By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain – The recently-concluded Carnival 2011 is being described as one of the most successful in years. Its success comes, no doubt, from a strong helping hand by the People’s Partnership government. For the less-than-a-year old government, it was a test of sorts for this growing administration. For one thing, it was its first Carnival as a new government in power, so pulling off a great festival was a test of its organisational skills and its ability to please “the people.”
This year the government pumped (TT) $100 million into Carnival. It was an unprecedented sum, and turned out to be a much-needed financial boost into the local economy.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and chairman of the National Carnival Commission, Kenny de Silva, said that money was expected to generate (TT) $1 billion in business for Trinidad and Tobago.
Persad-Bissessar and her government have faced lot of criticism in the ten months in office. However, she was in a celebratory mood last week, “jumping up” with government’s ‘The People’s Band’ when it made its appearance at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Carnival Monday.
The prime minister has come under heavy criticism recently for the appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine as interim director of the Strategic Security Agency. It was revealed that Ramnarine did not have nine years’ experience in the SSA, neither did she have the University of the West Indies qualifications as Persad-Bissessar had claimed.
The botched appointment, which led to Ramnarine resigning without having assumed the post, saw Persad-Bissessar and National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy apologising to the nation.
This debacle was fodder for those playing in J’ouvert. This is the popular stage where participants satirise political and social issues during Carnival.
The government also provided ample material for the calypsonians. The 2011 Calypso Monarch is 26-year-old Karene Asche who won the $2 million monarch prize for her two calypsoes, ‘Uncle Jack’ and ‘Careful What You Ask For’.
One of her calypsoes was based on Jack Warner, who holds the posts of Works and Transport Minister, is the MP for Chaguanas West, and is chairman of the United National Congress. He is also vice-president of the international football association, FIFA. A powerful figure in the PP government, Warner is noted for delivering the goods and is no walkover. Her other calypso, ‘Careful What You Ask For’, was a commentary on voters choosing the PP government over the ousted PNM. It added that having made the choice, the electorate should not be upset about what they received.
It was back to the prayerfulness and sobriety last week Wednesday. Typically, Ash Wednesday is an ‘informal’ day-off work taken by thousands to rest up and recover from what were three months of wild and expensive feting. The calypso singing, the wining from the hip, and steelbands occupying main thoroughfares in the capital city were no more. What was a consuming controversy over who lifted music from who, arguments over the multi-million dollar prize money handed out by the government, and who won, lost or was cheated at various competitions, were being settled in the judicial culture of arguing that is among the distillations found in the many rumshops across the country.
It turned out this year that Ash Wednesday was also the deadline for the 33,000-strong Public Services Association to accept the government’s five percent wage offer. The original offer was one percent, while the PSA is demanding 16 percent. On March 2, Persad-Bissessar indicated that the government’s original offer would not change. This is all that can be offered now given the depressed state of the economy.
PSA president Watson Duke has said he could not consult with the PSA’s membership during the Carnival season. He needed a further three months before getting back to the government. In the meantime, Duke has led a series of sickouts, marches, and demonstrations. One demonstration saw entry of a group of protestors into the five-star Hyatt hotel in downtown Port-of-Spain in the lead-up to Carnival, much to the bemusement of the tourists.
The government has also made a five percent wage increase offer to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Despite their jobs being an essential service, officers have protested by staying away from work.
Meanwhile, Finance minister Winston Dookeran has kept his cool despite being the recipient of severe criticism. Over the months he has been demonised by policyholders in the handling of the Clico collapse.
Dookeran has been handing out the bitter medicine of the economic downturn, indicating in a February 26 full-page newspaper statement that Trinidad and Tobago is in a period of fiscal deficits that emerged in 2009 and so far this year.
“We project an overall fiscal deficit of (TT) $7.7 billion or 5.5 percent of gross domestic product. Our primary fiscal challenge is to return to fiscal balance by 2012-2014,” he stated. Additionally, “The total revenue of the Central Government this year has been an estimated (TT) $41.2 billion, with an expenditure of (TT) $49 billion.”
Dookeran further stated: “The revised compensation, if it were to be extended to the rest of the public service, where negotiations are still ongoing, will cost the Treasury (TT) $1.251 billion, plus an additional cost for allowances of at least (TT) $761 million in 2011. The wage bill for the public sector will now be approximately (TT) $8 billion annually, which represents 19 percent of our gross revenue.”
Apart from settling the Clico crisis, Dookeran said the government also has to deal with hundreds of millions owed to contractors for work done on government projects that were initiated by the last government, including housing schemes and government offices.
Payments to Clico policyholders will only be to those who invested (TT) $75,000 or less, which is the ceiling covered under the Deposit Insurance Fund. Those who invested more than (TT) $75,000 continue to threaten to sue the government.