COP cries foul over T&T reshuffle

(Trinidad Express) A letter of complaint from the Congress of the People (COP) denouncing changes in the People’s Partnership administration was delivered to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last night.

The letter was drafted by the executive members of the party after an impromptu closed-door meeting at the Tunapuna constituency office of the political leader Winston Dookeran yesterday.

Sources said the letter, drafted by Dookeran, party chairman Joseph Toney and deputy political leaders Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, Robert Mayers and Prakash Ramadhar and others expressed “strong disagreement” on the Parliamentary changes that surfaced after Saturday’s reshuffle.

The letter outlined the party’s overall dissatisfaction with the reshuffle and that the move resulted in a worrying “reduction of COP presence” within the coalition’s Government representation.

The letter, sources said, identified as a source of discontent, Seepersad-Bachan’s removal as the Minister of Energy and the proposal to move her to the Ministry of Public Administration.

Sources said it referred to the reshuffle as an “exercise (that) was not conducted in the spirit of the coalition”, and called for an immediate meeting between the COP leadership and the Prime Minister “before the finalisation” of the re-appointments.

Seepersad-Bachan, who initially refused the new ministerial portfolio made the last minute decision yesterday to accept it.

“If it was up to me personally, I would not accept it. But I am a member of the COP and as such I must be guided by my executives. But if it was just up to me I would have been out of there,” she said yesterday.

“There was no justification for it. There is so much unfinished work in the Ministry. But again I will be guided by the COP and the spirit of coalition. I have to stay,” she said.

Seepersad-Bachan said she had no problem with her new Ministry, but was not happy with the way the reshuffle was handled.

“Yes I was taken by surprise. There was no reason for it, given the track record we were building,” she said.

“In the interest of structure and cohesion of the People’s Partnership it is important that I stay in Cabinet and therefore I will take the position. I will humble myself and take the position,” she said yesterday.

Seepersad-Bachan said she returned from London on Friday night and attended Saturday’s meeting without any idea of what to expect.

Dookeran, who also returned to the country on Friday night, said yesterday he was at Saturday’s meeting at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s during the reshuffle process. He said he was not previously informed of any intention to move Seepersad-Bachan from the Ministry of Energy.

“We met today (yesterday) to discuss the issue of the Cabinet reshuffling, but we have nothing further to say at this point,” he said.

A source close to Seepersad-Bachan said she was not given “any good reason” for her removal.

“The Energy Ministry was getting so many positive reviews in the past year. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was beginning to grow and now all of a sudden they changing the face of the Ministry. That could shake the confidence of people willing to invest millions of dollars in the country,” a Ministry source said.

Another senior COP member, Senator Prof Patrick Watson, was axed after Saturday’s reshuffle.

Watson said he would wait for the final say to come from the Prime Minister, but said he was informed that his appointment would be revoked.

“I was not an elected Member of Parliament. I was there at the Prime Minister’s behest. The Prime Minister giveth and the Prime Minister taketh away apparently,” he said in a brief telephone interview yesterday.

Watson said he would have more to say once the Prime Minister confirmed the new positions and new removals.

“I don’t want to preempt what she would say, but I was informed that the PM was going to the President and have my appointment revoked. I am unhappy, but only because now a lot of people could turn around and say “we told you so”,” he said.

“But it is becoming quite evident that it was COP that is now hung out to dry,” Watson said.

News of a Cabinet reshuffle and other changes emerged on Saturday after the Prime Minister summoned her Cabinet and Government Senators at the Diplomatic Centre.

Three new ministers are scheduled to take the oath of office this morning, at Knowsley building, Port of Spain some three hours before the ceremonial opening of the 10th Parliament.

Minister of Health Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, Minister of Public Administration Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam, Watson and Subhas Panday were all axed, making way for the four new senators – Devant Maharaj, chairman of the Public Transport Service Commission (PTSC), to assume the portfolio of Minister of Transport, Verna St Rose Greaves to assume the portfolio of Gender, Youth and Child Development Minister, Nicole Dyer-Griffith and Terrence Baynes.

Former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives Dr Fuad Khan will assume the portfolio as Health Minister. Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Jairam Seemungal was also tipped to replace Khan as Deputy Speaker.

Panday confirmed that his appointment was revoked. Public Utilities Minister Emmanuel George will replace him.

Sources told the Express that Baptiste-Cornelis, Ramgoolam and Panday were all offered diplomatic postings.

Panday, who also served as Minister in the Ministry of National Security, said he declined the offer to serve as the Consular General to Toronto and will return to his family’s private law practice.

“In the one year (I served) I enjoyed it, made good contacts, was able to help the police and prisons and I wish my successor good luck. I want to thank the Prime Minister for the opportunity to serve the country. My loyalty remains to the party and the Prime Minister,” Panday said in a brief telephone interview.

Sources said Baptiste-Cornelis was offered a diplomatic posting to Geneva and Ramgoolam to New York.

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