Year of mis-steps, miscommunication
By Andre Bagoo Sunday, January 1 2012
IT WAS the year a state of emergency was declared after a spate of violent crime; a plot to kill Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar surfaced; Jack Warner quit as a FIFA vice-president amid bribery allegations and Patrick Manning apologised to the nation for his tenure in office. As we usher in 2012, here is a look back at the top ten stories in politics which dominated the headlines in 2011.
1. State of emergency/plot to kill PM
The year will be remembered for the declaration of a state of emergency on August 21. The announcement was made, dramatically, by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a press briefing held at her home in south Trinidad. At first, the Prime Minister announced a “limited state of emergency”, prompting confusion over which areas the emergency applied to. It later emerged that the declaration signed by President George Maxwell-Richards was nationwide. However, curfews were introduced in limited areas. In a statement to MPs, the President said that the emergency was triggered by a spike in drug-trade activity. After a marathon debate in Parliament, in which the trigger of the emergency was not revealed for security reasons, the emergency was extended for three months.
Just before the emergency period lapsed in December, the news of a plot to kill the Prime Minister emerged. Several men were detained under emergency powers and then released without charge just as the emergency period lapsed.
2. A nation mourns Sir Ellis Clarke
His death, on the last day of 2010, plunged the nation in mourning in the first week of January when a State funeral was held in his honour.
It was an ominous start to a year which also saw the deaths of former PNM MP Ken Valley, PNM stalwart Rose Janneire, PNM Minister Barry Barnes, PNM education officer Cuthbert Joseph and former Port-of-Spain Mayor Stephenson Sargeant among others.
3. Jack Warner quits FIFA amid bribery allegations
At the start of the year, Warner was a FIFA vice-president, and Government Minister who wielded powerful influence over several spheres. By the end of the year he was, for the first time in decades, no longer a FIFA top-gun and had had a large portion of his ministerial portfolio at the Ministry of Works and Transport transferred away from him.
Arguably at the heart of the change were allegations that, in the run-up to the June elections for FIFA president, Warner convened a meeting at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, at which bribes were offered to football officials in exchange for support of a candidate, Mohammed Bin Hammam. Warner announced that he quit FIFA on June 20, thereby bringing an end to an investigation into him. But the proceedings, in relation to other officials, continue, creating a lingering and unresolved issue over Warner’s status. Warner also had high-profile clashes with members of the CAL board, with reports of tensions between him and CAL chairman George Nicholas.
4. Mary King fired
By far the oddest story of the year was the sacking of former Planning Minister Mary King who, in a newspaper interview, revealed that she had never declared an interest in a family company which got a firm in her own ministry. She was later fired on May 10. There were questions over the Government’s own investigation into King, with a long delay over the award of the contract and her final dismissal.5. Cabinet changes
Mary King was replaced by Bhoe Tewarie, a former director at CL Financial and UWI principal. Other changes which took place in the Cabinet included the sacking of Health Minister Therese Baptiste Cornelis and Public Administration Minister Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam.
Energy Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan was removed from that ministry and placed in Public Administration. Kevin Ramnarine became Energy Minister. Warner had the transport ministry taken away and given to Devant Maharaj, the former PTSC chairman. Minister in the Ministry of Works Rudy Indarsingh shifted to the Ministry of Labour and then to Local Government. Subhas Panday, a minister in the Ministry of National Security, was also fired. The new Health Minister was announced as Dr Fuad Khan, though he initially refused to give up his private practice. Ministry in the Ministry of Tourism Dr Delmon Baker was moved to the Ministry of Finance.
6. Manning says sorry
Although the PNM front-bench split in the Parliament this year, the event in Opposition politics that dominated attention was former PNM political leader Patrick Manning’s apology to the nation. In typical Manning style, it was not actually an apology, but a series of carefully qualified sentences: “No human being is perfect, ladies and gentlemen, and to expect perfection in the conduct of public affairs is perhaps expecting a little too much,” Manning said at a press event on October 29.
“I was not perfect in the governance of Trinidad and Tobago. It is not possible for any leader to conduct the affairs of any country, and for such a long time, without adversely affecting some people.
“There would have been some people who would have been hurt or otherwise disenfranchised by actions that we may have taken or actions taken by the government that we headed and in my case, it certainly is so. I think it is an appropriate time for me to apologise to all of those who feel or who may have felt disenfranchised by any action I may have taken over the years as Prime Minister or in any other capacity.
“I wish to humbly apologise to all of them and to say to Trinidad and Tobago, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I am sorry.”
Though there was a wide range of possibilities, Manning did not say what he was sorry for or what his imperfections were.
7. Reshmi Ramnarine appointment
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was forced to apologise to the nation in Parliament for the appointment of an apparently junior officer to the top post of a sensitive State spy agency, the Strategic Services Agency. The appointment was leaked to the press, prompting the immediate resignation of Ramnarine. Though she resigned, the controversy stormed until a new head of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), Colonel Albert Griffith, was appointed.
8. Eric St Cyr quits Integrity Commission
St Cyr had wrongly claimed to a reporter that an investigation into Udecott chairman Jearlene John had commenced. It later emerged that the matter had not yet been considered by the commission and a decision to investigate a complaint against John had not been taken. The incident was the straw on the camel’s back from a chairman who had a long history of making premature comments to the press. He eventually resigned after calls from John that he be fired was eventually replaced by Ken Gordon.
9. PM’s health concerns
The Prime Minister was hospitalised on more than one occasion. First, after she reportedly contracted dengue and then after complaining of pain from swelling to her feet, later linked to diabetes. It was reported that the Prime Minister had dengue on August 16, a week before a state of emergency was declared. On September 28, the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital after her feet became swollen.
10. Questions raised at commissions of inquiry
The Inquiry into the 1990 insurrection as well as the inquiry into Clico riveted the nation and raised political questions. At the 1990 coup, witnesses from intelligence agencies testified that they had warned the NAR government that a threat was imminent in July 1990. At the Clico inquiry, the actions of top-level management, with political ties to both major parties, were scrutinised. Several politicians, including former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira, are expected to testify. Both commissions will continue in 2012.