A reconstituted Government team enters the Second Session of Parliament today with changes to almost half of its areas including a newly-created Ministry of Gender, Children and Youth Affairs, an Information Ministry and a drastically slashed portfolio for Works Minister Jack Warner. Government also moves on in its second year replacing four senators-Subhas Panday, brother of former UNC leader Basdeo Panday, COP's Patrick Watson, Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam and Therese Baptiste-Cornelis.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar announced 16 changes within her team in an address to the nation last night, climaxing a weekend of meetings on her Cabinet realignment. "These changes, in which some ministers will be reassigned to new responsibilties, are by no means a reflection on their competence, rather a more effective alignment of competencies to posts where they will be more effective," Persad- Bissessar said, speaking as the "CEO of the Cabinet." Changes in Government now include a husband-and-wife team. The new Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications is Nicole Dyer-Griffith, whose husband is Gary Griffith, the PM's National Security Adviser.
Persad-Bissessar's announcement came despite an 11th hour bid by Partnership member, Congress of the People (COP) yesterday to halt portfolio changes concerning several of its members in Government. COP's executive summoned a noon emergency meeting at COP leader Winston Dookeran's El Dorado office yesterday following reports that COP's Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan was being shifted from Energy Minister to Public Administration and confirmation that COP Senator Watson's appointment was being revoked.
By 3 pm, COP wrote Persad- Bissessar seeking "consultation in the spirit of of the Fyzabad Unity Declaration" ahead of any public announcement. COP's letter from party chairman Joseph Toney was delivered to the Diplomatic Residence at 5 pm by COP deputy leader Robert Mayers. However, Persad- Bissessar subsequently announced her Cabinet changes in an 8.30 pm address. Last Saturday, Persad- Bissessar held an nine-hour conference on her reshuffle plans with Ministers and Senators at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.
Persad- Bissessar met privately with certain members, then met others in groups. She finalised plans yesterday ahead of today's ceremonial opening of the Second Session of Parliament. Last night, Persad-Bissessar acknowledged Government entered office amid high expectations: "At the time of the formation of my Cabinet, very few of my Ministers had the benefit of serving in Government and in Cabinet or had done so a long time ago." Saying Government is aware of the need to do better, Persad- Bissessar said: "We know our citizens expect more ...It is in response to fulfilling these expectations, that I have undertaken a review of portfolios and have made certain changes."
Persad-Bissessar said it was also obvious certain Ministries had responsibilities which were not in keeping with their core business. This created duplication and an inefficient use of both human and material resources. Replacing outgoing Senators Panday, Watson, Ramgoolam and Baptiste-Cornelis in the Senate are Terrence Baynes of Tobago, Devant Maharaj, Nicole Dyer- Griffith and Verna St Rose-Greaves.
The changes include:
• St Rose-Greaves heads the new Gender, Children and Youth AFfairs Ministry formed from Planning Ministry's Gender aspect and the Sport Ministry's Youth segment. Ramona Ramdial is Minister in the new ministry
• Suruj Rambachan 's Foreign Affairs portfolio expanded by Information, with Dyer- Griffith as a Senator/Parliamentary Secretary.
• Tobago MP Delmon Baker posted to Finance to assist Winston Dookeran.
• Energy Minister Seepersad- Bachan shifted to Public Administration and replaced by junior Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine.
• Health Minister Baptiste - Cornelis replaced by San Juan MP/deputy House Speaker, Dr Fuad Khan.
• Khan replaced as deputy Speaker by PP backbencher, Jairam Seemungal.
• PP Senate Leader Panday replaced by Senator (Public Utilities Minister) Emmanuel George.
• Minister in the OPM, Colin Partap replaces Panday as Minister in National Security.
n Works Jack Warner retains responsibilities for roads, bridges, drains, highways.
• New Senator Devant Maharaj handling Transport including CAL, the Port Authority, Airport Authority, Licensing Authority, Air Transport Licensing Authority, the Priority Bus Route, and Civil Aviation. Tobago air and sea bridges, water taxis, traffic management and PH drivers issues.
• Junior Labour Minister Rudy Indarsingh and Arts junior Minister Nela Khan both shifted to Local Government as Minister and Parliamentary Secretary respectively, assisting Chandresh Sharma.
• NJAC Senator Embau Moheni placed in Arts and Multiculturalism assisting Minister Winston Peters.
Agriculture Minister Vasant Bharath who retains the portfolio has received Forestry from Roodal Moonilal's Housing Ministry, and Marine Affairs from Works.
Persad- Bissessar acknowledged final decisions as her responsibility. She said: "It is for this reason I try to be very careful in the decisions I make, sometimes taking a bit more time so to do. ...It is difficult in government to reverse a decision and as such one has to be extremely cautious. "I have to the best of my ability tried to achieve this in my decisions including the changes announced. As Prime Minister, I have never feared admitting where I have erred. It is part of my desire to recognize the need for transparency in government and of being human...Only God doesn't make mistakes." Persad- Bissessar thanked fellow leaders for "the high level of cooperation and understanding." Appointments of outgoing members will be revoked today.
New Government members will be sworn in at 10.30 am today by President George Maxwell Richards at Knowsley, Queen's Park-three hours ahead of Parliament's ceremonial opening at the Red House.
PP officials said Ramgoolam was offered a posting to New York as T&T's Consul General and Baptiste- Cornelis, a posting to Europe. Sources said this "should be agreeable for both since Ramgoolam has relatives in NY and Cornelis' husband is from Belgium. They said Panday was offered a diplomatic posting when he met with the PM last Saturday. Panday reportedly indicated he would return to private practice if he did not take the posting. Persad-Bissessar said preparations are underway for the 2012 Budget.