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From Reshmi to ‘prisongate’ fiasco, Govt still maintains strong support base

Sunday, May 4, 2014
Reshmi Ramnarine

From the 2011 Reshmi Ramnarine incident to the current “prisongate” fiasco, there has been no shortage of scandals and misadventures in the four years since the PP coalition took office. Scattered amongst the missteps, however, is a series of achievements that helped the Government and particulary Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, maintain a strong support base among the voting public despite a massive dip in the rating in the latest North American Teachers Association (Nacta) poll. 



In February 2014 Nacta found that Persad-Bissessar had a 44 per cent positive approval rating. But even with that balancing act, at least one United National Congress (UNC) member, former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said that the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has a “record” of allegations of corruption in her Government. 



He was referring to the current public furor over the Prime Ministers decision to allow current Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to investigate possible corruption in his own ministry. “It seems to be a policy decision to investigate themselves and to resist independent inquiries,” Maharaj said in a telephone interview yesterday.


His comments come amid much criticism from Government naysayers that this latest prison scandal is more evidence that the Prime Minister is allowing her ministers too much leeway. Independent Liberal Party (ILP) head Jack Warned, now a vocal Government critic,  was one of those accused of being “protected” by Persad-Bissessar.



• Reshmi Ramnarine and the SSA
The PP’s first public misstep occurred within the first year in office when Reshmi Ramnarine, 31, was appointed as the head of the Security Services Agency (SSA)—a central co-ordinating agency for the suppression of illicit drug trafficking. Ramnarine served only eight days in office before resigning in the face of scrutiny and questions about her qualifications for the post. The Prime Minister, though initially directing the country to “move on,” later apologised for the debacle and promised then to find the correct person for the post.



Mary King fired
• The first year in office also saw the first of many ministers being fired from the Partnership. Just short of one year in office, economist Mary King, then minister of Planning, Restructuring and Gender Affairs, was implicated in the inappropriate awarding of a $100,000 contract to a company, Ixanos, in which King’s family has an interest.


• Labour pains
Months later, the Government fell out of favour with the trade union movement. That fall out, which has not cooled in the past four years, seemed unlikely at first as the union movement was often seen walking hand-in-hand with the then Opposition. The alleged implication of a five per cent wage cap led to a series of marches and calls for a national mobilisation and shut down.


To date there is still animosity between the labour movement and the Government. The trade unions have since added their collective voice to any unit or group that opposes the current regime.



• By the second year in office, the PP had survived several teething problems. After celebrating their second year in office with a massive rally at Mid Centre Mall, they began accounting to the public and launched a delayed 120-day action plan to jumpstart the country’s sluggish economy. All the while they focused on delivery though, the ongoing rift between the Government and the unions was heating up.
• The Government’s list of accomplishments within the first two years in power included laptops for every Secondary Entrance Assessment pupils, the rescinded property tax, a increase in the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour. 



MSJ pulls out
• But that year was also fraught with internal strife. One of the coalition partners, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) was built on trade union strength, and the Government’s failure to meet with the demands of the trade union movement had, by then, soured the relationship. By Labour Day, 2012, the five-party coalition was down to four as the MSJ pulled out of the Government. Two years on, head of the MSJ David Abdulah said he still had no regrets.


“I was vindicated then and remain vindicated now,” Abdulah said in a brief interview on Thursday. “With the AG/SG issue, the Prime Minister’s totally improper manner of handling it, emailgate, allegations of corruption, victimisation, blatant use of state resources for private gain..I am totally vindicated,” he said.



Collin Partap fired
• By August, then minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap was fired following allegations that he refused to take a breathalyser test after leaving a nightclub.



Section 34 dominates headlines
• By September, the issue of Section 34 dominated headlines. It led to the formation of a informal amalgamation between the MSJ and the Opposition and included several civil and social groups. 



Herbert Volney sacked
• It also led to the sacking of then Justice Minister Herbert Volney for his alleged role in misleading the Cabinet over Section 34.



Year three
• Landslide loss for TOP
The year began with a massive blow to the Governments coalition partner, the Tobago Organisation of the People landslide loss at the Tobago House of Assembly elections. After a full on campaign in the sister isle, the Government limped away with no seats in the island, and there was a sweeping victory for the PNM.



PM Kamla stays on Warner’s side despite allegations
• Still reeling from that loss, months later, within the first quarter of the new year, reports of misconduct by yet another government minister began circulating. This time, UNC central figure, chairman and National Security Minister Jack Warner was accused of misconduct during his tenure at FIFA and Concacaf. Even amidst the worst of the allegations and international probes, Persad-Bissessar remained firmly on Warner’s side.



Jack asked to resign
• By April though, when the international findings found Warner culpable, Persad-Bissessar offered Warner a chance to resign.



PP loses Chaguanas West, St Joseph
• Warner’s resignation then prompted the first of two back-to-back by-elections which saw the People’s Partnership losing both the Chaguanas West and the St Joseph seats in two failed campaigns.
Despite the losses, Persad-Bissessar remained strong and steady in her resolve to serve the people.



Lack of transparency, accountability
• The year continued with more stories and reports of corruption within the party; financiers benefiting from beefy contracts, lack of transparency in procurement, bid-rigging, and unqualified people being appointed to high office.



Year four
Glenn fired, Chandresh resigns
By year four, the Government lost two more ministers a week apart. Two scandals broke back-to-back and left Persad-Bissessar firing Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh and accepting the resignation of Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma. Ramadharsingh was accused of touching the breast of a crew member aboard the Caribbean Airlines plane between Tobago and Trinidad, while Sharma resigned in the face of allegations that he violently pushed his mistress in the Grand Bazaar car park.



Solicitor General reports abuse of prison litigation
• While the country was beginning to settle from that news, fresh reports of another scandal, this one implicating the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. In this latest one that is still gripping the public’s attention, Ramlogan’s office is being implicated in allegations of collusion relating to the abuse of prison litigation.


In the face of mounting public pressure and both civil and social groups planning a massive protest action against the Government, Persad-Bissessar ordered Ramlogan to revisit allegations of collusion involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation made by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell.


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