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Offline zuluwarrior

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The mysteries of strong and weak Govt
« on: February 20, 2011, 09:32:56 AM »
The mysteries of strong and weak Govt
By Selwyn Ryan

Story Created: Feb 19, 2011 at 11:56 PM ECT

(Story Updated: Feb 19, 2011 at 11:56 PM ECT )

In a previous column (Sunday Express, February 6,) I asked questions as to why our governments "fail" so continuously? Obviously, several factors work together to make the country ungovernable. Since writing that column, former prime minister Mr Patrick Manning offered another factor, viz, that "Trinidad and Tobago requires strong leadership to govern the country". Mr Manning had previously indicated that strength was not enough, and that "righteousness" was also needed to secure good governance and prosperity. The remark about the need for strong government was made in the context of the widely held view that the People's Partnership Government is "weak" and irresolute, and patently unable to deliver the good governance which it promised nine months ago.

There is indeed a view abroad that over the years following Independence, PNM led governments have been "stronge" and more transformative than the alternatives which have emerged in the form of the NAR, the UNC and now the People's Partnership. Several factors have been responsible for these outcomes. The first is that while all major parties are in fact coalitions, the PNM has been less so.

PNM governments, whether under Eric Williams, George Chambers or Patrick Manning, have been more cohesive and unitarist than the others which have had to bargain and make deals in order to stay united and to survive. The state of the economy also helps to determine how governments represent themselves. With some notable exceptions, especially in the late 60s and the early 90s, the PNM has been in power during boom years and cash was used to buy compliance and bribe potential dissidents. When the economy is strong and surpluses are available, governing elites talk louder about plans and visions, and carry a bigger stick. The reverse is the case when money is not readily available.

One sympathises, up to a point, with the People's Partnership Government and the AG's office in particular, when they complain that they're "constantly having to sidestep mines in the ground, and anyone of them could spring on us at anytime.

The Government is moving with a vaccum [cleaner] and push broom having to clean-up PNM mess everywhere we turn. I want this country to understand that before the People's Partnership can even take action, we first have to spend time to unravel the mysteries of governance that was the PNM. The Prime Minister has made similar observations and complaints. Mr Subhas Panday has also pleaded that the coffers are empty. As he moaned,' when we assumed government,the national debt was in the vicinity of $62 billion. Had we had those funds, had there been no wastage, had there been no corruption, we would have been advanced on this [tunnel to Maracas project]."

Are these complaints excuses for an absence of competence and capacity, or are they genuine? Both are true. Some critics and detractors say that what is lacking is experience and competence, while yet others say that the People's Partnership Government's weakness derives from its ideological orientation. Interestingly, there is no agreement among scholars about what constitutes "strong" or "weak" government. There is in fact wide disagreement as to whether strong governments perform better or worse in terms of economic growth and development, or happiness and public well being.

Up until the 90s, there was a bias in favour of strong governments. The orthodox view was that if one wished to accelerate the rate of economic development or dramatically change the material quality of life for the better, one needed to have a strong interventionist government. Strong states such as those in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan were invariably more interventionist and redistributive in their orientation than states that were "weak". In Latin America, the strong states were invariably populist.

Weak or minimalist states either lacked the bureaucratic and regulative capacity to act meaningfully or were led or influenced by elites who believed that strong states more often than not misallocated and wasted resources constructing mega-complexes. Their ideological preference was to allow the market a greater role in allocating material resources and social goods. The maximalist state, by comparison, sought to mobilise and push the society into achieving "developed country" status or some other overarching goal.

These polarised generalisations however often masked realities that were quite different.

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Manning believed that the governments which he led were strong, that he had a "vision" (2020), he was prepared to cut corners to achieve the articulated goals. He also sought to impose a time frame within which the goals were to be achieved.

I however have serious doubts as to whether the Manning-led state was indeed strong. Mr Manning's voice was strong as was his conviction and belief in his mission; the executive was unitary and those with whom he disagreed were fired. The other institutions of the state, including the regulatory and legal apparatus were quite weak and hollowed out. And, instead of seeking to reform the main structures, the attempt was made to by-pass them by creating a rash of special purpose bodies like UDECOTT which also lacked capacity and credibility. The problems were merely transferred from the central state apparatus to the shadow state where arbitrariness went largely unchecked. Some big infrastructural projects were constructed; the urban skyline was transformed, but these developments came with much waste, deferred costs, and yes, minefields.

The problem with the People's Partnership is that the executive is weak. The administrative apparatus is also weak, made so in part by the personnel shuffling that is taking place in the staterooms of the nation. There also exists an ethnic struggle raging within the interstices of the state as office holders seek to preserve what they have, and office seekers try to consolidate and lock in their new gains.

Reacting to poll data and other qualitative assessments, the PM and several ministers have promised that the public will see much more activity in the months to come. The problem however is not that this or that is not being done 'for the people'. The problem is that the regime has not yet been able to project a sense of competence, coherence, and confidence, and is living from accusatory headline to accusatory headline. There is very little coalition management, and the political noise level is also much too high.

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