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Camille, Avinash, Diane

By Newsday Staff Wednesday, December 4 2013

click on pic to zoom in
AVINASH SINGH...
AVINASH SINGH...

People’s National Movement (PNM) leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday named three new Opposition Senators – former minister/MP Camille Robinson-Regis; defeated Chaguanas West bye-election candidate and farmer, Avinash Singh; and radio announcer/television newsreader, Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh.

The new trio will fit into a vacancy created by the recent election of former Opposition Senator Terrence Deyalsingh as St Joseph MP, and into the two slots to be created by the exit of two incumbent Senators — Pennelope Beckles-Robinson and Fitzgerald Hinds.

Hinds yesterday celebrated his 57th birthday.

So half of the six-strong Opposition Senate line-up will change by next Tuesday’s sitting, but with the retention of three incumbents - attorney Faris Al-Rawi; economist Dr Lester Henry; and Tobagonian Shamfa Cudjoe.

Robinson-Regis, who will replace Beckles-Robinson as Senate Opposition Chief Whip, is a former Planning Minister/Arouca South MP in the former PNM government of Patrick Manning.

Beckles-Robinson had served as Arima MP up until the 2010 general election when she was rejected for re-election by the PNM screening committee under Manning. Likewise, Hinds had been Laventille East/Morvant MP up until the 2007 general election when the Manning-led PNM had deselected most of its incumbents including Eddie Hart and the late Ken Valley.

Beckles-Robinson and Hinds are both attorneys.

The axing of Beckles-Robinson has been publicly stated by anonymous PNM sources to be due to alleged non-performance, including the September 11 mishap when the Senate Opposition was caught napping at the 3 am by failing to vote against the “Alderman Bill”.

Yet there is also some speculation that Beckles-Robinson’s axing came after hints that she might challenge Rowley for party leadership at the PNM’s upcoming national convention.“There is no convention, no election. As we speak, there is no leadership contest. The political leader is there and I give him full support,” she told a media house last August 6. But she may have gone on to say too much, adding, “If and when the time comes that the party positions are vacant, and I feel there is enough encouragement, support and my chances are good, I will give it consideration.” Likewise in a November 4, 2012, media interview, she had said, “I have been involved in politics for more than 20 years and an opportunity to lead a party that is 50-plus years old and that has stood the test of time...If at some point in time the support is there, I am sure I will give it some consideration.”

Beckles-Robinson is PNM Lady Vice-Chairman, having beaten Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox for the post after having previously lost an election for PNM chairman to Franklin Khan.

Hinds had been subject to a negative spotlight when Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in his Budget speech in the Senate, on September 25, allegedHinds was living in a $15 million house in a upscale area, to which he had allegedly not invited any poor children. The new appointees also bring their fair share of controversy.

By naming Singh as a Senator after his resounding defeat as PNM candidate in the Chaguanas West bye-election, some might accuse the PNM of hypocrisy in reversing their position in the 2000 general election when they were part of a public furore saying no defeated UNC candidate (such as Dr Roodal Moonilal) should be named as a Senator by the then prime minister, Basdeo Panday. Singh, sporting a bright red dress-shirt and dark suit, was among the steady stream of persons meeting Rowley in one-on-one meetings on Monday at Balisier House, before any Senate changes were publicly known.

Yesterday, on his Facebook page, Singh, 25, thanked Rowley for his Senate appointment.

“This opportunity reaffirms his (Rowley) commitment to young people and it will give a voice to thousands of citizens and in particular farmers, especially in Central Trinidad who now have representation in the Upper House of our Parliament,” Singh wrote.

It was also reported that Baldeo-Chadeesingh was fired by CCN TV6 where she was the newsreader for its weekend newscasts, over a conflict of interest in accepting the PNM senatorship.

Robinson-Regis’ tenure as Planning Minister ended soon after media reports of a Lower House sitting of May 16, 2007, when the then Caroni East MP Ganga Singh had publicised a Comptroller of Accounts report that alleged misuse of a Government-issued credit card (on a 2006 United States trip) on which she ran run up an overdraft of $174,000. Purchases included US$6,420 worth of jewelry at Christies Sothers (New York) , and US$3,118 worth of lighting fixtures at Bitz N Pieces (New York).

In her defence, Robinson-Regis attributed most of her expenditure to elective medical procedures. The conclusion of the affair is that she was subsequently reassigned as Planning Minister to be TT ambassador to the United States, and gave birth to twins.

Meanwhile, Hinds yesterday said he fully supported Rowley’s decision to replace him in the Senate “to make way for young fresh blood” to gain some experience in parliamentary activity in preparation for the 2015 general elections.

Hinds told reporters during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate, “so I do not regard this as any thing bad or any axe” he said.

Asked if he considers vying for a seat in the Lower House in the 2015 general elections, Hinds said, “I don’t know what the future holds.” However, he said the leadership of the party has assigned him certain party responsibilities “which I take with great enthusiasm.”

He did not disclose what that assignment was when asked.

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