Chaotic conversations – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

webnexttech | Chaotic conversations - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THE GOVERNMENT’S communication strategy in recent times has left a lot to be desired. On March 5, the Prime Minister issued a blistering defence of his government’s implementation of property tax at a Conversations with the Prime Minister event in San Fernando. In fighting mood, he said the Cabinet had a mandate to bring the tax, accused his opponents of using the courts to obstruct him, and knocked the measure’s critics as “voices that have property outside of TT.” “Nobody’s oppressing anybody with this tax,” he said. One week later, Colm Imbert was rising in Parliament to announce the tax had been cut by 33 per cent. “The government has taken stock of the various issues raised in the public domain,” Mr Imbert contritely told MPs on Friday, reading a statement authorised by the Cabinet. On Sunday, as the country reeled from the Harpe Place killings in Port of Spain, Dr Rowley released an unequivocal statement offering condolences to all families experiencing pain and trauma due to crime. On the official Facebook page of the Office of the Prime Minister, the PM further isolated the role played by illegal firearms in the crime scourge. But on the same day, Fitzgerald Hinds released his own statement in a completely different tenor. On his personal Facebook page, the Minister of National Security and Laventille West MP blamed not firearms, but the hold of gangs in the area. He expressed “deep condolences” to those affected – but in the same breath excoriated residents for purportedly not being sincere in fighting gangs. As some desperately erected street barriers to try to keep strangers out, he asked whether residents would go back to “business as normal.” No one expects all members of Cabinet to sing from the same hymn sheet all the time. Diverging views are healthy. Too often, especially in authoritarian regimes, officials simply parrot the views of their leader. But when it comes to national security and the economy, sharp turns and wide divergences pose unique dangers. In these areas of governance, it is of paramount importance that the Cabinet engender confidence and a sense of control, not confusion. The decision to reduce property tax, an option hitherto not widely discussed in public circles, came across as dramatically abrupt, whatever its bona fides. The chaotic way the reduction came to light last week, too, before the Government formally announced it, was far from ideal. Whether the notices wrongly advising of the suspension of payments were due to overzealous public servants or not, this policy measure was of such importance there should have been no scope for misunderstanding. The Cabinet should have spoken first, and spoken clearly. What else is the point of Cabinet media briefings?

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