Home African Caribbean Trinidad’s Dr Rowley wows London

By Selwyn Cudjoe and Rawle Boland

Caribbean news. As Trinidad and Tobago approached its anniversary of independence, across-section of citizens, from far and wide, packed a meeting in the heart of London.

Dr Keith Rawley Photo courtesy i955fmcom

Dr Keith Rawley. Photo courtesy i955fm.com

It was held on August 30th at Senate House, the hub of London University, amid its famous colleges.

It was organised by Trinbagonians, studying and resident locally, for the brief visit by Dr Keith Rowley, Opposition Leader and Political Leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), which guided the country to independence in 1962, with another scholar, Dr Eric Williams, at its helm.

Dr Rowley was accompanied by Ashton Ford, PNM General Secretary and former Arima Mayor and MP. He also served in the London High Commission, as its able, popular, and notably unassuming Cultural Attaché.

The proceedings, ably and cheerfully chaired by Victoria Lee, grand-daughter of the founder of Charlie’s pudding and a carnival designer in London, began with a stirring rendition of the national anthem by the soloist, Anne Fridal, and a calypso performance by the popular Alberto. The highlight was the keynote address by Dr Rowley, whose career, as MP and minister, began in the Senate in 1987.

No stranger to the university, where he was offered a place years ago, Dr Rowley traced the country’s development from 2008, in particular, when its prospects were good. Their regression accelerated following the PNM government’s defeat, in a mid-term snap election, by the People’s Partnership (PP), the coalition dominated by the United National Congress (UNC).

The PP’s missteps, he explained, demonstrated, increasingly, it was unprepared for government. Its priority has been to reverse the PNM government’s carefully laid developmental plans, to which, paradoxically, PP affiliates contributed, while exacerbating the society’s tensions, as it pursued a policy of securing the replacement of personnel appointed on merit, with its supporters.

Ashton Ford Photo courtesy wwwguardiancott

Ashton Ford. Photo courtesy www.guardian.co.tt

Several had been exposed as having falsified their qualifications, or of dubious competence. For example, the qualifications of a nominee to head SAUTT, a vital security institution, proved to be bogus. And decisions by recruits parachuted into the Central Bank had impacted unfavourably on the foreign currency market.

Crime, despite lofty promises, had soared, as the PNM’s innovations were discarded, a classic example being the refusal to complete the order for coast guard vessels, since snapped up by the Brazilian navy. Corruption and chicanery were pervasive, as the Section 34 and LifeSupport scandals illustrated..

All this was occurring, when the PNM’s initiative to extend the historical reliance on oil to natural gas was threatened by the imminent transition of the US, Trinbago’s main importer of gas, to an exporter. Depleting resources had prompted that diversification and the PP’s trumpeted discovery of new oil finds had gone with the wind, weakening, inevitably, confidence abroad.

Critically, the government suddenly tabled legislation to change the Constitution, this August, ignoring that, save for the 1990 emergency during the attempted coup, Parliament never sits then. This allows members to go on vacation, sometimes abroad, a situation acknowledged, in fact, in its new Standing Orders. . .

The measures included the right to recall MP’s and a two-term limit for Prime Ministers, anticipated in the recommendations, following public consultations, of the Constitution Commission, led, oddly, by a government minister. But in a seemingly desperate attempt to avoid defeat in the elections due by September 2015, the government also injected a proposal, never publicly discussed, to change the traditional first-past-the-post system to a controversial run-off mechanism, for voting.

Rudolph Walker Photo courtesy wwwblackpresencecouk

Rudolph Walker. Photo courtesy www.blackpresence.co.uk

Relying on its automatic majority, the government secured the rapid passage of this Bill of undoubted magnitude, in the House, where, significantly, two ministers voted against, while one abstained, and in the Senate, helped by three independents, after insisting a simple, and not a special, majority was required. Once the House deliberates the Senate’s amendments, the Bill’s assent is guaranteed.

Dr Rowley received a standing ovation and his answers to searching questions from the floor clearly impressed. Crime was evidently of major concern, but he also shared his party’s plans, when, as his audience was demonstrably persuaded, it returns to office in 2015.

The function closed with a vote of thanks by Ancil Barclay, a former Trustee of London’s Carnival Village Trust, and a well-received calypso by another favourite, Tobago Crusoe. Dr Rowley, who was due to leave for the US imminently, then engaged in private exchanges.

In attendance, together with compatriots from as far as Germany and even on vacation from Trinbago, were the celebrated actor, Rudolph Walker, OBE; Professor Selwyn Cudjoe, of Wellesley College in the US and joint author of this report; Ansel Wong, uncle of the chairlady, Victoria Lee, and one of the seemingly tireless organisers; and Trinbago’s Savile Row tailor of renown, Professor Andrew Ramroop, OBE.



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