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EDITORIAL: Trinidad's election important to Jamaica

Published:Sunday | April 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

By heading in a general election more than two years before it is due, Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago is taking a political gamble in which he believes he holds the better hand and ought to reveal it before its quality deteriorates and his opponents have a chance to enhance their own and to trump his suit.

It is an election in whose outcome Jamaica, and particularly the Golding administration - while it remains formally neutral and will studiously adhere to the precepts of non-interference - has a significant stake.Most immediately, a victory for Mr Manning's People's National Movement (PNM) would ensure the completion of the 'divestment' of Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines and shield the deal from a recriminating review and potential delays that could be disruptive to the Jamaican government's economic programme, including its standby loan facility with the International Monetary Fund.

Indeed, it is no secret that Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her United National Congress (UNC) don't much like the Air Jamaica-Caribbean Airlines agreement, as well as other regional initiatives that have recently been enunciated by Prime Minister Manning, including his plan for the construction of an aluminium smelter.Should the smelter pro-ject is dropped, there would be like negative consequences for Mr Manning's undertaking to aggressively pursue a liquefied natural gas supply arrangement with Jamaica, that could be critical to the viability, and therefore, recovery, of our alumina refineries.

Corrupt and distant

But whatever the preference of Kingston or the capitals of the Caribbean Community, this is an election whose result is far from certain. Nor will it rest primarily on the state of the Trinidadian economy, which would be the primary plank of a vote elsewhere in the region.Should Mr Manning and his PNM lose, it will largely be because the Trinidadian people presume that their government has grown corrupt and distant.

Of course, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, too, have concerns about their economic welfare. Last year, in the face of the global turbulence, the Trinidadian economy registered its first decline in 17 years, a dip of three per cent, largely on the back of a more than five per cent downturn in the key energy sector.But there is projected to be a return to growth in 2010 - a relatively modest, by the country's recent standards, two per cent. In the event, the country's reserves have substantially cushioned Trinidadians against the worst effects of the economic fallout.

But while Trinidad and Tobago has grown wealthier - with per capita income of nearly US$19,000 - it has been accompanied by a deepening sense of corruption, which many people feel was captured in a report by Professor John Uff, the British lawyer/academician who headed a commission of inquiry on the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT).

Questionable contract

Uff found questionable contract arrangements and an apparent conflict of interest in expensive deals managed by the UDeCOTT, and that the agency's then executive chairman, Mr Calder Hart, operated with apparent impunity.

There seems, though, to be legitimate questions about whether Mrs Persad-Bissessar who, in January, wrested the party's leadership from its founder, Basdeo Panday, can secure the unity of the UNC to translate the scepticism of the PNM into votes.

A significant bloc of the UNC parliamentary group remains defiantly loyal to Mr Panday, who himself this week accused Mrs Persad-Bissessar of leading a UNC that has lost its way and is "a party of elitists".

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