Almost exactly a year ago, as Prime Minister Keith Rowley held forth from the Exodus Pan Theatre in St Augustine, he drew attention to his accommodation in a plastic chair. Audience members were moved to recognise 2019 as an election year, in which the Prime Minister was presenting a Mind Your Business series addressed to voters.
The local government election came and went. From the results, Dr Rowley’s 2019 aim to keep voters “better educated, about the economy and its challenges” resulted in the People’s National Movement’s win of seven corporations, 74 councillors, and 29 aldermen. But his major thrust that January evening was to denounce the economic crown of thorns his party had received in 2015. The former regime, he stressed, had “wasted” $29 billion, having “raided” $14 billion from State-owned National Gas Co, finally leaving little or nothing in the He defined the dread PNM challenge of making the most of the economic mess that the predecessor administration had left. Post-election, his morale-boosting, “Thank you” to PNM voters for “staying the course” counselled: “Hard times are always temporary.”
The PNM leader’s message followed that of UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with its near-philosophical guidance to the effect: “We are, at the end of the day, one family.”
Conceding her own “mistakes…and their unintended consequences”, she did not stand entirely aloof from the politics. To the PNM’s negative harping on her party’s record in office, she replied: “The population has indeed grown weary of the excuses and the blame game.”
Figures for the local government election results, on which Ms Persad-Bissessar did not dwell, showed that the PNM gained more seats. But the UNC got more votes overall, and shared municipal corporations’ control, seven-seven. With TV ads, the PNM campaign had dominated the “air war”, but the ultimate contest was engaged on the ground. A reassured Ms Persad-Bissessar rallied her forces to seek “T&T’s greatest period of reformation and renaissance”.
Though lacking the resources and other advantages of office, the UNC leading lady had not come undone.
Fate determined it would prove again and again for PM Rowley that challenging problems would arise from the doings and misdoings of women inside his own camp and out.
Early in 2020 came reports that contradicted claims by Social Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis about the source of $143,000 in cash that had once just turned up in her hands. The PM and the AG both vouched for the legal answerability of that much cash in the hands of a minister fearlessly walking from bank to bank. The episode recalled Patrick Manning-era queries about her government-issued credit card swiping in New York, that preceded birth of her twins 12 years old this month.
Again, it was an all-woman team that investigated the sexual harassment allegations against former minister Darryl Smith, leading to hush-money payment of $150,000 to Carrie-Ann Moreau. The team’s report, officially locked away, had been denounced by PM Rowley and AG Faris Al Rawi as “defective” in relation to “natural justice”. Shortly, however, team member Folade Mutota came out, rhetorical guns blazing, against that top-level assessment as “misogynistic, and an attack on women’s agency and women’s right to challenge injustice and to be heard.”
More woman-related trouble had long before captured headlines with the serial firings from ministerial position of Marlene McDonald. Eventually, she would be arrested and prosecuted for alleged financial misdeals, and consigned to pre-trial obscurity.
By Christmas 2019, another woman Government official, parliamentary secretary Glenda Jennings-Smith, became the subject of troubling questions after release of the recording of a phone conversation. The minister denied what sounded like attempted use of state resources—offer or promise of a (free) food card—in return for red-jersey political support from a needy constituent turned whistleblower. (Full disclosure: this columnist last week accepted, at the PNM’s media reception, the gift of a bottle of Moscato white wine, when his name was drawn from a box).
Hot news by New Year’s Day told of gay couple, Lisa Melville and Shackiba St Louis, loving up their just-born baby daughter, at once named Miracle. They had obtained sperm supplied by a gay friend, and last May 14 had carried out the insemination on their own at home.
On the distaff side, enough was probably going on to show up something like an ungovernable tendency among women. PM Rowley, likely wondering about his female choices for state functions, was to be confronted by the latest woman-related, trending, crime news. In the first week of the year, the woman question was being posed differently, following three murders of female, allegedly by male, partners. Dr Rowley counselled troubled men to be “strong enough” and show it by “walking away” from the temptation toward mortal violence.
Times had otherwise changed. By this January, PM Rowley was no longer to be found occupying a plastic chair in a panyard. Ensconced in a designer armchair, his new year interview took place in the relatively palatial setting of a refurbished Whitehall.