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2013- A year dominated by
Cocoyea brooms, bells ringing, a coffin. This was the scene at the PNM headquarters in old Market Square, Tobago, on the night of January 21, when the party made a clean “sweep” of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
This was to set the tone for the year ahead. It was a year dominated by elections and bitter political rivalry between the two main parties at first and then three, with the entrance of a new political force, the Independent Liberal Party. And it was a year of PNM victories, with the party winning three of the four elections.
It was a year when murder took on a new meaning, with a horrific targeting of children. Road accidents and related deaths increased as drivers, despite pleas and warnings from the authorities, took driving to a new level. These are some of the top stories for the first six months of the year.
January 21: THA elections—The political rivalry began in the THA elections, described as the most hotly contested, with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar leading the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) team on the campaign trail. Allegations of racism crept into the picture when THA deputy chairman Hilton Sandy warned PNM supporters there was a ship from Calcutta waiting to sail to Tobago. Reports of election violence, thuggery and vandalism were made by the PNM and the TOP against each other.
Whether it was caused by fear or not remained unclear but the PNM won every single seat, including that of TOP leader Ashworth Jack. February 15: Anthony Carmona elected President—The Electoral College elected Justice Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona SC, as the fifth President of T&T. Carmona, denying that presidents only play a ceremonial role, said he had powers people did not think he had and indicated he planned to use them.
February 14: SuperBlue returns—A bright ray of hope in the midst of news of spiralling crime came when Austin “SuperBlue” Lyons came out calypso oblivion to win the Carnival Road March title and the International Power Soca Monarch, which he won with Machel Montano. SuperBlue, who battled a personal problem for years, provided inspiration for many.
February 24: Sea Lots accident—Sea Lots resident Haydee Paul and her two daughters were killed near the Central Market in Port-of Spain, near the westbound lane of the Beetham Highway. They were among six people hurt in an accident involving an off-duty policeman. Ryan Rampersad, one of the injured, was warded at hospital, paralysed, for ten months.
March 4: First sextuplets in the Caribbean—For the first time in T&T and the Caribbean, six babies were born at the same time to Petra Lee Foon, a teacher, and Kieron Cummings, a bank employee. Lee Foon reportedly used the fertility drug Clomid, which Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan and other medical professionals later warned against, saying it was dangerous and a strain on the health system. Three of the sextuplets subsequently died.
March 12: Clico policyholders win—Good news for some 250 members of the United Policyholders Group, who took the Government to court over money promised to them in a Clico bail-out plan. The policyholders won in excess of $300 million.
March 13: New Pope elected—Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected the 266th pope of the Catholic Church at Vatican City. The election of Pope Francis was keenly watched by millions of Catholics around the world, including those at home, and was a significant event for them.
March 15: Defence Bill passed—The Defence (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament, allowing for the precepting of soldiers to assist police in the fight against out-of-control crime. March 23: Ryan Crime Report—A committee headed by Prof Selwyn Ryan to look into the crime problem warned the Government it should do whatever was necessary to silence the guns in the
hands of criminals in Laventille. Those guns could eventually be trained on the capital city itself, the report said. The prophetic words came to pass during the year, with shootings in the capital city between warring gangs over government contracts. March 28: National blackout—The country was plunged into darkness around midnight, after a major natural gas disruption shut down turbines at the three power generation plants. Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said there was possible sabotage of the Cove Power Station in Tobago.
April 22: Warner resigns—Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced she had accepted National Security Minister Jack Warner’s offer of resignation and appointed Emmanuel George as his replacement. Her announcement came after a Concacaf report accusing Warner, former Fifa vice-president, of financial misconduct.
His resignation was the beginning of a long, political road that saw him forming his own party, re-contesting his Chaguanas West seat and reportedly “splitting the votes” in the UNC which, some argued, caused a PNM win in the local government elections. May 11: 188 crime hot spots—Acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) Stephen Williams told a joint-select committee of Parliament there are 188 officially-designated crime hot spots in the country.
May 18: Caribbean Airlines’ board replaced—Finance Minister Larry Howai told the Senate, the majority state-owned carrier Caribbean Airlines (CAL) had registered a loss of US$70 million for 2012, despite a fuel subsidy of US$40 million.
Two days later, the airline’s board, headed by chairman Rabindra Moonan, was replaced. It was reported that the airline had been spiralling further and further out of control, with allegations of sponsored tickets for friends and the disclosure that it had to write down millions of dollars in receivables for carrying cargo paid for by credit cards.
May 20: Rowley’s e-mail revelations—On May 20, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley shocked the nation when he read in Parliament what he said was an exchange of e-mails between top government officials exposing a plot to silence a journalist and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in connection with the proclamation of Section 34, legislation which would have freed many in jail, including UNC financiers. The exposé came during a debate of no confidence in the Government.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar asked acting CoP Stephen Williams to launch an investigation into the authenticity of the e-mails, saying they pointed to criminal intent, and alleged serious government misconduct. She said she was convinced the e-mails were totally fabricated and a great con job.
To date, the police investigation has reached nowhere, as well as a probe by the Integrity Commission. Rowley said it was “being lawyered to death.” He pointed out that Gary Griffith, one of the government officials implicated in the e-mails, was appointed National Security Minister. The probe appears to be at a standstill.
Israel Khan SC, lawyer for the PM, said the last thing they were waiting on was to see whether Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson would accept their suggestion to allow their service provider to provide information in relation to the allegations made by Rowley. Khan said they were yet to hear from Richardson and he was probably waiting on guidance and instructions from Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Joan Honore.
June 7: Deputy Police Commissioner pleased with investigation—Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson said the investigation into the e-mail controversy was progressing and he was pleased with the work being carried out by his officers. He reinforced earlier statements that he would not carry out the probe in the public domain.
June 2013: Google responds—Google, the parent company of Gmail, indicated willingness to co-operate in the investigations into the controversial e-mails. Google said assistance must come from the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) which allows a foreign government to ask the US for assistance to obtain evidence from US entities. This request can only be made through the Central Authority, which falls under the Office of the Attorney General.
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