OF CABINET TITLES AND FUNCTIONS IN TRINIDAD
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WHILE CABINET ministers reflect on the deliberations and suggestions at the recent workshop of the People’s Partnership Government (PPG) in Port-of-Spain, questions are being quietly raised whether Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar may consider it advisable to make some early adjustments in the titles and functions of a few of her colleagues in the current 24-member cabinet.
From a regional perspective, it is of interest to note some differences in ministerial titles and functions in the PPG’s cabinet in relation to those in some other CARICOM states.
For a start, it is a rather large cabinet. In it are an Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan); Minister of Justice (ex-judge Herbert Volney), and a Legal Affairs Minister (Prakash Ramadar).
Other CARICOM states seem not to have neither the talent pool nor the money to travel this route in cabinet composition.
There is, of course, the consideration of the PPG being a coalition administration. Hence, the evident expediency of ensuring some equity among its various segments.
As they say, in party politics all things are possible. What, however, seems to require a bit of official explanation is the rationale in allocating functions for portfolios ministers like Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry.
At the Foreign Ministry, Surujrattan Rambajan functions as “Minister for External Relations’ (including the Caribbean Community) but with, strangely, “wider Caribbean” appearing in parenthesis). One would have thought that “external relations” would, by definition, automatically extend to the “wider Caribbean”.
Of more significance, however, is that the Prime Minister has taken direct responsibility for determining and implementing “foreign policy”. Consequently, while Rambajan is responsible for what comes under “external relations”, it is the Prime Minister who actually deals with what’s defined as “foreign policy.”
There is another portfolio of interest–that held by the Minister of Trade and explained to mean “local and foreign trade”). What else, one may ask, if not local and foreign?
Further, there is a related issue of interest: This cabinet minister’s responsibilities are explained to include “trade agreements”. Okay. Why then the distinction between “trade agreements” and “treaties” with the latter falling under the portfolio of the Minister of External Affairs?
The lines of responsibility among the Attorney General and the Ministers of Justice and Legal Affairs may not be as difficult to follow as those of “foreign policy” (under the Prime Minister) and “external affairs” (under Rambajan).
At the same time, there is a prevailing view among experienced regional technocrats in cabinet government that there may be some tidying up to do by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar as she reviews her government’s priorities and the portfolios distributed among her cabinet colleagues.
She would be aware of examples within CARICOM where cabinets have ministers responsible for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and whose portfolio automatically embraces the Caribbean Community.  In a few jurisdictions, Foreign Trade has been delinked from Foreign Affairs, resulting in some internal administrative challenges. As a result, there has been a reversal to both Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade as portfolio responsibilities of the same minister. Guyana is among CARICOM examples.
But the Caribbean Community is generally always the focus of responsibility for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
It may not be a fair assumption but there is a prevailing view in some quarters that regional and international developments and events are not priority agenda issues for the People’s Partnership Government in Port-of-Spain.
It would, however, be quite unfair to ignore how the mere four-month old PPG administration is prioritising and passionately pursuing domestic problems and challenges.
Perhaps during the current parliamentary debate which started on Tuesday on the 2010/2011 budget, the opportunity may be taken to offer some explanation to better inform the public on the PPG’s approaches to its style of cabinet governance.
Hopefully, also, there may be some informed comments by either the Prime Minister or her Finance Minister, Winston Dookerann, on issues pertaining to Trinidad and Tobago/CARICOM relations in view of concerns of apparent official diminishing interest in Port-of-Spain.

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