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Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Crash victim in ‘miracle’ recovery
Election fever was rife in 2013, as the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led government suffered four consecutive beatings at the polls during the Tobago House of Assembly elections, local government election and the Chaguanas West and St Joseph by-elections. Activities on the political front dominated front pages. Juicy titbits emanated from the tit-for-tat rivalry between former allies Jack Warner and Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, who is facing a leadership challenge from former senator Penelope Beckles.
However, although politics took centre stage, 2013 was not without its share of non-political newsmakers who took on the roles of villains, victims, heroes and heroines. The following is a brief look at some of the people who made it to the news this year.
Ryan Rampersad—The tragic story of 20-year-old father of two Ryan Rampersad broke the hearts of many in 2013. Rampersad became 98 per cent paralysed after a police officer ploughed into him and five other Sea Lots residents during a horrific accident along the Beetham Highway, Port-of-Spain.
Haydee Paul, 28, and her daughters, Shakira, seven, and Akasha, eight, died, while Rampersad, Abigail Assing and Amanda Lalla, 50, were injured in the crash, which occurred along the westbound lane of the highway on February 24. The T&T Guardian followed Rampersad’s story, reporting on the horrific conditions during his hospitalisation and the later intervention of Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan. After extensive rehabilitation, Rampersad was able to leave the hospital for the Christmas holiday.
Hafizool Mohammed—In February, Mohammed came under fire when the Guardian reported exclusively that his qualifications were bogus. He later admitted that his CV was not 100 per cent accurate. The Government asked Mohammed to step down as a member of the commission of enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt in the light of revelations about his academic qualifications, but he refused.
Mohammed later asked to be excused from the commission to seek legal advice. He admitted to obtaining the unaccredited degree because of his age and the flexibility it offered.
Ian Alleyne—Dubbed one of the most colourful characters for 2013, the controversial Crime Watch host made headlines in October when he announced his decision to contest the November 4 St Joseph by-election.
The headline screamed “Political Bust up” as the Guardian announced that Alleyne had parted ways with his long-time friend, attorney and occasional co-host Om Lalla. Alleyne was criticised for his involvement in the completion of 20 community projects in St Joseph during the campaign. Despite his efforts, he lost the seat to PNM candidate Terrence Deyalsingh, having obtained 5,577 votes to Deyalsingh’s 6,356 votes.
A day after the election, Alleyne found himself embroiled in another controversy after Elections and Boundaries Commission chairman Dr Norbert Masson ordered an investigation into why Alleyne was registered to vote in St Joseph although he does not reside in the area.
In April, Alleyne was placed on $80,000 bail on charges that he resisted the arrest of Sergeant Ajith Persad, and three offences of airing a video showing the rape of a 13-year-old girl during his programme in October 2011. He was fined a total of $30,000 or in default serve 72 months in prison.
Lester Pitman—The story of death row inmate Lester Pitman, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, also wreaked a maelstrom of criticisms this year from the public and the judiciary. Pitman was convicted along with Daniel Agard for the December 2001 murders of John Cropper, his mother-in-law Maggie Lee and sister-in-law Lynette Lithgow-Pearson.
Described as a young man with a mind of a child, Pitman escaped the hangman’s noose because of delays in the delivery of judgments. He was subsequently ordered to serve a minimum of 40 years behind bars.
Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez—Beetham community activist Kenneth Rodriguez was featured prominently in the news after he claimed to be the “main man” in a $2 million contract to build a police post on Duncan Street, Port-of-Spain.
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams later said police had “information ” on Rodriguez’s involvement in gang activity, but in October the mystery deepened when Housing Development Corporation managing director Jearlean John denied Rodriguez was either a contractor or sub-contractor on the project. John said she did not even know if Rodriguez was a worker on the project and he was not attached to the HDC in any official way. Rodriguez later denied he was a gang leader.
Gary Griffith—Former T&T Defence Force member and national security adviser Gary Griffith took centre stage after he was appointed Minister of National Security Minister in September. As the fourth person to hold this post under the PP Government, Griffith embraced his post saying he was going to take on “cowardly criminals.” He made headlines for saying “criminals were like cockroaches that must be sprayed, weeded out and crushed.”
He immediately launched a major crime-fighting initiative VIPO (Virtual Police Officers), so every law-abiding citizen could become a virtual police officer. Griffith later journeyed to the United Kingdom where he met with a number of UK security companies, all seeking to provide land and maritime assets and equipment for the Defence Force and the TTPS.
Jack Warner—Between April to July 2013, Jack Warner moved from the roles of football villain to political victim. He made headlines in April when he resigned as minister of national security and Chaguanas West MP, after allegations that the FBI was investigating him. However, his popularity did not dwindle although investigators at Concacaf accused him of mishandling funds.
Warner was able to move past these allegations of bribery and corruption, riding on the waves of his popularity in Chaguanas West, to form a new political vehicle —the Independent Liberal Party. He contested and won Chaguanas West in July and then faced a sound defeat in the October 21 local government elections. Warner faced a series of litigation from his former Cabinet colleagues for remarks made during the election campaign.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar—Dubbed the Guardian’s political survivor of the year, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar led her party through four consecutive election defeats in 2013. She has faced numerous brutal character assassinations on social media, but still managed to retain her political popularity. As the central figure in politics, Persad-Bissessar also had to fend off the allegations made in the e-mailgate scandal.
Her greatest highlight was her visit to South Africa, with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, for the memorial funeral service of late icon Nelson Mandela. Persad-Bissessar’s commitment to the Children’s Life Fund and to developing a new constitution also made the news.
Penelope Beckles—Former opposition senator Penelope Beckles-Robinson made the news after she emerged as the strongest challenger to the leadership of PNM Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. In early December, Rowley removed Beckles-Robinson and Fitzgerald Hinds from the Senate. Rowley later denied that Beckles-Robinson was removed because she posed a threat to his leadership.
Mervyn Cordner—In February, retired police sergeant Mervyn Cordner made the news after claiming he was the newly-appointed head of a revived New Flying Squad Investigation Unit (NFSIU) set up by former national security minister Jack Warner. But Warner denied knowledge of the squad.
An investigation was later launched by the Prime Minister. Cordner claimed that $24 million was spent to set up the unit, noting he and other persons had full approval of the Ministry of National Security. In October, Cordner said a lack of adequate policing was leading to the upsurge in gang activity.
Anna Deonarine—Anna Deonarine, the daughter of United National Congress (UNC) councillor Shama Deonarine, made the news after being selected as the deputy political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP). During the campaign her name was dragged through the mud when investigations revealed she had purchased a Range Rover which was reported stolen in the UK, and that the vehicle had remained impounded for two years locally.
The allegations against her worsened when it was revealed she was the major beneficiary of the sale of 20 acres of land, bought by her parents from Dole Chadee’s brother for $225,000 and then sold by them to Clico for a whopping $13 million.
Verna St Rose-Greaves—A champion of children’s rights, former fired gender minister Verna St Rose-Greaves made headlines in December when she stormed Parliament with her clanking Orisha bells, chastising government for its inaction in protecting children. Earlier in June, St Rose-Greaves released a draft gender policy document with pro-gay and pro-abortion rights.
Ivor Archie—Chief Justice Ivor Archie came under attack in December for the failure of the judiciary in handing down judgments, some of which were outstanding for more than four years. Earlier in the year, he spoke out about the need to have decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana possession. It was not all negative for Archie, however, as in August he received the prestigious Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago by President Anthony Carmona.
Ravindra Ramrattan—The tragic story of Trinidadian scholar Ravindra Ramrattan made local and international headlines after he was killed in a terrorist attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 23. Ramrattan was a Cambridge University economist who went to work in Kenya and devoted his life to poverty eradication.
Ken Gordon—Chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon found himself in hot waters several times. On May 15, Gordon was accused of being part of a political conspiracy after he invited PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley to his home for discussions, a few days before Rowley presented a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
In November, the Gordon-led commission made a second blunder when it failed to inform Attorney General Anand Ramlogan of an investigation relating to the purchase and licensing of two Range Rovers.
Stephen Williams—Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams faced his own share of political pressure this year. In July he defended the government on the e-mailgate scandal, saying the 31 e-mails read by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley into the Hansard in Parliament on May 20 were fake. Williams said his priority was to get violent crime under control, but he was unsuccessful as the murder rate surpassed that of last year.
Mervyn Richardson—Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, who also publicly defended the Government several times, made the news in June when he was he was forced to flee from a supermarket in East Trinidad after a group of shoppers began verbally abusing him for criticising Rowley. The shoppers had taken umbrage to how Richardson was handling the e-mailgate investigation. Richardson proceeded on pre-retirement leave on November 22 without completing the probe.
Wayne Kublalsingh—Leader of the Highway Re-Route Movement Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, who survived his 2012 hunger strike, faced repeated arrests and charges as he continued to defy government in its quest to build the Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy highway extension.
On September 25, police arrested Kublalsingh on a highway construction site near the Mon Desir Interchange, and charged him with obstructing officers in the course of their duties, assault and resisting arrest. Two days later, Kublalsingh was taken into custody after he blocked an excavator clearing land near Mon Desir, Delhi Road, Fyzabad.
On October 9, Kublalsingh was again charged after he and five supporters surrounded a roller and refused to move, even after police instructed them to do so. On September 4, Kublalsingh was dismissed as a lecturer of the University of the West Indies.
Watson Duke—Dubbed a villain by his own comrades, controversial president of the Public Services Association Watson Duke made headlines when his Game Changers slate won the elections for a second term with 1,957 votes in December.
Duke has been at loggerheads with public servants after he was accused of accepting a five per cent wage increase from government. He also faced criticisms over his handling of the La Forteresse housing development built on the former PSA Grounds in St James, which is still under construction. Those homes are expected to be completed early this year.
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