Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Rambharat: I was drawn in by Rowley’s plans
After years of using his weekly column and social media as a platform to voice his thoughts on national issues, Clarence Rambharat is ready to mount the political platform.
Drawn in by People’s National Movement (PNM) Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s proposed plans if he gets into government and becomes prime minister, Rambharat, on Tuesday at a PNM political meeting held in St Augustine, announced that he would accept a nomination to represent the party in the Rio Claro/Mayaro constituency at next year’s general election against the current MP, Winston “Gypsy” Peters.
In an interview on Thursday at the Guardian building in Port-of-Spain, Rambharat said while the announcement marked “a country boy’s debut in town,” he would hardly consider this his entrance into the political arena. Born and raised in Rio Claro, he attended Presentation College, San Fernando, and Princes Town Senior School before going to study law at the Hugh Wooding Law School in St Augustine. As a young person, he said, he was more attracted to political personalities than to the parties themselves.
The first political figure to catch his attention was former MP and army lieutenant Raffique Shah who remains one of the political commentators that he follows closely. Among his other mentors is former UNC senator Dr Kusha Haraksingh. In 1995 Rambharat began lecturing at the UWI School of Continuing Studies before moving to the main campus in 2004 where he taught administrative and international law.
He served as CEO of the now defunct Caroni (1975) Ltd between 2002 and 2004 and as chairman of the Employers' Consultative Association from 2005 to 2007.
In 2008 he migrated to Canada and has been based in Vancouver, British Columbia, since then. Explaining the move, he said, “In 2008, the year of the financial collapse, Canada was reviewing governance structures for financial institutions, so opportunities opened up as I am a trained corporate secretary. I moved because I wanted to be admitted to practise in Canada.” He began work in Canada as a deputy corporate secretary and most recently has been focusing his energy on his private practice.
Now that he has announced his political aspirations, he will be spending more of his time here and by early next year he will move back to Trinidad. He said the move would be somewhat disruptive for his three children (aged 20, 16 and nine years) who would be back and forth between Canada and Trinidad. On whether he is still in touch with local issues, Rambharat said, “Even though I was away from Trinidad, my communication remains the same.
Most people who read my stuff don’t know where I am. I’m here often and, apart from that, I’m very active on Facebook. That has been a way of communicating and keeping in touch.”
He admitted that he expected criticism after making the announcement since people consider him to be an independent and objective commentator. “I knew that people would find it difficult to see somebody move from objectivity into a political party. Maybe the transition in their mind would be to a third party without realising that I’ve consistently said that there is no room for a third party in Trinidad unless we develop that culture.”
Asked why he chose not to run as an independent candidate, Rambharat said his assessment was that citizens would not vote for an independent since Trinidad is a heavily politicised society where the value of independent candidates was not recognised.
He said there was a lot of mental preparation involved before deciding to enter the political arena. “I always caution people that the worst person to put into politics is a columnist or a technocrat because I can analyse but can I do? The flack and criticism that I give, can I take it myself? Because government is complex. No matter how much you think you want to fix things, there is something that happens when you get into government that makes you less effective than you thought you were.”
Rambharat has taken on behind-the-scene roles in past general elections. For the 2002 general election, he worked with the central constituencies where he chaired PNM cottage meetings and in 2007, he played a more active role in the campaign for Gita Rampersad who was the PNM candidate for Naparima.
Even before that, in 2000, he was part of the legal and campaign team for the very Winston Peters who he intends to run against in next year’s election. He said he was attracted to certain elements of Panday’s administration and as such, he supported Peters. “I walked with him. I was on his legal team. I was part of his campaign team and I understand the constituency very well.”
While he has no issues with Peters as an individual, he said the feedback from his constituents was that he did not spend sufficient time in the area. He said members of the constituency reached out to him last year and more recently he had been engaging in conversations with Rowley. Rambharat said that apart from the PNM’s long history and well-established constitution, he was drawn in by some of Dr Rowley’s proposed plans if he is elected as prime minister next year.
“One of the most important things was how he saw an effective working Parliament as important to the functioning of the country. You need to pay parliamentarians more. You need to make JSCs more effective. Legislation on anti-corruption, whistle-blowing, shrinking of Cabinet…I connected with him on that. I think he's very serious and what he said he will do he will.”