A few days ago, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley, lashed out at mainly Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) critics by saying that they were ‘trying to stir up racial hatred’ in the multi-ethnic society.
He was reported in the media as saying that his ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) party ‘continues to be the only true national party’ in Trinidad and Tobago where ‘every creed and race find an equal place’.
Rowley added: ‘Just remember half of the PNM Government is Indian’ and that ‘those Indians [critics] are insulting the Indian population . . . please have a conversation with them [Indians in the Government]’.
Rowley was trying to deflect criticism by ethnic, religious and women’s groups that his party had promoted violence on a sari-clad Hindu and Indian woman in a skit at its Sports and Family Day on Sunday 12 August 2018.
There are 23 PNM members of parliament (MPs) in the House of Representatives.
Of these, there are only two Indians: Faris Al-Rawi and Terrence Deyalsingh. Indians, therefore, constitute a trifling 9% of PNM MPs in parliament.
Apparently, Rowley miscounted. Half of the PNM government is not Indian. There are only 26% (or six) Indians in cabinet as ministers, viz. Clarence Rambharath, Terrence Deyalsingh, Kazim Hosein, Rohan Sinanan, Franklin Khan, and I reluctantly threw in Faris Al-Rawri too in the daal pot.
Seventy-four per cent or 17 ministers in government are non-Indians. There is a margin of error of plus or minus one minister whose ethnicity could not be determined.
According to a government Central Statistical Office (CSO) population survey conducted in 2011, Indians account for 35% of the population, the largest ethnic group in the country. Comprising 26% in the government, Indian ministers are, therefore, under-represented and do not find a proportionately ‘equal place’ in Rowley’s PNM administration.
The ministers in Rowley’s government who are all members and representatives of the PNM enjoy a wide array of rights, powers and privileges. Pursuant to Chapter 5, Section 74.1 of the constitution, the prime minister and ministers in his cabinet have been empowered to ‘have the general direction and control of the government of Trinidad and Tobago . . .’.
Rohan Sinanan is the only Hindu in cabinet and Kazim Hosein is the only Muslim.
These two non-Christians were installed in the cabinet in June and November 2016, respectively, more than a year after the PNM took government in September 2015.
Rowley appointed these two non-Christian ministers after complaints by Hindus and Muslims that they were not represented in government. Sinanan represents 6% of the Hindus and Kazim 20%, respectively, in the population. According to the CSO survey of 2011, Hindus comprise 18% of the population and Muslims 5%. Sinanan can, therefore, be seen as window dressing because Hindus are grossly under-represented in government.
Operating under a republican constitution, the prime minister in Trinidad and Tobago heads a cabinet of ministers who are chosen by him or her. In the current administration, Rowley has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers in his cabinet.
The book Caribbean Islands, edited by Sandra Meditz and Dennis Hanratty, states that in Trinidad and Tobago: ‘The prime minister is by far the most powerful figure in the government and is responsible for running the government. The prime minister chooses cabinet ministers from Parliament, who are then appointed by the president, and he can change ministers and ministries at will’.
Kumar Mahabir is an Academic and Cultural Commentator