COP won't undermine PP
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, May 6 2012
Congress of the People (COP) political leader Prakash Ramadhar yesterday refused to take questions from reporters about his party’s future in the People’s Partnership (PP) coalition Government in the wake of last week’s specially-convened Cabinet meeting, which discussed, among other matters, the COP’s adamant position on two controversial issues: San Fernando Mayor Marlene Coudray’s defection to the United National Congress (UNC) and its call for a referendum on the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Instead, Ramadhar, during a news conference at the COP’s Operations Centre in Charlieville, Chaguanas, surprisingly echoed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s assurance, following Wednesday’s marathon meeting, that all members of the Government have agreed to collective Cabinet responsibility, despite prevailing tensions within her soon-to-be two-year-old administration.
“The COP confirms therefore that all Cabinet members continue to bear collective Cabinet responsibility. The COP will in that context continue to be guided by pillar 6 of the 2010 manifesto titled - Good Governance - People Participation which promised ‘consultation, participation and consensus-building...” Ramadhar read in a statement during the 11-minute briefing.
The COP leader has come under fire in several quarters for his somewhat subdued stance in the aftermath of Persad-Bissessar’s statement that all members of her Government had agreed to collective Cabinet responsibility.
In fact, a faction from within the COP known as the Loyalists, led by one-time challenger for the post of political leader, Nalini Dial, have called for an urgent meeting with Ramadhar to thrash out the issue in the context of the party’s much-touted adherence to its philosophy and founding principles. Yesterday’s highly-anticipated news conference, which was scheduled to begin at 11 am, did not get underway until two hours later. However, at the outset, the party’s chairman Joseph Toney made it clear that Ramadhar would not be entertaining any questions from the media.
It was expected that the usually forceful and articulate Ramadhar would have spoken out on all thorny matters affecting his party following Wednesday’s meeting, in which it was widely rumoured that he was to be fired from the Cabinet for the COP’s somewhat confrontational stance on the CCJ and the issue of the San Fernando mayorship. Instead, Ramadhar, struggling to maintain a brave face, limited the briefing strictly to a three-page statement, titled Affecting the People’s Partnership Coalition of Parties and Government, and simply walked away afterwards despite calls from reporters for a question and answer session.
Ramadhar was accompanied at the head table by Toney, deputy chairman Vernon De Lima and San Fernando West MP and Minister of Public Administration Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and COP deputy leaders Drs Anirudh Mahabir and Lincoln Douglas.
But even as he agreed to tow the line of the UNC-led Government on the issue of collective Cabinet responsibility, the COP leader made it clear yesterday that the party’s firm stance on the Coudray issue as well as its call for referendum on the CCJ had not changed.
In a clear reference to the Coudray affair, the Legal Affairs Minister said: “The COP continues to hold that the matter of a breach of agreement among the partners of the People’s Partnership is a matter for corrective action by those responsible for that breach and is not a matter for negotiation.”
However, he made it clear that the COP had never intended to leave the People’s Partnership over the Coudray issue.
“The COP never decided or stated that as a result of the breach of agreement which I referred to at above or for any reason existing, that the COP was leaving the People’s Partnership or any of its elected representatives was leaving the Cabinet or Government of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
On the CCJ issue, he added: “Consistent with the 2010 manifesto, it is the COP’s position that the matter of the final Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago is a matter for referendum among the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Ramadhar also re-asserted the party’s position as an independent political entity.
“The position which we have always articulated is that the COP is an independent political party which will articulate independent positions on policy matters,” he said.
“We maintain this position. This principle was acknowledged and agreed to by Cabinet this week.”
In keeping with the thrust toward collective Cabinet responsibility however, he said the Cabinet agreed that all policies would be discussed within the Cabinet before being announced in the public domain.
“To do otherwise would be to undermine collective Cabinet responsibility,” he added.
Earlier in his statement, Ramadhar suggested that the five-party coalition arrangement had presented challenges for the PP.
“This political formation and the Government which it has given rise to are new. Therefore, challenges and moreso opportunities will arise, including matters of political relationships, matters of the rules of engagement among the coalition partners and matters of government and governance,” he said.
He added: “Sadly, what we have witnessed, in relation to these developments, is a distortion of these simple positions of the COP.”
In what may be regarded as plea for support, Ramadhar said the COP “will do everything always in consultation and discussion with you to ensure that your Government remains faithful to the goals with which you agreed in 2010”.
“We expect that going forward, partners would be more respectful of one another, that there would be even more meaningful consultation on policy matters and that the structures required to deliver more effectively and equitably to the population will be strengthened,” he said.
“The day of coalition politics is here. The COP is committed to working for redefinition of the political and governance arrangements to meet this new reality.” (See pages 4, 8 & 9).
He also insisted that there will be no return to the old governance based on maximum leadership by decree.
Before Ramadhar spoke, Seepersad-Bachan, who has reportedly been at loggerheads with Coudray over the San Fernando Waterfront Project, revealed that it was never the intention of the Prime Minister to fire any minister.
“I know many things have been said about Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. It is important to know that even before the Cabinet meeting started, speculations were rife that Mr Ramadhar had been fired. This morning (yesterday), I would like to take the opportunity to clearly indicate for the record that at the very beginning of that Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister stated to us, as Cabinet ministers, that no one was going to be fired,” she told reporters.
“In addition, no ministerial appointment was being revoked. I thought I should make that very clear because the Prime Minister herself was very explicit on that.”
Seepersad-Bachan, who has also been accused of under-performance by some constituents, regarded Wednesday’s meeting as productive.
“I am of the view that that meeting, and I am sure many Cabinet ministers would join me in saying that the meeting, in general, was a very respectful meeting, one in my view, that spoke to the way forward as the People’s Partnership in coalition politics,” she said.