Row in T&T coalition over San Fernando mayor rumbles on

(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is standing firm and does not intend to accede to the demands of Prakash Ramadhar, political leader of the Congress of the People (COP), to appoint a member of his party to be the Mayor of San Fernando.

This from two senior Government sources, who spoke on the strict condition of anonymity, after the marathon talks with coalition leaders at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, on Thursday night, ended on a grim note.

Discussions among the leaders are scheduled to resume on Monday at 2 p.m. at the same venue.

Sources told the Express the leaders were at loggerheads, as neither Persad-Bissessar nor Ramadhar was budging on the matter.

On Monday, Ramadhar had given an ultimatum, saying the COP would “revisit” its position in the coalition if the principles of the Fyzabad Declaration were not adhered to and if an agreement that a COP member be San Fernando Mayor was not kept.

The issue arose after incumbent Mayor Marlene Coudray suddenly renounced her allegiance to the COP—which claimed it nominated her for the position—and joined the United National Congress (UNC) and was later elected a deputy political leader at the party’s March 24 internal elections.

Ramadhar argued that the principles of the agreement were breached when Coudray switched allegiances, thereby taking the mayorship to the UNC.

However, a source told the Express the COP’s fight over territory was unreasonable and noted further that the Prime Minister cannot remove an elected mayor from office.

On Wednesday, Sport Minister Anil Roberts, who unsuccessfully contested the post for political leader of the COP, criticised Ramadhar on his demand, saying it was unreasonable.

The source pointed out that the COP has been fairly treated as an equal partner in the coalition, as it was noted that COP members have been placed in major positions in the appointment of COP chairman Joseph Toney as chairman of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and Gerald Hadeed as chairman of the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago board.

The leaders’ meeting on Thursday started just after 6 p.m. and finished close to 10.30 p.m.

Following the four-hour-long talks, Ramadhar, accompanied by Ashworth Jack, political leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), Makandal Daaga, Chief Servant of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), and David Abdulah, leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), walked out to the driveway of the Diplomatic Centre and briefly addressed the media.

“We had very open and frank discussions on a wide range of issues. The leaders reiterated their commitment to the Partnership and to the Fyzabad accord and its declarations,” said Jack, who appeared to be a spokesperson for the group.

“Given the importance of the issue under discussion, it was necessary for the leaders to continue to meet and we have agreed that this meeting will continue on Monday, next week at 2 p.m.” he added.

“I know you want to know exactly what happened on every issue, but we will not be able to say that because there are issues with wide-ranging implications,” he said.

Asked why there was no resolution, Jack said: “When you have to run a Government with all the different competing interests, it is necessary for us to kind of work things out to its logical conclusion.”

Questioned on the unresolved outcome of the meeting, an upset looking Ramadhar said, “What it says is that we have to have another meeting, and to say anything more than that would be a bit premature.”

“After four hours discussion, I think we all agree that there’s no other choice but to keep this together and to continue working in the best interest of the country,” said Jack.

Asked whether the COP will back-track from its demands to appoint a COP mayor, Ramadhar replied: “We will be forthright with the nation at the conclusion of this meeting, which is on Monday.”

Arima Mayor Ghassan Youseph on Thursday joined the COP’s chorus of support, pledging his support for Ramadhar and calling on the Partnership to resolve the issue urgently.

“I accompanied Mr Ramadhar to several meetings prior and after Local Government elections, where arrangements were worked out and agreed upon by all parties present,” stated Youseph in a media release.

“The COP is an organisation of high ideals and integrity and I stand with my fellow COP brethren in our insistence that what has taken place in recent weeks regarding the mayorship of San Fernando is a travesty and goes against the intent and the very spirit of the Fyzabad accord,”

 

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