At first I thought it was a misreport but then, Minister Lincoln Douglas denied it and confirmed it simultaneously last week: Three hundred and fourteen million dollars for the NCC!
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Supporters gather in support and against Election Bill
Several full Cepep crews turned up at the Parliament building yesterday to work for a day’s wage, without their wackers, rakes or brooms.
But the hedges were already trimmed, grounds swept clean and there was no litter in sight.
Instead they came carrying placards, some wearing yellow T-shirts, others in regular clothing as they stood, sat and in some cases sang songs in areas around Parliament on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
The debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, attracted a crowd of hundreds, who mostly ignored the contributions made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley, which were broadcast on a large screen near the Breakfast Shed.
Unlike previous protests, where most of the crowd were divided along the lines of red and yellow, most people wore clothing that was not in the dominant colours of any political party, making it difficult to identify who was supporting whom. It was clear though, that a large number of government supporters had been paid to attend.
Sitting contentedly under a large mauve umbrella, one Port-of-Spain resident, when questioned, said she was told to come to the Parliament yesterday.
“They told us to come and support the constitutional reform.”
When asked who gave her the instruction, she said she worked for Cepep and was told by her contractor to come out.
Fyzabad resident Selwyn Jairam, who also admitted to being a Cepep employee encouraged by his boss to protest, said he had come to support the Government.
“I know they are debating on the constitutional reform. If you don’t have an MP who is doing work then you can get rid of him.”
Jairam said his MP Chandresh Sharma did good work in the constituency. He could give no examples of the good work, however, and did not understand the details of the bill, including the runoff for MPs.
A woman in a yellow shirt said she was also paid by Cepep as her friend quickly intervened to say: “You are not supposed to answer them.”
This woman quickly stopped speaking but later passed a note to this reporter.
The note read: “We cannot talk. We working Cepep and they told us to come here.”
A man walked past waving a national flag, while a flag salesman complained that sales were poor.
A group of women volunteered that it was part of their duties as Cepep employees to attend.
“Yes, we are getting paid to come here, but we are not being forced.
“They gave us the option of going out and doing work or coming to the Parliament and I chose to come to the Parliament,” said one.
Oropouche East resident Narace Ramlackan said he was asked to come out to support the Government and was happy to do so.
Rain fell and people huddled under umbrellas eating sno-cones, some silent and watchful, others singing along to the reggae classic Get Up, Stand Up as it blasted through speakers, which conflicted with the audio streaming live coverage of the parliamentary debate to the crowd.
Dissenters out also in force
Port-of-Spain resident Ava Subratee said she had decided to come after reading of the “disrespect” shown to Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) member Dr Merle Hodge after she expressed concerns publicly about the bill.
Hodge, who was also at Parliament yesterday, accompanied by former gender minister Verna St Rose -Greaves, made no comment except to say she had come to be a part of a people’s protest.
While Baptists rang bells and sang hymns, Arima resident Clyde Pena said he was concerned about the timing of the bill, with an election due in less than a year.
Near the Breakfast Shed, people signed petitions demanding that the debate on the bill should be discontinued.
One self-proclaimed PNM supporter told another supporter that she had been called by her Cepep contractor to come to the Waterfront to work.
“I told him I was coming but to support the PNM. They can’t buy me.”
Petit Bourg resident Michael Samuel described the bill as madness.
Throughout the crowd, snatches of conversations about the controversial Life Sport programme, which the PM recently shut down, could also be heard.
Police were out in riot gear and some patrolled the building while others remained stationed at entry points and Coast Guard officers guarded from the sea.