By SEAN DOUGLAS Tuesday, October 16 2012
THE Senate yesterday saw a showdown between Opposition Senator Shamfa Cudjoe and new Justice Minister, Senator Christlyn Moore, giving her maiden speech, over claims of corruption and “enslavement” in the sister isle.
Although both are Tobagonians, the two women could not have been more different, in looks and in manner.
The affable young Ms Cudjoe was comfy and cosy, talking with an easy familiarity, while Mrs Moore was prim, straight and virtually humourless, but for one easy-to-miss dry quip on the BOLT controversy.
Coiled like a whip, Moore ended her prepared speech to give a verbal lash to Cudjoe for her earlier claims of the ruling People’s Partnership (PP) posing slavery for Tobago.
Cudjoe’s speech had begun benignly enough, with her call for more money to be given to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), intermixed with humour.
Cudjoe laughed off her exchanges with temporary Government Senator, Sherry Anne Rollocks-Hackett, saying despite their political difference in the Senate, all Tobagonians were one family.
“This lady, Sherry Ann, is married to my cousin, and she doesn’t even know it,” laughed Cudjoe, prompting keen nods from Mrs Rollocks-Hacket.
“I might be by you tonight eating,” added a mirthful Cudjoe.
However when teasingly asked by a Government Senator if she was related to TOP leader, Ashworth Jack, Cudjoe hurriedly replied, “He’s not related at all.”
Later, again on a note of familiarity she lightly related that Minister of Tobago Development, Dr Delmon Baker, had allegedly awaited Government funds when he was a student at St Georges University, Grenada.
Cudjoe was frosty over Baker’s ministerial predecessor, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, saying, “she was not fit for the job,” a remark she withdrew upon the order of Senate vice-president, Lyndira Oudit, in the chair. Cudjoe scoffed that former Tobago-based Opposition Senator, Terrance Baynes, is now an adviser in the Justice Ministry to Moore who had taken his Senate seat.
On the present hot potato, Cudjoe defended the PNM-led THA’s attempt to build the Shirvan THA Administrative Complex via the Build-Own-Lease-Transfer (BOLT) method in an arrangement with Milshirv Properties Ltd.
She said the THA does not get enough money to build its own offices but must rent space left, right and centre.
“The whole BOLT situation hit the fan a couple months ago,” she said.
Yet she said the BOLT concept was “normal and legitimate” and had been used to build offices for the TT Unit Trust and Ministry of Works. It was a form of public/private partnership (PPP) that the Government is keenly advocating, so why was it good only for Trinidad but not Tobago, she asked?
Saying it was high time for the THA to build its own complex, she said at present the THA rents office space from the relative of a Government Minister, and she asked whether the current Milshirv controversy was because the property owner does not want to lose his rental income. She said TOP leader Ashworth Jack had once said he has no problem with the BOLT concept.
Referring to last Saturday’s PP rally in Tobago, Cudjoe accused Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of “pulling a section 34 on us” by claiming the site of the Shirvan THA Complex reverts to the Milshirv firm after the THA pays $320 million in rent for the next 20 years.
“That is not so,” said Cudjoe, saying this would only occur if the THA misses any of its monthly lease payments.
Cudjoe said she had collected 6,000 signatures in a petition by Tobagonians opposed to the PP Government’s Green Paper on constitutional reform for Tobago.
“Tobago people do not want it...They stood up and objected to the Green Paper...The cover says ‘internal self-government’ but the inside screams ‘modern day slavery’” she stormed. Cudjoe said Tobagonians are born fighters, prompting Senate Chief Whip Ganga Singh to ask, “Are you declaring war?” to which she replied, “No”.
Cudjoe concluded, “We will not settle for anything substandard and not be victims or made slaves in our own space.”
Initially somewhat wooden, Moore, was all business updating the Senate on her Ministry’s projects to reform the judicial system, but in her 15 minutes of extra time she turned steely to lash the THA on Milshirv and lash Cudjoe on her slavery remarks.
Moore hit Cudjoe’s remarks that a bolt has hit the fan.“It is clear that she has a nuanced perspective of this matter and perhaps ought to tell us with a bit more particularity, a bolt of ‘what’ has hit the fan?” said Moore, humourless even at her own ribald wordplay.
Moore said the PP was criticising the Milshirv arrangement, not BOLT schemes in general.
“Why were there no requests for proposals (RFPs) with this particular bolt that hit this particular fan?” shot Moore. The Senate erupted in bench-pounding.
“Why was there no site analysis? No design charrettes showing in-depth analysis of the needs/wants of the intended beneficiaries? No cost-benefit analysis? No feasibility study? No due diligence? And no comparative conceptual analysis to see if this was the best proposal?” Moore then registered her horror at Cudjoe’s claim of attempts to enslave Tobagonians.
“This statement is pregnant with hysteria designed to promote and continue the race spectre in Tobago politics and to promote our people to open old wounds,” Moore hit. “Such language and imagery are to be deplored and decried in the Houses of Parliament.”
On her Ministry’s plans, she said 2013 would see legislation to establish a Drug Court where drug addicts would be seen as victims needing help not as criminals. Soon persons sentenced to more than six years jail would be eligible for parole. She said $3 million has been allocated to start the establishment of a new forensic science centre, and $13 million to upgrade the existing centre in 2013, including its computerisation.