Why we choose to remain politically neutral

One of the key principles of the Energy Chamber is that we remain politically neutral. And not only must we be politically neutral, we must be perceived as being politically neutral.

This is far from easy in the highly polarised world of Trinidad and Tobago politics, where a favourite pastime is spotting if somebody or the other is secretly “a PNM” or secretly “a UNC.”

Any statement criticising or praising a governmental policy is picked apart by commentators to determine if we really favour one political party or the other.

One morning during the midst of the fight over the Alutrint smelter, I was driving to work and listening to one call-in programme where I was being roundly chastised for allegedly being a biased supporter of the PNM.

I then switching channels and heard that, in the opinion of another caller, I was a cheerleader for the opposition UNC.

I always felt that I was probably getting things right if I was being criticised by both sides.

In the run-up to national elections, the game of spotting secret political affiliations becomes more heated, and if you are not careful, the accusations can get wilder and wilder.

This is one of the major headaches of my job.

Given this environment, the temptation might be to shut-up-shop during the pre-election period and suspend our advocacy programme — if you don’t say anything, you can’t be criticised. But while this policy might mean I have a few less-stressful moments, it would be very short-sighted and I would be doing a disservice to our members if I took this approach.

It is very important that the Energy Chamber engage with all sides of the political divide, especially at this time.

With this in mind, we have recently had two well-attended Energy Luncheons, first with the Leader of the Opposition in mid-April and then with the Minister of Energy in mid-May.

Earlier this year, we also met with the MSJ to discuss their policy proposals for the energy sector. We must continue to have conversations with all political parties and ensure that they understand our issues and the things that need to be done to develop the energy sector.

In the United States, many associations have political action committees that raise funds to support specific candidates who they believe will represent their interests.

In Trinidad and Tobago, where politics is driven more by personality and identity rather than on the basis of a sharp policy divide, this approach would not be appropriate. In this country, we must strive to remain politically neutral.

Of course, members of the Energy Chamber, members of the Board and other staff will usually have their own political preferences.

Kevin Ramnarine, the current People’s Partnership Minister of Energy, is an ex-employee of the Energy Chamber. We have had past presidents and Board members who have gone on to have political careers, such as Diane Seukeran, who became a PNM member of parliament and Minister.

I think we have achieved strong governance systems in the Energy Chamber that allow us to make collective decisions not based on political affiliations. That gives us a Board which keeps its focus on strategy and staff who are committed to our core mission.