Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s silence on unrest in Port-of-Spain and other parts of the country over the past few days has been deafening. Although he might have to be cautious with some of the sensitive information involved as head of the National Security Council, PM Rowley must address the growing disenchantment being displayed, particularly in constituencies represented from time immemorial by the People’s National Movement (PNM).
As Prime Minister, Dr Rowley represents all citizens, not just those who support the party he leads.
It was insulting to citizens yesterday that he declined to respond to questions about the unrest when he attended a function in south Trinidad. He is expected to address the matter at a news conference today but failed to grasp that a traumatised nation needed to hear sooner rather than later how their elected leader plans to deal with the crisis.
The other troubling issue is the failure to put security forces on alert as soon as intelligence sources discovered the plot to destabilise the country. Why were communities allowed to erupt in the way they did, leading to confrontations with the police, armed men running through the streets firing shots into the air, with one incident ending in the death of a pregnant mother of five?
It could not be that the Prime Minister was so busy with matters of state on Tuesday that he was not immediately aware of the gravity of the events taking place in Port-of-Spain and environs. After all, there were reports of conflagrations in several areas, including the outskirts of the country, from early in the morning and continuing for most of the day.
Dr Rowley’s one major public statement was not on that urgent national issue but about the laying in Parliament of the Roadmap to Recovery report. Post-COVID-19 plans for T&T, as important as they are, pale in comparison to addressing direct social issues threatening the country’s stability. As soon as the protests erupted, the Prime Minister should have come before the nation to allay fears and address citizens’ concerns. Assurances from National Security Minister Stuart Young and subsequent statements from Police Commissioner Gary Griffith did not make up for the silence from the Prime Minister.
Citizens must now hope for those much-needed answers and Dr Rowley’s plans for the way forward when he addresses the nation via a news conference today. This is even more critical since threats have been made on the lives of police officers by gangsters who have posted voice notes on social media.
It should be of particular concern to Dr Rowley that threats have also been made to members of his Cabinet, which is not to be treated lightly.
This is a moment of crisis for T&T when strong leadership is required to steer past the crisis.
Dr Rowley must be seen and heard to act decisively at this critical moment. To do otherwise would be to fail this population from whom he will soon be seeking a fresh mandate.