VERNA'S GOING BACK TO HER ROOTS
By NALINEEE SEEELAL Sunday, June 24 2012
Dismissed Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Verna St Rose-Greaves, yesterday hit back at Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s decision to dismiss her from her Cabinet, and for her token offer of a diplomatic position in Costa Rica instead.
St Rose-Greaves said she refused the diplomatic posting offered by Persad-Bissessar on Friday, saying to the PM she joined the Government to serve the people here at home not abroad.
On Friday, St Rose-Greaves was one of the former members of the People’s Partnership Government who was axed from their ministerial portfolios. She was replaced in the ministry by San Fernando mayor Marlene Coudray. (See pages 4, 5, 17 & 18)
Yesterday, the social activist, who was sworn in as a minister on June 27, 2011, pointed out that she was also unaware of the PM’s decision until mere hours before the announcement. She declared, however, that while people may feel that she is angry over her dismissal, this was not the case.
“I am not surprised by what happens here in Trinidad and Tobago anymore,” she told Sunday Newsday.
She said on Friday, after attending Senate, she was summoned to the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s and called to a room where the Prime Minister sat along with Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal.
She said the Prime Minister thanked her for her role in the ministry and then offered her the position of Ambassador to Costa Rica.
St Rose-Greaves said she was stunned by the announcement and admitted yesterday she was still coming to terms with the decision, adding she was of the view that she had been doing a good job at the ministry in spite of a lack of resources.
St Rose-Greaves said she simply told the Prime Minister, “I didn’t get into Government to go to Costa Rica, I got into Government with a specific mandate to treat with gender, youth and child development and I went in there because there was work to be done and work that I could do.”
She said she then declined the offer.
The Costa Rican Embassy is currently headed by career diplomat Sandra Honore and was opened in 2008.
Asked by Sunday Newsday if she was not indeed disappointed with her removal from her post, St Rose-Greaves responded, “I have learnt not to be disappointed, it is part of the course, you just move on and do what you need to do. I still hold true to my principles and I know the importance of getting our act together (in this country), as young people are crying out for help and we must treat with the issues of gender because it is the way forward for this nation.”
She said although she was no longer in Government there was still work to be done, and that she would continue seeing about her life and the well-being of her grandchildren and will be continuing her activist efforts. She also noted that she had already cleared out her desk at her ministry’s office.
When asked by Sunday Newsday if she would continue to support the People’s Partnership Government, St Rose-Greaves responded, “I am about nation building. I support Trinidad and Tobago and whatever needs to be done to develop this country, that is where I am and that is what I support.”
She said although she was not surprised by the move to have her replaced, because “anything was possible in life and change was inevitable”, she felt that she was doing the job she was asked to do.
“I want to commend the team who worked with me at the ministry to build a brand new ministry with limited resources under very trying conditions — we managed to achieve quite a lot in a short time,” St Rose-Greaves said.
“We had a few challenges but we did not let them deter us. We are now at the point where we understood each other and I have no doubt that they would continue to work just as assiduously with the new minister. I shared my philosophies with them and they bought into it.”
She reiterated that nothing surprises her in the country anymore and she was prepared to roll with the punches.
“I have work to do, and I will do it. My strength is the greatest challenge for other people. I have some principles which I operate under and that is simply who I am and I am comfortable with who I am, because Trinidad and Tobago is first and foremost to me,” she said.
She recalled that when she was in the ministry, she was able to develop child development plans, strategic plans, gender and youth policies, and a lot of other programmes. However, she said she believes there is still a lot of work to be done, buildings to be built and children to be taken care of.
“I hope the new Minister continues this, and continues to look after the children of Trinidad and Tobago,” St Rose-Greaves said.
Asked if her stance in not supporting the Government on the death penalty, the removal of Gender Ministry employee Cheryl Miller from her workplace by mental health workers and her stance on the gender policy may have contributed to her dismissal, St Rose-Greaves said she did not think so.
St Rose-Greaves and former Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz were the two PP Government Ministers who did not support the death penalty and were very vocal about their stance. St Rose-Greaves came under fire for her position from former Minister of Works Jack Warner, but Cadiz said while he did not support the death penalty, he was part of a Government and therefore would adhere to the principle of collective responsibility.
St Rose-Greaves also came under heavy criticism from the public after Miller was carted away from her office by health officers and taken to the St Ann’s Hospital, where she was declared by psychiatric doctors as having a chemical imbalance. Miller’s attorneys took the matter to court and she was ordered released into the care of her family. Miller’s lawyers are now in the process of suing the State on her behalf.
St Rose-Greaves had made it clear at the time that she had nothing to do with Miller being sent to St Ann’s, but noted that the public did not have the full details on that matter.
Government sources told Sunday Newsday the Prime Minister was forced into the situation to please Congress of the People leader, Prakash Ramadhar, who wanted San Fernando Mayor Marlene Coudray removed, and thus had to act. She was therefore advised to include Coudray in her cabinet and clear the way for a new San Fernando Mayor. St Rose- Greaves was the person selected for removal.
Sources also revealed that the decision to remove St Rose-Greaves has been met with much criticism from some non-governmental organisations who believe she was the ideal person to deal specifically with matters concerning children, youth and women’s affairs.
Sources close to the Prime Minster said yesterday that St Rose-Greaves may be offered another position as an adviser to the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development.
Coudray, whose daughter was murdered in Jamaica recently, will be among those to receive their instruments of appointments tomorrow. (See page 7)
Commenting on St Rose-Greaves’ dismissal, social activist Hazel Brown said it may have been political.
“I think it is a very political decision, the political considerations of the UNC,” she was reported as saying last night.
However, Brown expressed confidence that new Minister, Marlene Coudray, would pursue initiatives already on stream, including the controversial National Gender Policy.
“Verna has done the best that she could with it and Marlene would take it. I don’t think the policy is at risk because of that,” she said.
Brown also expressed some concern about the fact that only two women were assigned to ministerial portfolios in the Government. She was unsure, though, as to the effect this decrease in representation will mean for women in general.
“The numbers are important, but I don’t know how much women support women in politics. Maybe it does not make any difference to women how many women are in Parliament. Maybe, there are things that we still have to do,” she said.