PNM supporters jeer Sandy
By ANDRE BAGOO Monday, January 14 2013
HILTON Sandy, the PNM candidate for the Belle Garden East/Roxborough/Delaford polling district in Tobago, yesterday issued an apology “to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago” for his controversial “Calcutta ship” remarks made one week ago.
After facing a wave of criticism from politicians, religious leaders and members of civil society who called for him to be withdrawn from the Tobago House of Assembly election race, Sandy yesterday spoke at the PNM’s Roxborough rally and used the platform to apologise for his remarks which, he said, had been perceived as racial.
“I would like to digress from the politics and I would want to offer my sincerest apologies to: the leader of this great party, Dr Keith Rowley; the leader of the Tobago Council, Orville London; and to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago for a previous statement made at a public meeting which has been perceived to have been a racial statement,” Sandy said to the large crowd gathered at the Cyd Gray Complex, Roxborough.
Some members of the crowd appeared to have been taken aback by Sandy’s statement and immediately began to jeer and shout, “No! No! No!”
Sandy continued, “My people, my PNM friends, in my 45 years of service, I have always conducted my duty with integrity and fairness, values which have guided my private and personal life. I am also guided by the founding principles of the party of which I belong, that is the PNM.”
“This is a party of principle,” he said. “This great party, my people, stands for mobilisation of all forces in the community representative of class, colour: representative of all people. We tend to come together for a common cause and today that cause is to ensure that the PNM goes back to the House of Assembly.”
He said the PNM THA, “served all the constituencies” of Tobago, regardless of political affiliation. He urged the crowd that, “the race is not over.”
“I want you to stand strong,” he said. “You must not be distracted.”
The PNM rally was billed as the party’s official presentation of candidates and was the party’s main meeting to take place in east Tobago ahead of next week’s election.
Sandy’s statement was carefully choreographed, as the PNM sought to draw a line under the controversy which has not only drawn nationwide condemnation, but also divided members of the electorate in Sandy’s own polling division.
Among those who criticised Sandy’s remarks were several religious leaders, including the heads of the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Hindu communities.
There were repeated calls for Sandy to be withdrawn as a candidate.
On Friday, Sandy was spoken to at a PNM strategy meeting ahead of yesterday’s rally by PNM Chief Secretary Orville London.
Sandy was the second headline speaker at yesterday’s event, which began about an hour later than it had been scheduled to begin, at 4.30pm.
After Sandy spoke, chairman of the meeting, Wendell Berkeley, said, “it takes a stalwart, a PNM stalwart and a man of integrity and honesty to apologise.
There are some on the other side who say and do other things and refuse to say sorry.”
In the main address, PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley endorsed all of the candidates presented by the PNM at the rally, including Sandy.
“Today I am standing here to endorse the excellency of our candidates, particularly the younger ones who are coming forward to answer calls to our party,” he said. He made no explicit reference to Sandy’s apology in his address.
“I especially want to recognise and endorse one of the finest teams to ever contest a THA election,” London said in his address.
The rally was part of yet another day of frenetic political activity on the normally serene island of Tobago.
PNM supporters mobilised at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, on the outskirts of Scarborough, to board vehicles to take them to the Roxborough rally, wearing red t-shirts and flags. At a cottage meeting at Mt Pleasant on Saturday night, Rowley had called on supporters to join a motorcade along Windward Road into Roxborough ahead of the rally.
While PNM supporters moved eastwards, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in Tobago over the weekend, headed west along the Claude Noel Highway.
She eventually joined the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) political leader Ashworth Jack for a walkabout at Mason Hall, six miles from Roxborough and at the heart of the island.
Word of the Prime Minister’s presence on the island reached yesterday’s PNM rally. Rowley said, “I have just had word that the Prime Minister is in Mason Hall, walking the streets of Mason Hall. Water more than flour.
She has only come to confirm what I have been saying all along, that the TOP is the Tobago office of the People’s Partnership.”
Rowley is this morning due to leave Tobago and return to Trinidad to prepare for this week’s Parliament debate on the Tobago Bill 2013, a bill which the Opposition has already signalled it will not support.
Persad-Bissessar has, however, already stated that – unlike as was the case in 1996 – the bill will not be put to a vote before the election and will, instead, be referred to a study committee.
While Rowley is due to return to Trinidad, Persad-Bissessar is scheduled to make another visit to Tobago this week, where she is scheduled to open a National Petroleum gas station at Roxborough.
That gas station is situated next to the location of yesterday’s PNM rally.