Government’s parliamentary team has been strengthened with the appointment of veteran politician Ganga Singh as Senate leader, replacing Emmanuel George. Environment and Water Resources Minister Singh took his Senate place in the top seat on the Government front bench yesterday. George, who had led the Senate team since 2011, was shifted three seats down. George replaced Subhas Panday as PP Senate leader in the July 2011 ministerial realignment. Now he has lost not only his Senate leader’s post but also Public Utilities to Nizam Baksh. George now has Jack Warner’s former Works and Infrastructure portfolio. Singh and George are now “reunited”; they served together in the 1995-2001 UNC administration when Singh was Public Utilities Minister and George was permanent secretary. The ministry which Singh received—and shares with junior minister Ramona Ramdial—includes the Environment division, formerly in Roodal Moonilal’s Housing and Environment portfolio. It also includes water resources, which was in George’s former Public Utilities Ministry. Singh, along with Marlene Coudray, Jamal Mohammed and Larry Howai, yesterday replaced Government Senators John Sandy, Verna St Rose-Greaves, Nicole Dyer-Griffith and Danny Maharaj in the Senate.
This followed last Friday’s Cabinet realignment, which has transformed the profile of the Persad-Bissessar team. Singh, in politics for over 25 years, took up duty immediately yesterday, appearing quite comfortable in the role.
His first task was to state that Government was able to answer only one question on the agenda, while the rest were deferred. Singh is expected to be the foil to the Opposition PNM’s energetic tag team in the Senate of Terrence Deyalsingh, Faris Al-Rawi and Fitzgerald Hinds. While the Congress of the People’s Nicole Dyer-Griffith was replaced, the COP increased its Senate numbers with the appointment of Singh and Jamal Mohammed. Mohammed is a a member of the well known political clan, whose members have been known to support the PNM, the UNC and the COP at various times. Mohammed, who entered the Senate two months ago as a temporary Senator, now holds a key portfolio where the PP’s image is concerned. New Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, who was shifted downward from Transport, said yesterday he was concentrating on fulfilling his predecessor Vasant Bharath’s mandate: reducing food prices. Bharath was promoted to the Trade, Industry and Investment portfolio, pivotal in boosting the economy. He replaced Stephen Cadiz, who moved a niche down to Tourism. Persad-Bissessar broadened and recast her former 35-member team into a 40-member unit. This included shifting former Minister in Culture Nela Khan to Deputy House Speaker.
Before last Friday, the Cabinet had 27 senior ministers. Though a number of them remain in place, the remodelled Cabinet has 33, three of whom are women: Persad-Bissessar, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and newbie Marlene Coudray. In the change, three new ministries were created. They are Communication (Jamal Mohammed), Environment & Water Resources (Singh and Ramdial), National Diversity & Social Integration (Clifton De Coteau and Embau Moheni). In one of four ministerial splits, the Prime Minister divided the Ministry of the People/Social Development between incumbent Glenn Ramdharsingh and the newly demoted Vernella Alleyne-Toppin.
Fazal Karim, who formerly headed Science, Tertiary Education and Technlogy, now shares it with Rupert Griffith who is responsible for the Science and Technology aspect. The Local Government Ministry, now preparing for local government polls next year, was also split between former Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan and former minister in labour, Rudy Indarsingh. Chandresh Sharma now supervises Caribbean Airlines, the Port Authority, Airports Authority and the rest of the Transport portfolio. Food Production was split between ex-Transport Minister Devant Maharaj and former deputy speaker Jairam Seemungal who was promoted to minister. Former Finance Minister Winston Dookeran was laterally shifted to Foreign Affairs, a high-profile position, though not as much of a hot potato as Finance. Although Dookeran had the assistance of Delmon Baker before, Dookeran’s replacement, Larry Howai, will handle Finance solo.