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Protesters heckle Skippy at meeting
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday struck down allegations by former Social Development Ministry officer Barrington “Skippy” Thomas that she had sent protestors to demonstrate and disrupt a meeting he held at San Juan on Thursday night. The Prime Minister replied to questions posed to her on the issue following Thomas’s meeting at Himalaya Club, Barataria.
The delivery of his presentation was punctuated all the way by protestors’ loud insistent booing and chants of “Nooo!”, “Go Skippy Go!”, and “Go-on! Go-on ! Go-on!” The shouting group initially positioned themselves immediately in front the stage facing Thomas and several later swarmed onto stage behind him, holding up placards, before they were removed by the police.
Thomas, however, had support in the listening audience, including Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner, ex-United National Congress (UNC) attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah, plus various People’s National Movement (PNM) activists and dormant Congress of the People (COP) members. After the meeting, Maharaj called for COP and UNC members to form a coalition, including ILP, MSJ and “if necessary the PNM.”
During the meeting, despite the constants shouts and heckling, Thomas focused his primary attack on the Prime Minister, who now heads the Social Development Ministry where Thomas was formerly community and public outreach officer to ex-minister Glenn Ramadharsingh. Asked yesterday about Thomas’s claims that she endorsed or sent the protestors, Persad-Bissessar said this was not true.
The PM also responded to queries about Thomas’s claims that he’d objected to billing done on items during the Tobago House of Assembly election by the owner of a company. He alleged the company also built a disability centre for the ministry without a ramp and made “billions from Government,” yet wanted more from the party. Thomas claimed he’d photocopied all the documentary stubs the owner had sent for him.
Persad-Bissessar said she had not been informed of any irregularities by MPSD staff, but will enquire. The PM also dismissed Thomas’s claim that he had gone to the Chinese government and negotiated a $50 million grant for T&T. She said it was impossible for Thomas to negotiate with any government on behalf of T&T Government. At his meeting on Thursday, Thomas, alleging the Prime Minister had endorsed the protests, had said he was happy the meeting was carried live on radio.
Thomas said, “As you’ll realise how Kamla Persad-Bissessar and this Government operates…so everyone has seen the real Kamla Persad-Bissessar…look she here!” He claimed several people arrested during the state of emergency were given Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) jobs and sent to disrupt meetings. “Kamla, I hope you’re proud of this,” Thomas declared.
Thomas claimed the situation didn’t happen under former prime ministers, including Patrick Manning, Basdeo Panday or Arthur NR Robinson. He praised Panday’s administration, along with Maharaj and Warner. Thomas claimed a ministry security guard told him the PM had instructed that locks be changed at his office, although he said the Prime Minister had told him she hadn’t given such instructions. “Just as she may say she didn’t send CEPEP here tonight,” Thomas claimed.
Thomas, who said he’d continue holding meetings, called on Ramadharsingh, public servants and permanent secretaries to speak out. “I want to say to Kamla, Roodal Moonilal and Adesh Deonanan, if all you think I would stay silent for a CEPEP contract, look back your damned contract!” Thomas added.
PROTESTERS: NOBODY SENT US
The group which demonstrated at Barrington Thomas’s meeting on Thursday was not sent by the Prime Minister or any minister, says group member Patsy Lawrence. “We heard Skippy was having this meeting and in our judgment he was out of place. We went to defend our party and our Prime Minister. As far as we’re concerned, Skippy is a neemakharam,” Lawrence said yesterday, adding she was a member of the United National Congress’ St Ann’s East constituency.
Asked if she was in URP or the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP), she declined reply, save to say she was part of the unit’s ground activists and when there are activities, “we deal with it.” She claimed Thomas didn’t help some people while he was in the Government and only helped “others.” Lawrence said the group would attend any meeting Thomas called and similarly air their sentiments.
Speaking after the meeting, Thomas had said he was told to expect the protests and was not surprised by their behaviour. He said he too had organised similar demonstrations to disrupt meetings of UNC opponents on behalf of the party. Contacted yesterday, line-minister in charge of the URP, Dr Suruj Rambachan said, “I’m not aware of anyone sending people to protest.
“We respect people’s right to free speech. There are more important things to deal with than Mr Thomas’s utterings. But T&T’s a free country and you’ll find people with political ambitions. But the UNC has never engaged in any kind of politics that denies freedom to other people to express views.” UNC general secretary Dave Tancoo also yesterday denied Thomas’s allegations of conversations about fellow OPM adviser Shem Baldeosingh and that Tancoo wanted to resign from UNC’s executive.
Tancoo said, “Such claims are absolutely untrue. He called me and I suggested he speak to the Prime Minister herself.” On possible sanctions against Thomas, he said UNC’s disciplinary tribunal isn’t established, as Thomas had pointed out after the meeting when members of the media asked him if he did not fear expulsion from the party. Tancoo said the UNC doesn’t object to people speaking out, although expulsion is automatic if one joins another party.
On Warner’s presence at the meeting, Tancoo said, “Anything to do with mischief, Jack seems to be present at. His paper has carried a completely false story about a recent UNC election planning meeting when no such meeting ever took place and every aspect of the report was wrong, an insult to journalism.” Caroni Central chairman Roopchand Naranjit also distanced the unit from Thomas, adding the area is settling down after Ramadharsingh’s dismissal and Ramadharsingh is at work at the constituency office.
PP’s Ganga Singh, whom Thomas said he “saved from making a jail,” said: “I don’t know what Skippy talking about…”