More than a week after the country voted at the polls, a new government under the leadership of Dr Keith Rowley takes the oath of office before President Paula-Mae Weekes today.
The People’s National Movement won 22 of the 41 seats in last Monday’s General Election and the United National Congress 19. In the past week, the final result was held up by recounts initiated by the UNC in the marginal constituencies.
Those recounts did not change the outcome but that is part of the democratic process.
Despite the uncertainty, citizens held on to hope that the process would stand the test and it did. This was still a far cry from what occurred in neighbouring Guyana after that country’s presidential election, when chaos erupted before a new government was finally installed.
The fact that the process took its course with no issues, in spite and despite those who tried to incite citizens with the race bogey, augurs well for our democracy.
Today, Dr Rowley will take the oath as the country’s seventh Prime Minister, to serve his second term, following in the footsteps of Dr Eric Williams, Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, whose second term in office was cut short in 2001 when three members of his Cabinet voted against his government on three pieces of legislation—part of T&T’s colourful political history.
Today, a new chapter in that history will be written when Dr Rowley and his administration takes the oath and gets down to charting T&T’s course over the next five years. They are doing so in very trying times, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the country. Yesterday, cases reached 629 and there are forecasts this will increase over the next two weeks.
This newspaper congratulates Dr Rowley and his incoming team. There may be many familiar faces and some new ones but what will matter is that T&T’s business continues.
COVID-19 has already caused severe economic challenges, especially for society’s most vulnerable. One of the first items on the new government’s agenda will be the 2021 budget presentation, which must be passed in both houses of Parliament before the financial year ends in October.
Dr Rowley has admitted this will be a unique budget since in addition to what would be the normal budgetary allocations, additional revenue will have to be allocated to the Ministry of Health for the COVID response, including social safety nets for society’s vulnerable.
These are not normal times and it will be challenging not just for the new government but for all citizens. Falling oil and gas prices have not helped the country’s coffers and charting the course ahead will need some out-of-the-box thinking and tough actions which could impact all of us.
But this country has shown resilience at the worst of times and has always stood strong. What we need now is for the politicians on both sides to get their acts together and work towards the common good to see T&T through this rough period.