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PM OF THE PEOPLE

By NALINEE SEELAL and Miranda La Rose Thursday, March 27 2014

click on pic to zoom in

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is now also the Minister of the People and Social Development, taking over the job of Caroni Central MP Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh after firing him from the post for his misconduct on board a flight from Tobago on March 16.

“The Ministry of the People and Social Development remains something very close to my heart; it was a promise I made to the nation that was delivered in 2010 and the work of the Ministry is important to my vision of poverty eradication, the achievement of social justice and the empowerment of people,” Persad-Bissessar said in a statement issued from her office at about 6.44 pm yesterday.

“Given the strategic importance of the Ministry to my Government’s overall objective of eradicating poverty and enhancing the quality of lives of citizens who are differently-abled or disadvantaged by their circumstances, I will assume charge of the Ministry, while I consider an appropriate replacement,” she said.

However as for now, Persad-Bissessar is not looking for someone to head the ministry, which was a key policy of her 2010 manifesto when she led the People’s Partnership into Government in the general election that year.

“At the moment I am not looking for a replacement. I am saying I will assume responsibility and do the best I can,” Persad-Bissessar said last evening in response to questions from reporters at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s after a tea held in honour of International Women’s Day.

Declaring she has hit the ground running, she said she has asked the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister to contact the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the People and Social Development to provide her with work charts, staffing and projects. She also plans on meeting with Ramadharsingh tomorrow after Cabinet, as well hold a further meeting at the ministry on Friday before Parliament.

The day before, Persad-Bissessar in announcing her decision to dismiss Ramadharsingh said she would not accept arrogance from any member of her Government. However yesterday, she took the opportunity to “recognise Minister Ramadharsingh’s contributions and service to the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Ramadharsingh has been seen by some of his former colleagues as one of the hardest working ministers, leading the People Ministry from the front going into communities across the country to ensure those most indeed can access the services available to them.

He was fired following an official complaint by flight attendant Ronelle Laidlow, of St Vincent, to the police and Airports Authority, who reported Ramadharsingh refused to stow away his luggage, did not want to move from an emergency seat and appeared to be drunk on a Caribbean Airlines flight BW 1519 from Tobago to Trinidad on March 16. She claimed Ramadharsingh threatened to have her fired and brushed her breast when reaching for a name tag.

Ramadharsingh had apologised for his behaviour saying he was fatigued and ill, however the incident drew calls from many quarters, including the Maha Sabha and opposition parties, for him to resign or be fired.

Persad-Bissessar was in Florida for a friend’s funeral when news of the complaint against Ramadharsingh broke, and on her return asked him and other officials for reports on the incident.

It was shortly after 7 pm on Tuesday, when the Prime Minister announced she had advised President Anthony Carmona to revoke Ramadharsingh’s appointment as a Government Minister.

Asked if the call Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj influenced her decision to fire Ramadharsingh, Persad-Bissessar said, “The call by Mr Maharaj was not the deciding factor,” nor was it on account of any other call.

She said, “As soon as I returned (from overseas) I requested the reports from all involved. I examined those reports and I had discussion with the minister.”

Having perused the facts and circumstances of the reports and guided by them, she said “in my respectful view I thought it appropriate to relieve him of his duties.”

Conduct in public life, she said, “was very important.”

Thanking Ramadharsingh for his service, she said he developed the ministry and has done a lot of work.

As a member of the United National Congress, she said Ramadharsingh “has been a very committed solider” and she sees no reason why he will not function as a roving member of Parliament.

She said she was taking over the ministry, because it was “a personal creation I had promised in the elections campaign.”

Asked how the two ministries will function under her portfolio, she said they will remain distinct ministries.

“I will be responsible for the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of the People and Social Development. I am not afraid of work.”

Sources yesterday said Persad-Bissessar had considered Oropouche West MP Stacy Roopnarine, currently a Minister in the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure, for the substantive role as People and Social Development Minister.

Currently, Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin is a Minister in the Ministry of the People and Social Development.

Government sources yesterday said taking over the People and Social Development Ministry gives Persad-Bissessar a chance to begin her campaign to lead the People’s Partnership into a second term in next year’s general election.

Sources said the Prime Minister has decided to be more active on the ground in the coming weeks, and as Minister of the People, she will have a first hand opportunity to see for herself the needs of the poor and give her an opportunity to bond with persons in all constituencies.

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