The year 2017 was a busy one in the political arena. Here is a look back at some of the stories that made the political spotlight in 2017.
Trump calls Rowley
On February 19, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley received a telephone call from newly elected United States President Donald Trump. Rowley and Trump discussed several matters of mutual interest, including security and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Trump invited Rowley to come and visit him in Washington DC at a time which suited their schedules.
US lobbyist hired
Government disclosed in March that it hired the American consultancy firm, The (Direct Communications) DC Group. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young said,”The lobbyist firm has been working with the Government of TT in fulfilling its mandate.” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley dismissed claims from the Opposition that the phone call he had with US President Donald Trump in February cost $1.2 million. Speaking about this issue in the House of Representatives in March, Rowley said, “ “It had nothing to do with our lobbyist and it did not cost TT a cent.”
Return of TTT
State owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) is to be wound up. On August 24, Public Administration and Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie said Cabinet took this decision at its weekly meeting at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. Cuffie said this will pave the way for the return of Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT). The minister said the new TTT will focus on local programming and government information.
Cuffie falls ill
Public Administration and Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie was hospitalised at St Clair Medical Centre on September 5 after suffering a “medical episode.” Cuffie continued his recuperation there until November, when he was flown to a hospital in Washington DC for further treatment. Sources close to Cuffie said he is recovering well.
Dominicans are welcome
On September 21, at a post Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced Government will waive immigration regulations for a period of six months, to allow Dominicans to stay in TT while their country rebuilds. Education Minister Anthony Garcia said they would be making spaces available to students who were displaced in Dominica. Santan Dharma Maha Sabha general secretary Sat Maharaj condemned the decision and called on citizens to keep their doors closed. Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis rejected claims from the Opposition that this was a ploy to win votes for the next general election.
In the midst of claims that she had breached the United National Congress (UNC) constitution by holding internal election before they were due, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was re-elected as UNC leader on November 27. The claims were first made by Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh. Singh subsequently withdrew his claims. Former trade minister Vasant Bharath raised the same questions that Singh did. Bharath also claimed the election process was not fair and transparent. He subsequently withdrew his candidacy. Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Christine Newallo-Hosein and Chanda Bhagan unsuccessfully challenged Persad-Bissessar for the UNC’s leadership.
Also former Udecott chairman Jearlean John surprised many when she ran for one of three deputy leader posts and was elected unopposed. John, who was once a UNC minister, was fired as HDC managing director by the PNM Government amid public misconduct allegations.
Carolyn leads COP
Former government minister Carolyn Seepersad Bachan was elected Congress of the People’s (COP) leader in the party’s internal elections on November 19. She defeated the lone challenger for political leader, Sharon Gopaul McNicol. Former COP chairman Nicole Dyer-Griffith, who had also wanted to run for the party leadership, said it was an embarrassment that the result has moved the party from being identified as the “Congress of the Person” to “the one per cent political party.” Official results presented by chairman of the elections committee Ricardo Rambally showed only 589 of the 40,000-strong membership voted.
$22.5 billion in bad deals
At the final post-Cabinet news conference for the year at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s on December 20, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi disclosed the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has reported a shocking increase in the number of suspicious financial transactions in TT from 2016 to now. Al-Rawi said the monetary value of these transactions ballooned from $4.5 billion in 2016 to $22.5 billion this year. This equates to an increase in suspicious transactions/ activities from 739 in 2016 to 877 in 2017. He announced that from January, Government will be bringing an anti-corruption legislative to Parliament and some of it will require Opposition support for passage.
Your day will come
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley condemned a protest along the Beetham Highway. Residents objected to the arrests of two people by blocking the Beetham Highway with debris and firing gunshots at police. “Today is my day, your day will come,” Rowley said at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair on November 23.
Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Stuart Young on October 16, announced legal action against five contractors. This was in connection to alleged bid-rigging and cartel-like behaviour in the award of 10 contracts worth $200 million in projects for the Estate Management Business Development Company Limited (EMBD). He also vowed legal action against former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal as the then EMBD line minister for alleged breach of his fiduciary duties to act honestly and in good faith. Lawsuits are also being filed in the United States. The EMBD subsequently filed a lawsuit against Moonilal. The matter is currently before the courts.
CL Financial liquidated
In September, Justice Kevin Ramcharan gave the go-ahead to Government to have CL Financial (CLF) wound-up as it seeks to recover a $15 billion debt to taxpayers as part of the 2009 bailout of four of the company’s subsidiaries. As a result of the court’s ruling, CLF’s operations will now be fully placed in the hands of the two liquidators appointed in July. They will be responsible for management of the company and its assets during the period of winding up.
Election of a President
Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George announced through the TT Gazette on December 21, that the Electoral College will meet on January 18 to elect a President of the Republic. Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday said there is nothing wrong with the Electoral College meeting on January 19 to elect a President. Opposition Chief Whip David Lee believes the election of a new President is being fast-tracked by the Government. Carmona was elected President on February 15, 2013 and received his instrument of appointment on March 18,2013. His term of office expires on March 19, 2018.