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Tumultuous week for Trinidad

Bert Wilkinson | 8/7/2014, 1:16 p.m.

Last week, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fired controversial Sports Minister Anil Roberts from her cabinet, blaming him for seriously mismanaging a government-funded program that was designed to create employment for youths and give others who have dropped out of school and the workplace system a second chance in life.

Roberts, a former swimming coach turned parliamentary and political Rottweiler for the government, had angered cabinet colleagues and the population at large for a series of missteps during his four years at the ministry, including widespread corruption at the Life Sports program and, of all things, engaging in political sacrilege with his recent ministerial order to remove Trinidad and Tobago from the list of names on the national franchise cricket team participating in Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 competition.

The move was quickly, publicly and embarrassingly reversed by cabinet colleagues to resounding applause from the team and cricket supporters in general. But perhaps his biggest misstep might have been his continued denial that he was the person in an undated mobile phone video seen rolling a joint and talking about taking a pull or two in a hotel room somewhere in Port of Spain. He has continued to deny that the striking resemblance and familiar voice could have been him until this week.

Persad-Bissessar leads the largely Indo-supported People’s Partnership coalition government, which could lose under the weight of persistent and widespread corruption allegations and administrative ineptitude to the Afro-dominated People’s National Movement of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley when fresh polls are called by May of next year.

But while his firing and his resignation from Parliament continue to generate tons of news material for political analysts and the opposition, it appears to also signal to the population of 1.3 million that if the prime minister were to pay enough attention to allegations of widespread corruption in the country involving high officials, she might well run out of people to fill top positions on the island, cabinet included. After only four years in government, the prime minister has been forced to fire 20 high-level functionaries during the period, including 13 ministers. Roberts is just the latest. Some of the others include senators.

Political analyst Winford James told The Guardian newspaper just this week that the People’s National Movement will return to power after just a single five-year term in opposition because of the problems associated the People’s Partnership. He blamed “too many blunders and missteps” of government, noting that several cabinet shakeups would appear to the populace that the prime minister did not fully know what she was doing, even saying that infrastructural development was tilted more to Indo communities than others.