Saturday 31st May, 2008

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Headed for new directions

It was not just PNM House Leader Colm Imbert who noticed that Opposition leader Basdeo Panday and his chief whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj were each on a different page concerning the commission of enquiry into the construction sector and Udecott.

Imbert noted the differing views from each in commenting on the matter in yesterday’s Guardian.

The great distance involved in Panday’s recent absence from T&T appears to have also seeped into his relating to his chief whip’s perspective.

And on his return last Thursday, the UNC leader was noticeably absent from Maharaj’s weekend march where Maharaj was the star of the show along with COP’s Inshan Ishmael.

The UNC confirmed that the march was Maharaj’s own initiative rather than an executive plan.

And by last week, a banner had gone up near the Aranguez Savannah—the UNC’s birthplace—promoting an anti-crime rally Ishmael will hold next weekend featuring top UNC and COP officials.

Among them—Ishmael confirmed in yesterday’s exclusive Guardian report—Maharaj, UNC deputy Jack Warner, MP Vasant Bharath, COP deputy leader Prakash Ramdhar, Anil Roberts, Stephen Cadiz, environmentalist Peter Vine and others.

Therefore, it may have been unsurprising to UNC MPs that the Ishmael issue figured prominently at Wednesday’s UNC caucus, the first Panday chaired since his return from London.

UNC sources claimed Panday was “clearly deeply concerned”.

They added that he told his team if MPs were going to allow Ishmael to lead them and they were appearing on his platforms, they would have to do so in their own capacity.

The UNC would have to distance itself from that, Panday said, they added.

With Maharaj present, Panday warned against allowing anyone to use the UNC base as he said Hulsie Bhaggan and Winston Dookeran attempted to.

“Maharaj said nothing, Warner was overseas,” sources added.

UNC MPs cold on Inshan/Ramesh link

Following UNC’s caucus, Panday yesterday distanced himself from Ishmael’s rally and Ishmael’s view that it could foster UNC/COP unity.

Ishmael who said his recent march with Maharaj was a “beginning”, said unity efforts might have a better chance under Maharaj’s leadership since many in COP felt Panday was against unity.

Ishmael said neither Panday or COP leader Winston Dookeran will be part of his rally next week.

COP officials later said Dookeran may be in Finland by then.

UNC’s Suruj Rambachan who was at a meeting held Tuesday by Maharaj and Ishmael, was asked about a possible UNC/COP entity under Maharaj.

Rambachan instead replied: “I’ve always advocated opposition forces should be united and a proper mechanism be worked out for unity that will not lead to another NAR situation. I’ll work towards that.”

Differing views in COP...

The appearance at Ishmael’s upcoming rally of new COP executive members Ramlogan and Ramadhar has given the new team’s stamp of approval to the UNC/COP platform.

COP’s new executive boasts attorneys like Vernon de Lima, Ramlogan and Ramadhar who Maharaj knows from the legal field.

However—as with the UNC’s upper echelons—some COP leadership officials seemed to be on a different page where Ishmael’s initiatives with Maharaj were concerned.

COP chairman Roy Augustus said Ishmael’s appearance at Maharaj’s march last weekend was Ishmael’s personal decision and not a sign of things to come regarding a UNC/COP merger.

That view conflicted view with the hope expressed by Ishmael for a merger and with deputy leader Ramadhar’s optimism.

Ramlogan said yesterday he held no personal animosity towards Maharaj despite their fight for the Tabaquite seat last election.

“I was one of the few who always criticised Panday for the way he treated Ramesh after he won the UNC deputy leadership in 2000. Ramesh should have been allowed to act as Prime Minister because that contest was cast in the context of succession by Panday,’ Ramlogan said.

“I don’t think the unity vehicle or its passengers are a problem. The problem has always been the ‘driver’—Panday can’t be in the driver’s seat with Oma as conductor,”

Ramlogan added: “Panday is the single obstacle to political unification and the political dislocation of the PNM. We always had good relations with UNC members. During elections we called for Kamla (Persad Bissessar) to be leader of a UNC-COP entity. Prakash said on the platform he’d spoken to her.

“But it seems UNC frontliners have to hide from Panday to show their affection for us.”

On concerns COP leader Dookeran had about Maharaj, Ramlogan said: “Anyone’s concerns must be weighed against concerns about PNM corruption,”

COP’s Gerald Yetming said: “In Inshan’s anti-crime rally, it’s appropriate for all political forces and groups to come together. I support an accommodation for Local Government, it can open the door for possibilities four years down the line.”

“But it’d be premature to say who should be leader. The people must decide. We should take it step by step.”

Calder Hart in Florida

It was UNC Senator Wade Mark who at Tuesday’s Senate session, questioned the whereabouts of Udecott chairman Calder Hart whom he felt had possibly “skipped” T&T.

Hart, a Udecott source said, is on “pre-planned vacation in Orlando, Florida” (sic).

Government’s move towards a commission of enquiry into the construction industry and Udecott, saw the Manning administration bowing to the wishes of the wider community—after the UNC’s promised “bombshell” on the issue in Parliament last week.

While Udecott would be scrutinised, the terms of reference for the commission will give Government its opportunity to examine the construction sector, after Ministers answered allegations against Udecott by claiming a “cartel” operates in the sector.

The PNM should not be surprised at accusations that this “cartel” might have been cultivated under its watch and that Government’s complaints about late projects, cost overruns, etc may be a product of what it has sown.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s choice of commission chairman—former Integrity Commission chairman Gordon Deane—seemed as clumsy as the way in which his plan for the probe was announced.

Manning would have known how the choice would sit with the chief proponent for an enquiry—Keith Rowley—considering Rowley had issues with the Integrity Commission under Dean’s watch.

With Deane’s decision to duck out, Manning is expected to make an announcement on the commission by next week. PNM sources said: “It may be hard to find suitable people in T&T. Some might be afraid to get involved due to the powerful business interests involved, or they may be connected to the issue somehow,” they added.

A PNM constituency chairman had recently proposed calling in the UK’s Royal Institute of Chartered Quantity Surveyors to deal with the Udecott issue, via independent investigator.

Government officials said yesterday: “The Royal Chartered Institute of Arbitrators can also help since they have experts in construction law.”

No Rowley/Manning

leadership fight—for now

With the commission of enquiry, Rowley may no longer have reason to challenge Manning for the PNM leadership.

At this point.

While the PNM is still in Government.

Rowley’s ‘fight’ regarding Udecott will obviously be conducted in the commission of enquiry, just as significant a forum—or probably more—than the PNM party where results are concerned since said results could make or break some participants of the probe.

Rowley has pledged to give up his Parliamentary seat if an enquiry proves him wrong.

Where another big “prize” is concerned—the PNM party—Rowley’s continued silence has been telling regarding whether he would heed former colleague Ken Valley’s call to fight Manning for the leadership at this month’s expected PNM convention.

Yesterday PNM PRO Jerry Narace said there was no word whether the June 29 date would be changed.

Supporters of Rowley said the time towards the June convention is too short to mount a campaign.

On Thursday, Valley said: “I cannot be a campaign manager if I have no candidate.”

Sigler Jack of Rowley’s constituency said the area will show how firmly it stands behind its MP at its constituency conference next Sunday—where Rowley will speak—and whose theme will be morality.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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