I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JAMAAT PLOT
By Jada Loutoo Friday, September 20 2013
FORMER prime minister Basdeo Panday has defended his now infamous “wake me up when it is over” response to the storming of the Parliament by Jamaat al Muslimeen insurgents on July 27, 1990.
According to Panday, the misconception by many, including former prime minister Arthur NR Robinson, that he had prior knowledge of the Muslimeen’s plot to overthrow the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, was totally untrue.
Panday, 80, was testifying at the July 27, 1990, attempted coup enquiry at its 16th session at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Henry Street, Port-of-Spain. Panday had been issued a Salmon Letter detailing the criticisms made of him by previous witnesses.
He also admitted at the end of his testimony that he was now more convinced of the need for the enquiry as it went along.
Panday as his usual charismatic self, deflected the blows of previous witnesses, most of whom he worked with in the NAR government.
Several former government ministers as well as Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr claimed Panday had been forewarned of the attempted coup.
He said nothing was further from the truth. According to Panday, he attended Parliament that day albeit until the 4.30 pm tea break, which was the usual time he left as he was at the time still recuperating from open heart surgery.
He said had he been forewarned by Bakr, then he did not follow the instruction to stay away from the Parliament that day.
Panday said after leaving the Parliament and returning home, he took his medication and went to bed. Sometime later his wife, Oma, shook him awake. He said she did so persistently several times “as wives do” but he ignored her.
He said when she told him that Abu Bakr was taking over the country, in disbelief his retort to her was “when he is finished wake me up.”
“I thought she was joking,” he said. Panday questioned how several of his then colleagues knew of his statement to his wife and testified to it. “It was a remark made in my bedroom...as a joke.”
“Were they under the bed?” he asked.
Panday said he has given a public explanation for the context in which he used the comment to his wife.
“I didn’t think anyone was so dumb. I didn’t think anyone was so dunce..thick...stupid to believe this statement constituted evidence of my knowledge or could implicate me in the attempted coup,” he said.
“Had I been guilty would I have said this to the world? I may be foolish but I am not stupid,” he said.
Panday’s response to Selby Wilson’s claim that he had a gut feeling both Panday and People’s National Movement (PNM) San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning had prior knowledge of the insurrection was, “If it was a gut feeling then he was suffering from diarrhoea.”
He also questioned whether NAR leader and then prime minister Arthur NR Robinson, who also similarly accused Panday, knew of the context in which he made the “wake me up when it is over” comment.
“I gave all the circumstances in which it was made. I made it in a context. I am sure Mr Robinson heard my explanation. He must have known the circumstances under which it was made.”
He also questioned how Robinson knew of the statement as he (Panday) said he did not see him under his bed.
Panday also criticised Robinson’s rationale for not holding an enquiry into the insurgency, saying nothing prevented him from doing so or even approaching him (Panday) when he was elected into office.
“He never did,” Panday said.
Responding to claims by Raymond Pallackdarrysingh who testified that he found it strange that Panday was not in the Parliament when the Muslimeen stormed the Red House, he said his former colleague must have known he usually left at 4.30 pm because of his surgery.
Pallackdharrysingh questioned whether Panday had been “tipped off” by the insurgents but Panday’s response was, “I didn’t know he had such an imagination. He never showed it in Parliament.”
Pressed by lead counsel to the commission, Avory Sinanan, SC, whether he did not think it important as the Tesoro scandal was being debated, Panday countered, “Not if it was going to kill me.”
He labelled Pallackdarrysingh’s claims as ridiculous. Panday also said he could not say why the Muslimeen asked for him, George Weekes and PNM MP Muriel Donawa-Mc Davidson by name when the stormed the Red House.
“Maybe they were asked to shoot us first,” he said. Hitting back at those who claimed he knew about the Muslimeen’s plot, Panday said it was all “unmitigated stupidness.”
Panday admitted that at the time of the attempted coup, there was widespread disillusionment by the population of the NAR government.
This, he said, could have fueled the Jamaat’s motives to overthrow the NAR. “There was great dissatisfaction in the country,” he said, adding that the protests of the labour unions could have been used by the Muslimeen as an opportunity to strike. Panday was adamant that he did not believe the 1990 attempted coup was well thought out. “I don’t think it was planned properly.” Condemning the act, Panday said he did so publicly after the insurgency and was adamant that it had to have been in the planning for some time as there were rumours that the Muslimeen was importing weapons and was receiving financial assistance from Libyan sources.
He said perhaps the Muslimeen had to justify receipt of the monies they received. Panday also said it appeared that the security forces at the time were extremely lax as there were rumours of the Muslimeen’s actions for some time yet they (the security forces) did not have an “inkling” of the plot to overthrow the government.
As he condemned the actions of the insurgents as “mere insanity”, Panday shared the view that perhaps it was time to bury the hatchet.
He said in the UNC’s 1995 election campaign, a decision was taken to treat all people equally and would listen to anybody. He said the Muslimeen requested a meeting and one was held in public.
“I would not discriminate against them on the ground they were Muslimeen,” he said.
Discussions centered around the issue of the Jamaat lands at Mucurapo, St James. He said no action was taken by his government as it was not a priority issue for them at the time. The UNC government did cause the army to erect fences around the Muslimeen’s portion of the lands to prevent them from encroaching on State lands.
“In hindsight it may have been a problem,” he said.
But he said, perhaps the time had come to treat with the Muslimeen’s issue relating to the lands as well as the recognition of their schools.
“I don’t think they should be discriminated against if they are free individuals and citizens of this country,” he said, adding that they should not be encouraged to become criminals by being continually marginalised.
He said perhaps leases or deeds should be given to the sect and an agreement reached with the Education Ministry to have supervisors go into the school if it is suspected subversive acts were taking place at the institutions.
“I see absolutely no reason to treat them differently,” Panday said.
He returns on Monday to complete his evidence at the enquiry which is in its 16th session and which will end on September 26. Sir David Simmons chairs the commission while other members include vice chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, Dr Eastlyn Mc Kenzie, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt and Dr Hafizool Ali Mohammed.
See page 13A