Government’s sudden public engagements

Last week, the Government staged what turned out to be a massive event at the Square of the Revolution. Its purpose was to allow citizens to meet and interact with various officials. Members of the public were also allowed the opportunity to raise issues of concern with the expectation of them being resolved or at the least, having the process initiated.
Representatives from some State agencies were also available to provide whatever support was needed in keeping with the intended purpose of the event. From all reports, the turnout was overwhelming as evident from the long lines as people braved the scorching heat to take advantage of what was supposedly offered. Under the modest tents were many Ministers who abandoned the comfort of their plush air-conditioned offices to engage the residents.
The event, when viewed in isolation, is well-intended, welcomed and necessary as part of the process of making the Government accessible to the populace. When a more holistic perspective is taken, the activity can be seen as knee-jerked designed to convey the impression that the Government is caring and easily accessible. The latter, when examined in the current political context, can be seen as far from the truth.
The main premise for this is that, in almost four years since in office, the Government has not been engaging the citizenry in the manner expected. Unlike the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), which was known for sustained engagements with the public at various levels across the country, the current government built a reputation of being confined to offices.
The President, even prior to the official announcement of his illness, was not seen as having a preference to meet residents in their villages or through Cabinet outreaches as was a hallmark of the PPP/C. As a matter of fact, he did not avail himself for press conferences and apparently agreed only after pressure from the media and sections of society. Save and except the few Ministers who facilitated members of the public on assigned days, there was little else that could have been deemed as engaging the public in a meaningful way.
That drastically changed after the no-confidence vote on December 21, 2018. Having accepted on that historic night that it had fallen and would abide by the decision, and, even though it completely changed its mind after the injection of a controversial mathematical theory, the Government almost immediately embarked on exercises to meet citizens.
Some Ministers who never engaged in such activity hit the road and the fields with the weather appearing to be of little concern. The sudden and noticeable switch to meet with the ordinary folk was clearly precipitated from the action of one of its former Members of Parliament, Charrandas Persaud. His “yes” vote that led to the success of the no-confidence motion was what put into motion the Government’s action of rubbing shoulders with residents in the streets.
Despite him being vilified and despised by his former colleagues in the Government, it can be unambiguously stated that Charrandas’ vote literally woke up the Government. Through its unsurprising spin and fear of losing office, the Government is now advertising itself as caring, and accessible. It’s the complete opposite of what it appeared to be by its own actions prior to December 2018.
Many questions were asked as to why the Government seemingly secluded itself from the people. Some have posited that it would have been challenged to defend the draconian measures it introduced after taking office in May 2015. Those measures inflicted serious financial consequences as hundreds of jobs were lost and some businesses closed. The social impact continues to be devastating.
The bleak situation hasn’t changed and the Government has found itself in a situation where it is forced to engage the populace in an effort to show it possesses caring traits. In doing so, taxpayers’ money are spent to prepare the venue with tents, etc, to facilitate those who attended. Those familiar with such costs will know how steep it could be.
With that in mind, wouldn’t it have been more prudent for each of the Ministers to have extended engagements at the various Ministries to, at the least, spare from the blistering sun? By the same token, couldn’t the same be done for the Government agencies that were involved? These questions seem unavoidable in the context of what might have been the real purpose – a genuine engagement or a public relations activity.
The first option would demand sustained and meaningful interactions throughout the tenure; the second, an exercise in damage control. From what is evident since May 2015 to December 2018, and having been made to realise its apparent neglect of the public, the Government may have had no option but to enter a mode of damage control as it seems to be in now.
That could question the sincerity of and probably how beneficial the event was to the ordinary citizens. One would definitely want it to be beneficial for the people, but the question seems very relevant. The same for the recently-held Youth Rally reportedly at the expense of taxpayers.