Indian origin woman leader in Trinidad poll fray

By Paras Ramoutar, IANS,

Port-of-Spain : A million people will vote in the general election in Trinidad and Tobago May 24 that will decide the fate of Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s ruling party and opposition alliances, one of which is led by Indian-origin woman politician Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

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Constitutionally, elections are due by October 2012. This is the first time that any government is going to the polls before its due date.

Prime Minister Manning announced that with the dissolution of the ninth parliament the people of this oil-rich nation will have a chance to re-elect his People’s National Movement government which has been in power since 2002, or a combined United National Congress led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, attorney-at-law and the Congress of the People (COP) led by Winston Dookeran, an economist.

The government has been plagued with a series of corruption practices under Manning. The most notable one was a series of wrongful and corrupt practices in the construction industry following an 18-month Commission of Inquiry into the sector by British construction expert, Professor John Uff. The report was laid in parliament two weeks ago.

Over seven billion dollars in contracts were at stake. Buildings were never constructed or were not built to standards. Some of them took over three years to be completed, costing the taxpayer money and time.

Parliament was scheduled to debate a motion of no-confidence against Manning last Friday. But on the eve of the debate, Manning announced the dissolution of parliament. It was reported that Manning had feared that some of his own MPs would have voted with the opposition to topple him from power.

There are several other mega projects costing billions of dollars which are under scrutiny, including the Brian Lara Stadium, which was supposed to be completed for the cricket World Cup in 2007 but still remains incomplete. The initial cost was US$50 million but has now crossed $150 million and still counting.

The government spent over $400 million on both the Summit of the Americas which was attended by US President Barack Obama in April and then the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held last November, which Queen Elizabeth II and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended.

Despite an overflowing treasury, from which funds were sourced by high oil and gas prices, the 1.4 million people continue to suffer from the total breakdown of health, educational, water and infrastructural facilities like roads, bridges, agricultural access roads, poor agricultural capacity.

For the last eight years, over $60 billion were expended by the government, yet nothing substantial is visible, say critics.

Winston Dookeran, political leader of the COP said: “The people are victims of unpopular government policies and the monies earned from the energy sector did not reach the masses.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s population consists of over 44 per cent of Indian stock that was sourced from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during the period 1845 to 1917. Some 148,000 Indians came here to work to boost the decaying agricultural sector.

(Paras Ramoutar can be contacted at [email protected])