In his first public pronouncement since retiring from public life, former PNM government minister and acting prime minister Lenny Saith last night gave the government, which awarded him this country’s highest national award, a passing grade of 7 out of 10.
Saith was among a trio of distinguished nationals including veteran calypsonian McCartha “Calypso Rose” Lewis and HIV/AIDS researcher Professor Courtenay Bartholomew to receive the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (ORTT), at the Republic Day National Awards ceremony at NAPA in Port of Spain.
He said such a grade for good governance is now much harder than in his day, when petrodollars gushed. Calypso Rose, who is currently out of the country, will receive her medal at a future date while Prof Bartholomew’s daughter collected the award on his behalf.
Saith served as Senate Leader for ten years and minister with the portfolios of energy, planning, public administration and trade, in the Patrick Manning government. Reflecting on his ministerial tenure, Saith said, “you simply do what you have to do”, when in office. Saith said he was surprised on learning that he was to receive the nation’s highest award.
Asked about governance in TT, he said it is hard now because there is a lot of stress on people. He said so far, the Government under Prime Minister Keith Rowley has managed well, as their job is not easy in the current economic environment.
Asked if he had any Budget advice for Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Saith replied, “No Budget advice. That’s for others to do now. But I’m available if anybody wants advice. But it’s a new team in town. They have to buckle down and take the responsibility.” Rating the Government’s performance at seven out of 10, he said, “This is not an easy time. I’ve been in government when they had money, but they (the current government) don’t have much now.” Saith said what is needed now, is prudent management of the economy where Government can get value for money, which has always been a problem.
Earlier, a highlight of the award presentation came when all present rose to give a standing ovation to Yuklan Sancaro who collected the Hummingbird Medal (Bronze), awarded for gallantry posthumously to her son, David Sancaro who was murdered for seeking to intervene and save a woman from being abused by her estranged lover.
President Anthony Carmona and his wife Reema, as well as Prime Minister Rowley, embraced Mrs Sancaro who wept as she received the award from the President. Rowley’s wife Sharon and Chief Justice Ivor Archie also hugged the still grieving woman. The audience all rose in tribute to Sancaro’s son.
Sancaro later told reporters she was glad to be present at the function. “It was very, very hard for me to come here. I lost my 17-year-old child. The President just said he feels for me. He knew David because David was from Fyzabad. The President told me that my son’s death really hurt the whole country,” Sancaro said. A man is at present before the courts charged for the son’s murder.
Kathryn Shepherd of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust welcomed her award as, “very good for the environment.” Veteran calypsonian Robert ‘Lord’ Nelson said he felt loved and wonderful and saw the award as a sign of, “going forward.” Asked about Calypso Rose’s absence, Nelson said she was in New York recording her music and, “doing her thing.”
“Last week I was in Brooklyn with Rose. We did the Labour Day thing. We had a good time, we ‘mash up’ the place, as usual. By next week I’ll be going to Sweden.” On modern soca, Nelson said, “As time changes, the music changes. It’s not really in a form that I could get into or understand. I had my time (which) makes what is happening now.” Saying he was very happy, he praised God and asked blessings on TT.
Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez said he felt “very special” over his award. “I really didn’t expect it. It’s a good feeling and I hope it’s encouraging to the young generation coming up. This award is dedicated to my family - my mum, my dad, my wife, my daughter.” He also said this award belongs to TT, in whose name he works.
Alvarez couldn’t give details of how news of his award was leaked to social media ahead of the formal disclose by President’s House, but said it must have happened amid all the excitement of family members over this, “special moment.” Alvarez denied that he personally had broken protocol in this matter, but said that for any family member doing so, he apologised on their behalf. Asked if it was his wife Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez, Alvarez said, “It probably was. I can’t remember. I think it was.”
He said that on-stage President Carmona had congratulated him and said he is looking forward to upgrading the colour of Alvarez’s award to gold.