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Robinson-Regis in the frontline
Camille Robinson-Regis, a trained attorney, is a politician at heart. A member of the People’s National Movement (PNM) from age 17, Robinson-Regis has done a lot of growing up within the party—she spent time as a minister under the Patrick Manning administration, worked as an ambassador after a public fallout over what was deemed to be credit card abuse and, since then, has spent almost three years working in the background for the PNM.
After a hiatus from public life, Robinson-Regis, lady vice chair of the party, is back on the frontline of the Dr Keith Rowley administration and heating up the political landscape with scathing comments and commentary against the Government. In a sit-down interview with SENIOR REPORTER RENUKA SINGH, Robinson-Regis described the difference between Manning and Rowley, spoke about women in politics, and possible Cabinet posts.
You returned very strongly from a political hiatus. To what do you attribute this strength?
A: (Pause) Okay, well, I don’t think I’ve ever lost touch with the PNM or with the party because even when I went to Canada and served as the high commissioner, I still kept in touch with what was happening here. I was still working on behalf of the Government of T&T and, consequently, I needed to keep abreast of what was going on. Upon my return, I just went back to doing what I was doing in the PNM. I made a conscious decision to assist in any way that I could, so I would go to Balisier House pretty frequently to assist the party.
If you had to gauge, as a woman in politics, the Prime Minister’s handling of the Government, some decisions that she has taken—and I’m asking you to look at it from the standpoint of a female—what would be your opinion?
Honestly, I do not think that the Prime Minister has represented women adequately, and I am trying to be diplomatic as possible. I think...um...I don’t think a woman has to be different or more aggressive to be treated differently. I think you have to be your innate self, and women bring strength to any position. I honestly feel that the Prime Minister has not necessarily represented us as well as another woman may have done.
You’ve served under both Mr Manning, who has had your support, and now Dr Rowley. Which leader would you say allowed you to come into your own as a female in politics?
I would say that, in Opposition, I have always been in a certain level of leadership within the party, because I served as the chairman of the rules and regulations committee of the party and when we did our first review of the party under Keith Sobion (then attorney general), I was part of that committee, so I’ve always had a role within the party.
To be honest, because of the fact that I was working behind the scenes, Dr Rowley asked that I play a more frontal role within the leadership of the party, so I presented myself for vice chairman of the party. I continue to do what is asked of me to assist in the party’s development.
You’ve presented a strong feminine role in the PNM, which is something that has been present in the party for a long time, but you’ve come out even stronger with some of the statements that you’ve made in recent times and been at the forefront in debates. Do you think you’re making a better contribution to the party now than you did under the former administration?
I think anyone who has experience in a field, as they grow in that field and they come into their own more, they attempt to make a better contribution. I mean, I don’t want to say that I am making a better contribution, but I think that you attempt to make the best contribution that you can make. When I came into frontline politics as a minister, I was the youngest minister at the time. I am the oldest one on the PNM bench now (laughs).
You’ve seen the evolution of your own political life and that of the PNM. Do you think that with what you’re seeing in Government, the PNM requires stronger voices?
I do. It is important because the image of the PNM needs to be maintained and strengthened, and I think those who support the PNM need to see that there are people within the PNM who hold strong views and maintain the party’s moorings. Consequently, we need to speak strongly on behalf of those who support us and the founding fathers of the party. While the party has evolved, the basic tenets remain the same. I think it is important for women to see strong women in the PNM.
You’ve taken a lot of political hits in your time under the Manning administration, like the whole credit card issue that plagued you for some time. What would be your advice to women looking to get into politics?
I think it is important to look for a party. I am not saying the PNM alone, but a party where you can find a certain level of comfort with your innate position in life so that you do not feel any sort of discomfort. I think that is important. I don’t believe in just giving a woman a job just because you need to show a percentage of women employed. I honestly believe that you must give the best person the job, male or female, and I think you must be fair.
A woman should not be discriminated against just because she’s a woman but neither should a man. What is happening in T&T is unfair. I mean, we have had so many negative experiences under this Government...you mightn’t print this, but I feel that people must feel that there is some hope, and that there are some people who can stand strong and firm in what they believe and what my party represents.
For someone who has worked with both Mr Manning and Dr Rowley, are there any major changes you’ve seen in the party from then to now, either good or bad?
Umm...what I would say about Dr Rowley, in particular, is that Dr Rowley assigns you a duty and he expects you to do your job. He does not hover over people, he does not micromanage, but he expects you...he reposes quite a lot of confidence in the people that comprise his management team, and if you are the lady vice chairman, don’t go and ask him every day ‘What should I do? What you think?’ The Constitution is very clear...do that.
If you have new ideas, implement them. He does not micromanage. He is a very specific task master, he expects you to do your job well.
He sounds very rigid, very strict.
No...no...he just has a lot of confidence in the people around him and he has high expectations. He gives you quite a lot of leeway. So it is not like he has these high expectations and if you fall short, you’re dead. It is a lot more comfortable (with Dr Rowley) because he does not micromanage. Even though I supported Mr Manning for the leadership, we (Dr Rowley) never stopped being friends in the Cabinet.
There has been speculation, rumour, that the PNM is already picking its Cabinet. Now Dr Rowley has denied that, but do you have a specific role in mind should the PNM make up the next government?
I have never done that. When I was chosen by Mr Manning to be a minister, I did not expect anything. I was chosen, he chose a portfolio, and I tried to do my best. When I was moved, I said okay, and I did my best. I do not feel like a position is put down there for you, I think the prime minister has the prerogative to put you anywhere. I may not even be a minister.
You’ve also taken a public beating over this now infamous “rats” statement. I know you’ve apologised, but do you think people over-politicised your statement?
I have asked for forgiveness, but I must say that it seems to me that editorial writers, commentators, talk show hosts are very selective in their views on national issues.
Long-time PNM member Camille Robinson-Regis has returned from her politicial hiatus ready for the heated political fray. She has re-emerged as a politician to be reckoned with, having replaced former senator Penelope Beckles-Robinson in Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s new Parliamentary line-up some months ago.
During debate of the Retiring Allowances (Legislative) Amendment Bill, 2014, and the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2013, on June 24, Robinson-Regis, as Opposition Whip in the Senate, rejected the criticisms levelled against the increase in MPs’ and judges’ pensions, describing those opposed as “rats” who sought without justification to oppose the measures.
The recent rash of stinging criticisms following that statement seems to be par for the course for a woman who survived damning political fallout when she over-used a credit card which was paid for by taxpayers just seven years ago. It was her current colleague, Minister of Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh, who broke the news of her enthusiastic use of the government credit card back in 2007.
Robinson-Regis first sat as a Cabinet minister under former PNM leader Patrick Manning. However, after Singh highlighted the spending scandal which included thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, expensive jewelry and wigs, she was assigned to a diplomatic posting in Canada. She resigned back in 2010, when the People’s Partnership won the general election, returned home and remained politically quiet until replacing Beckles-Robinson.