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Please be genuine, don’t waste time

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader on Tuesday has the potential to become a critical juncture in this country’s history, for more reasons than one.

Declining oil and gas revenue, a contracting economy, the firm grip of crime on the country and the imbroglio in the Judiciary are doing nothing in the drive to take this country forward. That’s why the issues discussed and any agreements reached, could, if managed well, have far-reaching consequences for T&T’s future.

This newspaper and this media house is hoping that Tuesday’s meeting won’t constitute time wasted on traditional (and clumsy) political dances, swordsmanship, passive-aggressive tactics, blame and disingenuous benevolence. We hope both leaders are going in with a genuine view to working together in the interest of the country and our people. This one must not be about scoring cheap political points, it must be about families stretching dollars, struggling to find a way of providing for themselves and secure their future. In the history of this country, meetings with intentions like these have achieved little. In spite of that, we genuinely believe these discussions must take place and honest compromise on critical issues in the best interest of the nation must be achieved.

In response to Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s agenda request, the PM has slated for discussion seven broad issues: (1) internal self-government for Tobago, (2) campaign finance reform, (3) anti-gang legislation, (4) the difficulty within the Judiciary surrounding the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (5) the Integrity Commission, (6) the effectiveness of Service Commission and (7) a code of conduct for MPs. On the other hand, Mrs Persad-Bissessar has asked that crime, the economy and jobs be part of the agenda.

A release from PM Rowley’s office yesterday made it clear the PM was restricting the conversation to the items listed, since they are carded to go before the Parliament and the legislation dealing with these areas will require a special majority. The PM did, however, agree that some discussions on crime could be entertained under the discourse on anti-gang legislation.

The facts are these: the PM asked for the meeting. The Opposition Leader would have been foolish to refuse such a request at a time like this. The PM provided an agenda and now all we, the people, can do, is hope that it won’t be a waste of everyone’s time and the noted issues of national interest would not just be acknowledged but agreement, compromise and solutions found on them.

It was expected that when the PM made his appeal for the meeting that naturally, the Government and Opposition would have differing views on what they deemed “matters of national interest”. More than 100 additional matters could have been added. The sea and air bridge—making sure that the solution was steady enough to consistently take us through the years ahead—is but one of them requiring critical discussion with the public and which would have avoided the kind of unfortunate misreporting on the ferry matter by another media house. That kind of misreporting, however, was not just the result of an overeager reporter relying on unchecked information, but because the Government communication system is also struggling, at best, to stay up to date and relevant with the demands to respond almost immediately to web-first media. If wrong information—or what some like to call ‘false news’ these days—spreads, it can be disastrous, not just for a Government, but for our people. And let’s be clear, these standards apply to all media houses or practitioners.

That aside, given the stated objective of the meeting, we are hopeful that the PM would be as facilitative as possible to meaningful suggestions by the Opposition Leader. By his own admittance, PM Rowley has said collaboration will be key to whatever the Government needs to achieve. As the meeting’s convenor, he will ultimately be in charge of directing what and how any agreement plays out.

It is no secret that PM Rowley and Mrs Persad-Bissessar have deep differences in the way they conduct political business. So it is quite possible that the meeting can either crash or become just another talk shop with both individuals walking away with nothing to show.

The bottom line is this: no one—from the politicians to the private sector to the people—have time to waste. We hope there will be less political gimmickry and more sustainable solutions. As this media house has said time and again, there is no superhero coming to save us. So let’s hope these two leaders can get some real business done on Tuesday.


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