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PNM turns on heat in the House today
Apologies began flowing yesterday from the Prime Minister’s office and National Security Minister John Sandy on the controversial Ramnarine/SSA issue and are expected to continue today in Parliament. The shift appeared to be part of the Government’s bid to recoup, after the furore surrounding the short-lived appointment of SIA junior employee Reshmi Ramnarine as Strategic Services Agency head. The Opposition, however, will be launching a three-pronged attack on the matter during today’s Lower House, including a motion of privileges against Sandy for his initial statements on the issue last week that Ramnarine was qualified for the post.
The Ramnarine issue was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet session, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran said yesterday. While Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Wednesday that she would not heed the Opposition’s call to apologise on the issue, apologies began to flow yesterday from her administration, ahead of today’s House session when PNM action on the issue is expected. Apologising first—yesterday morning—was the PM’s National Security Adviser Gary Griffith who said: “I’m sorry for the way in which this whole situation developed, including how approval was made, statements delivered and Ramnarine’s immediate resignation.
“But I don’t see why the Prime Minister should apologise, based on errors that might have been made by someone in the public sector, as the recommendation came from the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) to the SSA’s deputy director...This was submitted to the National Security Council,” he added. Ministers Sandy, Suruj Rambachan and Prakash Ramadhar had delivered statements in Parliament last Friday, affirming that Ramnarine was qualified. Sandy admitted Tuesday that he was “now advised” Ramnarine was not qualified and deemed the situation “unfortunate.”
Ramadhar said the situation was extremely “unfortunate,” warned against repetition of such “errors” and apologised for any false impression created by his statements. After his admission, Sandy held a meeting with Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar on Wednesday afternoon, after the PM was braced with a flood of media queries earlier that day about his views. After the meeting, the Guardian was informed Sandy would make another statement today. But after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Sandy’s ministry issued a statement with his apology. He is also expected to apologise to the Parliament this afternoon. The statement noted that Sandy conveyed information to Parliament last Friday concerning Ramnarine’s qualifications.
“Since then, it has been brought to the minister’s attention that the information presented was inaccurate,” it said. “It was never the intention of the minister to mislead the Parliament or the public. “The minister wishes to apologise for such inaccuracies.” Rambachan, who on Tuesday had toed the Cabinet line on the matter, said on Wednesday that he would apologise in Parliament today for any misleading information.
Meanwhile, after a special Congress of the People (COP) meeting on Wednesday on the issue, COP deputy chairman Vernon de Lima said last night: “I deprecate the action of those who chose to lie to and/or mislead the Parliament and/or the people of T&T by tendering false information to the National Security Minister with the intent that he would publish such false information to misinform the Parliament in this debacle.
“I seriously wonder whether or not a criminal act has been committed,” he added. Despite the flow of apologies, the Opposition intends to fire on the Government heavily today. Apart from the PNM’s privileges motion against Sandy—expected from MP Amery Browne—PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley would also bring up the Ramnarine issue within debate on a private motion concerning the SIA. PNM MP Colm Imbert also has a motion for debate on the Ramnarine issue at the conclusion of today’s session. Persad-Bissessar’s mentor and one-time political guru, former UNC leader Basdeo Panday—whom she praised at Monday’s UNC celebration—says Persad-Bissessar is the one who must do the explaining since she heads the National Security Council.
“She must, since the appointment was approved by the council which she heads,” Panday said. “Sandy is just an NSC member. He has made several contradictory statements already, therefore it’s imperative she clears the air. “She heads the Cabinet, so the buck stops at the Prime Minister...She can’t shirk her duty on this,” Panday added. COP deputy leader Robert Mayers said: “The Ramnarine ‘error’ has raised questions concerning the judgment of the Prime Minister who heads the National Security Council. “This issue shows a complete lack of understanding of T&T’s security requirements at a time when crime is rampant,” he said.
“One therefore has to question the judgment of the Prime Minister who chairs the NSC. Clearly, this situation didn’t result from any sober reflection,” Mayers added.
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