers would have performed or failed this past year in their respective portfolios?

LG: In March, we came face-to-face with a pandemic. This resulted in some of the Government’s policies, programmes and even projects taking a different turn. Some ministers had to step up to the plate to deal with changing circumstances, the new normal, declining foreign exchange, a contracting economy, job losses and a scarcity of funds which we had to grapple with. This must be looked at.

With this in mind, it would be unfair to grade the performance of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s new Cabinet, taking into consideration that many of his ministers are newcomers and have only been on the job in four months.

*While citizens are unfamiliar with a few of the new ministers, one or two have been performing reasonably well such as Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales for tackling WASA’s inefficiencies.

*I would say Terrence Deyalsingh has done an excellent job as Minister of Health in handling the pandemic. He must be commended for his performance. I think he stands out among all the ministers in 2020. Deyalsingh must be praised for sensitising and educating the public about the dangers of the virus Also, the health regulations he introduced such as mask-wearing in public places and social distancing. One also has to take into account our low COVID-19 death rate when compared to other countries. This is a plus for us. It could have been far worse in our country. But Deyalsingh delivered.

However, some of the older ministers who came from the former Cabinet I can’t say they have been performing with distinction and they seem not to have benefited from the experience they acquired in the last regime.

*Colm Imbert, to me, has failed to address economic issues as Finance Minister. I think he was a little deficient in not explaining what the fundamental problems in the economy are and where revenue will come from in the future. I think he overextended the country’s hand by borrowing to deal with this pandemic. How are we going to recover from this mounting debt because our revenue streams have been decreasing is anyone’s guess? He has not said much about our foreign exchange which has been dwindling and affecting the operations of businesses in these challenging times. Imbert has held the economy together during this difficult time although a lot of it had to do with borrowing and dipping into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

*National Security Minister Stuart Young has done very little in protecting the country’s borders. I would say he collapsed in this regard. While the murder rate has declined in 2020, it is no solace for citizens who continue to feel unsafe. What we have seen was a spike in home invasions and robberies. Hearing that some of these crimes have been committed by Venezuelans is not comforting and a cause for concern. I think the refugee policy has to be revised. As things get worse in Venezuela, it is expected that more migrants will come into our shores some of whom will no doubt be criminals. This issue has been like a recurring decimal which must be addressed. One area Young has proven himself is containing gangs and gang warfare. We have not been hearing much about clashes and shoot-outs among rival gangs which is a good sign. It seems to me intelligence gathering has been preventing such occurrence for which Young must be praised.

*Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan seems to be very proactive. He seems to react when a problem is brought to his attention…with how much success, I don’t know. Of course, he too is facing a shortage of funds. People are of the view that he has been doing little or nothing to improve road conditions. But one has to remember that some of the neglected roads fall under the purview of the 14 regional corporations. So, he can’t shoulder the blame for all the bad roads. With limited funding, one can expect more patching and less paving in 2021. Sinanan must be credited for the construction of the Curepe Interchange and restarting work on the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway. The interchange has eased up traffic to some extent.

*Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat’s statement that doubles should not be considered a national dish because most of the ingredients are imported was his biggest shortcoming this year. He should have tread carefully when issuing this statement but spoke his mind and felt the brunt of severe criticisms. Citizens felt he stepped out of line. I think his comment was taken out of content. Clarence just wanted to bring to the population’s attention that we are too heavily dependent on imported goods which cost this country $5 billion annually. Clarence has improved in reaching out to farmers which is an encouraging sign. This move will help the agriculture thrust.

There were ministers assigned to different portfolios following the August 10 general election such as education and social development and family services. Can you speak of their performance?

In the area of education, I think Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s swift action in her new ministry has shown she is about performance and delivery. There were some technological issues that were thrown at her early on the job as some children experienced lack of connectivity issues and tablets and computers for virtual classes which she has been trying to deal with. Her ministry also received negative responses when the Government slashed Gate’s funding in the 2021 budget. While citizens were recovering from this blow came the news that a number of scholarships had been cut for which the Government and her ministry had been condemned. What is remarkable is that the minister ignored her detractors and buckled down to the task ahead. One has to bear in mind that all ministries faced a cut in budgetary allocations. I would give her credit for sourcing devices for children even though some of them came a bit late.

The shift of Donna Cox from the Communications Ministry to Social Development is a big jump. She has demonstrated some promise so far in handling her new portfolio, which is by far more demanding and laborious. Surely, she must have faced a difficult battle in ensuring those affected by the pandemic, mainly individuals who lost their jobs and could not pay their rent received their grants. There were many complaints coming from these two vulnerable groups not receiving their cheques in a timely manner. Some of it had to do with the form being filled out incorrectly. But she has been far more effective than her predecessor. I think one area Donna could have focused more on is removing the displaced off the streets of Port-of-Spain during the pandemic. One infected COVID-19 street dweller could spread the virus as they tend to hang out in clusters on Independence Square late in the evenings.

Economist Dr Indera Sagewan

Can you say which Cabinet ministers would have performed or failed this past year in their respective portfolio?

IS: I would say failing would be the Minister of Agriculture. I don’t know that any of them would have performed.

There were ministers assigned to different portfolios following the general election such as Education and Social Development. Can you speak about their level of performance?

I would give the Minister of Education a bare pass. She came on and very aggressively dealt with some issues. She took on the issue of CSEC/CAPE and SEA and that was very good as it has happened in the past and the previous ministers didn’t, so that was good. In terms of trying to get connectivity for students, in particular, she has been out-front trying to do that. I know she would have had a model for the resumption of schools but we don’t know what is going to happen there but she has been in the front working.

You would have given failing grades to other ministers. Can you say what blunders they would have committed?

In the case of the Minister of Agriculture, I wrote about that. His whole issue of singling out doubles for example, and criticising it heavily and not understanding why it is a national food. This is his second term and he has not presented to us a national development plan for agriculture. He seems to think the strategy card is home production or home gardening of which I don’t understand. The sector continues to suffer under his portfolio.

Can you say what areas ministers might have excelled in?

I don’t think there is any area. Oh, the Minister of Health has done a pretty decent job in terms of the management of the whole COVID situation. He is the one I would say has performed. He is accessible and he has done a really good job. There are areas obviously that I don’t agree with, but they do not fall under his portfolio. For example, the issue of returning citizens to the country.