Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh is calling on Energy and Energy Industries Minister Stuart Young to tell the public the purpose of his recent trip to Venezuela where he met with President Nicholas Maduro and other officials.
He also called on Young to disclose the other members of his entourage as well as the cost of the trip to taxpayers.
The ministry sent out a media release on August 6, saying Young had met with Maduro and key members of the Venezuelan government the day before to discuss matters of energy, security and other matters of national interest to both neighbours.
Speaking at the UNC’s weekly Sunday media conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader, Port of Spain, Indarsingh called on Young to disclose whether the third man in a photo of Young shaking hands with Maduro was Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami.
Indarsingh read from US State Department documents which said both Maduro and El Aissami had been indicted in the US on drug trafficking charges, with bounties of US$15 million and US$10 million respectively being offered for their arrests and conviction. The men have not been convicted.
“Why would the minister subject himself to that? He would have needed permission from the Prime Minister to go to Venezuela. What is so important that they would risk our reputations being tarnished internationally by meeting with these men?
“Are they courting sanctions through their behaviour? We are holding our government to account as to whether they have considered the risks involved in this meeting. Tell us the agenda of the meeting.”
US officials visited Venezuela in March and June 2022 to discuss oil imports, prisoner exchanges, and to reopen relations. Indarsingh insisted that the US’ position on Venezuela had not shifted enough for the government to openly defy an important partner.
“If we were in government, we would have exercised a sense of responsibility in terms of how we conducted affairs with Venezuela in the context of issues that would have presented themselves, recognising that Venezuela is part of the international community.”
He called on the Prime Minister to explain his prolonged absences from the public eye, first following the Summit of the Americas and recently while quarantining.
“Up to now we have not been told the reason for his absence. He overstayed his time by a month. It’s the longest period of time a sitting head of government has been out of the country to my knowledge, and at taxpayer’s expense. We want to know the reason. If it was a medical issue then we understand but we still have not been given a reason. We also need to know the cost to the taxpayer.
“Then the Local Government Minister said he did not attend the recent meeting because the UNC boycotted the meeting but the next day his Facebook page said he was released from quarantine. Which was it? It is these inconsistencies that we must query.”
The Local Government Minister had said arrangements were put in place for the PM to attend the meeting virtually.
Indarsingh called on unions to continue to unite against the government’s four per cent wage increase offer. He asked what had become of the promised public service pension reform promised in the Finance Minister’s budget presentation for 2020.
Chaguanas MP Dinesh Rambally said he had not received any response to his letter to the government concerning a collapsing riverbank in the Caroni area.
He said he hoped that good sense would prevail, as residents of Ibis Gardens, Caroni Village, La Paille Gardens and La Paille Settlement would undergo the “Greenvale experience” if work was not begun quickly.
Asked whether the Opposition Leader would attend one of the weekly media briefings, Indarsingh said if there was a pressing issue, Persad-Bissessar would assign one of her shadow ministers to deal with it at the briefing.
“She will come out in defense of the people at the Monday Night Forum, at conferences, and at events, where she will avail herself to the media. She continues to develop her members of Parliament by having them present at the briefings.”
Indarsingh called on the media not to be distracted from the important issues facing the country, especially crime.