PNM bids to win Sangre Grande council again

Sangre Grande Regional Corportion chairman Anil Juteram, right, during parliamentary meeting in 2021. - File photo/Ayanna Kinsale
Sangre Grande Regional Corportion chairman Anil Juteram, right, during parliamentary meeting in 2021. - File photo/Ayanna Kinsale

None of the current PNM councillors on the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation have put their name on the list as nominees for screening for the upcoming local government election.

Councillors Terry Rondon, Simone Gill-Joseph, and Paul Mongolas all bowed out of the race as 16 PNM nominees went before the party’s screening committee at the North Eastern Settlement Community Centre, Sangre Grande, to be chosen for the eight electoral districts in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation on Saturday afternoon.

The mood was serious as about 50 people sat under a tent or stood around the compound talking or joking with each other quietly with no music, drama or fanfare when Dr Keith Rowley, the Prime Minister and PNM leader, arrived to preside over the screening. He did not take any questions from the media.

The focus was on regaining the corporation, which had been shifting out of the PNM's control over the years.

In the 2016 local government election, the PNM tied with the UNC four-four and, in 2019, the UNC won with five councillors to the PNM’s three.

Potential candidates for the 2023 elections include Dave Rambharath and Ronnie La Borde for Cumuto/Tamana; Onella Stewart for Manzanilla/Fishing Pond; Makeda Castellano and David Elvis Guy for Sangre Grande Northeast; Alicia Thomas and Kemba Bradley-Francis for Northwest; Rhunner Khaty-Ann Martin-Moses for Sangre Grande South; Anicia Williams-Penny and Anderson Zoe for Valencia East/Toco; Eva Marie Sharma, Chandar David Gadar, Joseph Thomas, Keisha Riley, and Keva Isaac for Valencia West; and La Toya Lambkin for Vega De Oropouche.

Elizabeth Wharton, a former councillor for Sangre Grande Northwest, said she was there to support all the nominees and that the atmosphere at the screening was “solemn” because they were focussed on the election ahead.

“I'm supporting my PNM family holistically. It's not about which one is your favourite. It's about the executive choosing the candidates and once they are chosen, we are ready to hit the ground.”

Speaking to Sunday Newsday after her screening Williams-Penny said she was not new to politics or the PNM as she was chair of the constituency's women's league. She added she was initially nervous as it was her first screening but she prayed and felt comfortable after a while.

"I am confident. My heart is in it whether or not I get through because I'm here willing to serve."

PNM supporters cheer at the party's launch of its local government campaign in Malabar on Thursday. - Roger Jacob

Gadar said he was once chair of the sports and cultural committee as well as the chair of the infrastructure committee in the corporation. And although he went out of office in 2010, he stayed on the ground and was involved in the community.

"I am confident of my chances but whether or not it goes my way, if one of the younger ones get chosen, that would be good too because these young ones need to get the opportunity to show their worth."

Grace Courtney from Toco, who was present to support Williams-Penny, agreed that younger people should be given a chance to serve. She said some people were screened several times before and not chosen, yet they keep returning.

She believed it was time for senior members to “step back and let go” and instead use their experience to advise and guide the younger members.

"If you don't give them a chance then you won't find out what they can do. They will learn. But still, may the best ones be selected."

After 28 years of serving his community, Rondon was stepping aside due to health reasons.

“I’m giving somebody else a try. I’m prepared to train all who are willing. But I will continue to be the voice of the people of Toco in gratitude. Once God gives me that health and strength, I’ll be there for them. I decided to start a Terry Foundation to help the less fortunate so the show will go on.”

He said he did not think his leaving will open another avenue for the UNC as long as the screening committee chose the right person for the job. He said the PNM would “bring home” the Valencia East/Toco seat with the help of the election team.

He added that people should “have no fear” if he was not around for the election because of his health issues as he would be bank. In the meantime, he was leaving his work in the “capable hands” of his secretary, Germaine Locario, who has been with him for all of his 28 years in politics.

Gill-Joseph said she decided not to go up for election because she had been a councillor for ten years and felt she accomplished most of the things she set out to do as well as surpassed her own expectations and that of the community of Valencia West.

She believed the PNM would regain the corporation since the UNC councillors limited themselves to only what the corporation could provide instead of looking for other avenues to improve their areas.

“It is my view that they placed a hold on economic development in the region by failing to allocate funding to the Valencia Rest Stop which would have allowed for entrepreneurship, economic stability, increased local and foreign tourism, and international recognition as it would have given the corporation the stamp of being green.”

She said their lack of creativity and imagination meant the people saw no major development under the UNC council.

Chairman of the corporation, Anil Juteram said the corporation could not get major projects off the ground because of the configuration of the council – seven UNC and five PNM including the aldermen, as many projects needed a two-thirds majority for approval and ratification.

He said the lack of funding from central government also had a negative impact on the corporation as they could not provide many services. He said they did not have the funds to do in-house work, provide truck borne water, buy tools, provide steady employment, build box drains, patch roads and more.

“Politics is a very fluid thing. Nothing is guaranteed in politics but what I do know is that, given the limited resources the corporation was getting, we did our best to serve the people.

“The funding impacted negatively in terms of what people may be seeing physically but I always believe in speaking truth to the individuals we encounter. I tell people as it is and my take is once the conversation is factual, it is mature, and is not based on tribal politics to divide and rule the population, I believe the people will be able to assess the individual speaking to them.”

He said he, once again, sent in his name to be considered as a prospective candidate for Vega De Oropouche, and his tenure as chairman of the corporation would be reviewed by the Opposition Leader and the UNC’s national executive.

Manzanilla/Fishing Pond UNC councillor Kenwyn Phillip too filed his nomination papers to serve again, but he expressed absolute confidence the UNC would make more inroads in Sangre Grande and all marginal seats.

“We are on the ground and hear persons taking so I know, presently, some of the persons in those area are disenchanted with the PNM. They are anxious for the elections to go and vote.”

He also complained about the lack of funding from the government which prevented the councillors from performing effectively.


"PNM bids to win Sangre Grande council again"

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