Minutes after receiving his instrument of appointment yesterday, new Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley demanded that Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner, who is also a vice-president of Fifa, give up one of the jobs. President George Maxwell Richards presented Rowley with his instrument, during a brief ceremony at Knowsley Building, Port-of-Spain, shortly after 4 pm yesterday. All Opposition MPs except former prime minister Patrick Manning attended the brief ceremony. Also among the invited guests were PNM chairman Conrad Enill, Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London and Sharon Rowley, the Opposition Leader's wife.
In a brief address, Richards said he was confident that Dr Rowley "will be up to the task that lies ahead of him." Richards said he was certain that Rowley's elevation to the post of Opposition Leader would be justified. Rowley described the appointment as "a sobering moment" which he accepted with great humility. He said public accountability was one of the major issues facing the people of T&T, "and it is in that context that I take this assignment as Leader of the Opposition."
He said the PNM team in the Parliament would "ensure that there is proper public accountability and that the Government will be held accountable." Rowley says the PNM team "see ourselves as part of the Government of T&T.
"In the Parliament, we will support everything that is good for the people of T&T and we'll oppose everything that is bad for the people of T&T," he added. He said he wanted his colleagues to know that his management style was one of delegation. Later, at his first news briefing at Knowsley Building, Rowley said he was about to write a letter to the Integrity Commission "for an opinion on whether it was proper for a minister of government to hold office in any organisation, especially a fee-paying office outside of the Cabinet." He said: "As far a I am concerned, Mr Warner has to choose to be (either) a Fifa executive or a minister of government in Trinidad and Tobago...He cannot be both!" Rowley said he had "some serious concerns" about the matter because a T&T Government minister is a full-time job.
Rowley, a long-standing MP, said he was not aware of any cabinet minister in this country ever being allowed to hold executive or any authority outside the ministerial portfolio. "If it is that we are changing the rules to suit an individual–powerful and useful as he might be–this is exactly what we don't want in this stage of our development," he insisted. He said this was especially so when the nation was focusing on improved accountability, rebuilding of trust in the Government. He said that must not only be done, but be seen to be done. Rowley said new Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar must respond to this development.
He said there is a view in the country that she "is hostage to powerful forces, and if it is that (Warner's) appointment was made as a result of the individual being who he is, the Prime Minister has to account to us for being supine when she should have stood up and said 'no you can't serve in the Cabinet as well as in Fifa.'" Rowley said if the Integrity Commission said it was okay for Warner to hold the two positions, he would continue to be strongly opposed to it. Responding to questions on the list of six Opposition senators, Rowley said it would be revealed at his Charles Street, Port-of-Spain office on Wednesday morning. He said the chief whip would also be announced at that time.
He described the process of consultations to select the senators as being "wide and deep, and I intend to select the six best persons who are available to the PNM at this time." He said he hoped to finalise the names this weekend. Rowley said one could expect a mixture of youth and experience and new faces in the team. He noted, however, that the task "is very daunting." Rowley said the May 24 defeat of the PNM at the polls was not as bad as the 33 to three loss in 1986 at the hands of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). "On this occasion, the cupboard is not bare," he added. On the issue of the PNM's election of a new political leader on June 27, Rowley said he has offered himself for the position and was receiving "tremendous support from across the country and I look forward to a successful result."