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EOC: No official complaint about Indira
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has not yet received an official complaint about comments made by political scientist Dr Indira Rampersad on an allegedly racist statement made by Tobago House of Assembly (THA) assemblyman Hilton Sandy. Rampersad is an EOC’s commissioners.
Head of the EOC’s legal and investigative department, Haran Ramkaransingh, said on Monday: “We have not received an official complaint about Rampersad’s comments. We receive complaints on the grounds of discrimination, offensive behaviour and victimisation and nobody has lodged a complaint against Rampersad in any of these three areas.”
Ramkaransingh said the complaint has to be lodged by someone affected by it. The investigative and legal department investigates it and then presents a report to the commissioners. He said the commissioners meet monthly and can look into a matter only after it has been properly investigated.
Concerning calls for Rampersad’s removal from the EOC, he said it is the president who has the power, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, to appoint and remove commissioners.
Sandy, former THA deputy chief secretary, said during the Tobago PNM Council’s campaign for last week Monday’s THA election there was “a ship in Calcutta waiting to sail to Tobago” if the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) were to win.
The statement, perceived to be referring to people of East Indian descent in Trinidad, raised a hornets’ nest. Rampersad, commenting on the statement in her capacity as a political scientist on a television programme, said she believed it was a deliberate strategy by the PNM to win the election.
She also implied that in T&T people still vote on ethnicity and that the race card is often used in election campaigns. This also caused a lot of controversy. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has written President George Maxwell Richards asking him to revoke Rampersad’s appointment as a member of the EOC.
Rowley said her comments proved she was incapable of discharging her functions as an EOC member and was in breach of her oath of office. He was joined in his call by a group called the Equality Council of T&T. Its vice-chair, Barrington “Skippy” Thomas, a Tobagonian, is an executive UNC member and assisted in the TOP’s campaign for the THA election.
Thomas had also filed an offensive-behaviour complaint to the EOC about Sandy’s statements on January 10. Ramkaransingh said that complaint is still being investigated, after which a report will be submitted to the commissioners.
In reply to questions from the T&T Guardian over whether commission member Gerard Besson is qualified for the job, EOC chairman Prof John La Guerre said: “He has written several books and is well received and quoted as a historian of some standing. I have learnt a lot of the history of T&T from Besson.”
La Guerre said Besson, the recipient of a national award, also served on the University of the West Indies’ Council but is yet to be conferred with an honorary doctorate. La Guerre also pointed out that Besson is an EOC representative of the white community and noted that the President, in appointing him, was probably trying to be as representative as possible of all the ethnic groups in T&T.
In addition to Rampersad, La Guerre and Besson, the other members are Dr Eastlyn McKenzie and Beverly Beckles. Besson, 71, asked about his qualifications for the job, said, good-naturedly: “I suppose all those things (said by La Guerre) and my age qualify me. I suspect I have a good working knowledge of the social history of T&T.” Besson said the appointment to the EOC came to him from the Attorney General’s Office two years ago.
Besson is a former advertising executive and an historian.
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