Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

by Sampson Nanton

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is optimistic that the worse is behind us and his message to Trinidad and Tobago is that 2021 represents “a new beginning”.

In his New Year’s Day message, the prime minister assured his government will do its best to lead the country on a path of growth and prosperity.

That optimism was not entirely shared by President Paula-Mae Weekes who said that “we can whisper ‘it will be happier’ until we are blue in the face and still not realise our hopes, dreams and aspirations for Trinidad and Tobago in 2021”, unless action is taken to address the concerns of citizens.

Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, meanwhile, said while this is the time for growth and innovative thinking, it’s unlikely to happen under the current administration.

PM’s optimism

Rowley kept faith alive.

“The first of January 2021 is not just the start of the new year – but it is the day in which we begin to set out what we can see as a new beginning. There are those among us, the nay-sayers, who will cry out immediately, casting doubts that this year will be just an extension of the awful nightmare of 2020. My government with its “boundless faith in our destiny” holds, instead, to its faith in the people of Trinidad and Tobago, seeing only hope and opportunities.”

He noted, however, that the challenges faced in 2020 remain with us, including the pandemic and a 4.4 per cent decline in the world economy.

But he said 2021 looks better.

“The IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects a 5.1 per cent growth in 2021, which is expected to level off at 3.5 per cent in the medium term. It projects that Trinidad and Tobago will see a 2.6 per cent economic growth this year, as compared to the -5.6 of 2020. But the real good news is that we have lived to see another year, and 2021 springs eternal hope for us as a people. I believe the worst is behind us.”

He added: “The new beginning I speak of will be a re-orientation of the economy, a transition into the digital age, which will create opportunities for small businesses, and increasing employment in this area. Opportunities are also identified in manufacturing, energy services, green technology and agriculture. The government, in its role, will be paying attention to emerging innovations, predicting future trends, attracting collaborations, facilitating the re-design of work processes and re-purposing of organisations.”

President Paula-Mae Weekes.

President’s word of caution

President Weekes’ message pointed toward the need for more focus on the concerns of citizens, saying it was her duty “to keep the people’s problems front and centre of the national agenda”.

“While the government of the day may well have some of these matters in its sights, those in the kitchen are feeling the heat daily and are not sympathetic to hackneyed excuses, promises of action and sob stories of doing one’s best, which they have heard ad nauseum, with nothing to show for it,” she said.

She said assurances that better days are coming “ring hollow without some demonstrable proof that those who are charged with the responsibility of improving our lives and addressing our issues are on the job, working assiduously to formulate and execute plans, policies and programmes that redound to our benefit in the short, medium and long terms.”

She said open communication and total transparency are integral to such approach, adding, “Public officials have to stop being so secretive (except in the interest of national security), paranoid, and dismissive of the anxieties of our citizens. They make decisions and take action under our authority and on our behalf, and we are therefore entitled to be kept in the loop about relevant developments. Those in authority must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion and reproach in all their dealings.”

She added: “We would all like to have cause to be optimistic, even if cautiously so, about our fortunes in the new year. Let us with urgency have those national conversations followed by the necessary action, or else although from today the dates on our diaries and cheques read 2021, we will still be haunted by the ghosts of 2020.”

KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR SC MP, Leader of the Opposition.

Opposition Leader’s mistrust

Persad-Bissessar is not assured that this government can lead the country to brighter days. She called on the government to do more to return citizens trapped abroad.

“I urge the government to fix its broken exemption process, providing clarity, information and support to our citizens stranded abroad as to when they can make their way home.”

However, she said that amid the difficulties, one significant thing that stands out is our unity as a people.

“When our fellow citizens lost their jobs, others stepped forward to help provide meals and other relief items. When children were left without access to online learning, many good citizens stepped forward to provide devices so that they would not fall behind. Throughout this pandemic, we saw the spirit of the people of our beloved nation – the spirit of kindness, courage, and compassion.”

In her view, the government created some of the problems the country experienced in 2020.

“This PNM administration presided over massive job cuts, rising levels of crime, and severe economic contraction, with no vision or plan. Now is the time for innovative thinking and strategic initiatives to create opportunities for our growth and development, but sadly, this is not forthcoming from this administration.”

She warned the months ahead will be difficult but said “we will meet these challenges as we have always done, as one people working together towards a common goal – a stronger Trinidad and Tobago. There is no obstacle that a united nation cannot overcome.”