Sunday 9th September, 2007

Anand Ramlogan
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‘Yes’ to new PNM faces

The ringing endorsement from the party faithful at the PNM special convention for the promised winds of change that were about to blow through the windows of their precious Balisier House confirms PM Manning’s firm grasp on the horns of his party.

Manning is large and in charge, and in total control. Whether we like to admit it or not, this is democracy at work.

Manning is correct when he says that no individual is bigger than the party, and that the PNM is a political brand with 50 years of reputation and goodwill.

The party has its own internal infrastructure and mechanisms to deal with the selection of candidates. This is a matter for the PNM party. I’m not sure it is a matter of national concern.

Panday has, for years, hand-picked his candidates, despite the façade of a screening committee.

He floated the idea of genuine internal democracy when he asked supporters to select an heir apparent in a copycat of the US primaries.

People chose from among Ramesh, Kamla and Carlos.

Ramesh won the coveted title of deputy political leader, but was unceremoniously sidelined in favour of Kamla.

Democratic choice is fine in political parties, but only as long as the outcome coincides with the leader’s choice and taste.

Dr Eric Williams was no different either, making MPs sign blanket resignation letters just in case they stepped out of line. The “not a damn dog bark” concept of political leadership was very much a reality in the PNM under Williams, who was king of his political kingdom.

I think the idea of using a party-commissioned poll to assist in the selection of candidates for a general election is a useful one.

I do not agree with the protest that ministers have to run ministries and be part of Cabinet, so it is unfair to judge them on the basis of constituency representation.

Apart from their $50,000 monthly remuneration package, all MPs receive over $10,000 per month for the purpose of maintaining a functioning constituency office and hiring staff to provide necessary support services in respect of official duties in his/her constituency.

Many also hire additional persons under the guise of some obscure contracted position in their ministry to assist them in the performance of their constituency duties.

Given the resources available to government ministers, it should not be that difficult for them to set up an efficient constituency office manned by competent staff.

The fact is, many ministers (PNM/UNC/NAR) ignore their constituency offices because they are too busy enjoying the nice life, and realise that they have no use for the peasants that voted them into office until the next general election.

What’s worse, they know that the people didn’t actually vote for them, but their party, and will do so again, come what may.

Constituency politics is such that MPs create a small personal local army which operates from the constituency office; they dominate and control the allocation of resources made available by their MP, such as jobs, houses, small contracts, etc.

The army comprises the local government representatives and the small handful of trusted lieutenants, who demonstrate with placards when the MP is under threat.

In truth, this army is more concerned about their personal loss than any larger political loss because, as Manning quite rightly observed, it is the PNM brand that they will vote for, come election day.

Although I have concerns about the methodology—and I agree that Manning may be using the poll as a ruse to get rid of some MPs—the harsh political reality of our racial tribal voting culture is that this is his prerogative, and he will exercise it whether we like it or not.

He must have got feedback from his ground troops about the performance of his MPs. His statement that the PNM must reject politicians seeking “personal aggrandisement or self-advancement” or “fame, power and fortune” is not one that should be taken lightly.

In my view, nothing much will come of this hullabaloo, and the PNM will benefit from fresh faces.

For far too long we have been saddled with career politicians, some of whom seem to be in politics because they have become engaged to the nice lifestyle and have no alternative profession to fall back on.

(One might argue that both Manning and Panday fall into this category as well). If the COP and UNC did such a poll, perhaps they will get rid of some of the dead-weight, so that we can have some change all around!

Should there be a limit on the number of years one can be an MP?

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