|You can’t beat Rani |
By Andre Bagoo Friday, October 3 2008
HEALTH MINISTER Jerry Narace yesterday heatedly defended his family’s honour in Parliament, calling allegations of corruption levied against him by UNC A Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh “out of order” and warning Gopeesingh to not meddle with the business affairs of his wife.
“Let me just warn the member for Caroni East, my wife is not the kind of woman that you want to try to beat,” Narace said of his better half, Rani Lakhan-Narace, in a heated pre-lunch session of the House of Representatives. “Let me just warn you about that.”
“My wife has just been re-elected as the head of the Association of Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Companies (ATTIC) with an overwhelming mandate; (she is) a woman of impeccable integrity,” Narace said. Narace made a special appearance in the House of Representatives just to deal with Gopeesingh’s allegations that he had used his influence as a member of Government to help the Narace family-owned and operated Reinsurance Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinre) to secure millions of dollars of state contracts as part of its $100 million portfolio.
Narace dared Gopeesingh to make his allegations of corruption outside of the parliamentary chamber, without the shield of parliamentary privilege.
“I dare you...to go outside and say that Trinre got $100 million by using my post,” Narace said. “I dare you! I dare you! Do it!”
“This is a nasty attack on my family and myself and for the record the allegations are entirely untrue. I am appalled and literally sickened by his (Gopeesingh’s) attempt to sully my name and... my family’s name in this pathetic and desperate effort to attack me politically,” Narace said.
Gopeesingh dropped the bombshell about the Narace family’s ties to Trinre during 2008/2009 Budget debate on Monday. Gopeesingh, the Opposition’s shadow health minister revealed the Narace family’s ties to Trinre via two shareholder companies: Investment Managers Limited (IML) and SIGMA Investment Promotion. He disclosed that Narace’s wife, who has been the Trinre executive chairman since 2001, as well as his daughter Vasha, son Vinai and brother Ojaran Narace are directors of IML, which has a 86 percent shareholding in Trinre. “Local brokers are instructed to deal with Trinre,” Gopeesingh had said.
But yesterday, the Health Minister did not deal with the specific details of Gopeesingh’s claims. Nor did he address further revelations that ATTIC insurance companies transferred their Trinre shares to IML after Mrs Narace became ATTIC president.
Instead, Narace opted to attack the moral character of the Caroni East MP and to read out a letter signed by his wife and addressed to the Speaker as members on both sides of the House sparred.
“When I accepted the generous offer to serve as Minister of Health by the Prime Minister, I recognised the weight of this position and the challenges that would come with it,” Narace said. “But in all cases I saw this as a calling; a calling to serve my country and that, Mr Speaker, is the most noble and spirited act in a man’s journey of life.
“I am not in any war with anybody. I was asked to do a job. I was just trying to do a job...But I want to assure the member for Caroni East...the more he lies on me the more I will speak the truth about him.”
Pointing at Gopeesingh, Narace said, “I do not believe, sir, that you have the moral rectitude to talk to me about corruption....You are coming to attack my family and my integrity? Out of order, completely out of order....I know far more than you know I know...I know everything about most people here.”
Narace painted his life as a glittering success story, in an attempt to counter the serious claims of corruption against him.
“My life has been replete with success after success ...When all else fails he (Gopeesingh) resorts to personal attacks...but I remain resolute, tenacious, unperturbed and undaunted by these attacks.”
Recounting a conversation held in a bathroom, Narace claimed that Gopeesingh had complimented him on his work in the PNM.
“‘We can’t find a man like you. All the good people gone COP.’ He told me that!” Narace declared.
Narace praised small businesses and said he had great respect for persons like UNC A Caroni Central MP Dr Hamza Rafeeq, who runs a small pharmacy.
“I have more respect for him (Rafeeq) as do the many women and wives of Trinidad and Tobago. I will say no more on that matter.”
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Noting that his wife was not a member of Parliament, Narace craved the Speaker’s indulgence to read out a letter dated October 2 and signed by her.
“Trinre, like any other insurance company does not tender for State business, since this type of business is done through insurance brokerage firms who then place the business,” Narace quoted his wife. Narace broke from the text to add an aside: “An insurance company does not tender, a brokerage firm has to do it.” Narace then continued to read his wife’s letter.
“As at December 31, 2007, the total premium value written is below $100 million. Let me state emphatically, that since the appointment of Jerry Narace as Minister of Health on November 12, 2007 Trinre has not written insurance with respect to any new client from the State sector.”
Breaking off from reading the letter, Narace added, “Since my appointment — no new clients from the State sector.”
He returned to the letter, in which Mrs Narace referred to claims by Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj that the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre was insured by Trinre
“The Prime Minister’s residence is not insured with Trinre and in fact it is common knowledge that the Central Government’s policy thus far is not to insure government buildings,” Narace read.
At this stage, Maharaj gesticulated in the chamber protesting that he had not said definitively that the PM’s residence was covered by Trinre but had rather “asked a question.”
“You should have known that!” Narace replied. “If you know that then that is not nice!” Prime Minister Patrick Manning added: “You know that!” The cross-talk caused Narace to repeat the paragraph of his wife’s letter before continuing.
“Regrettably Mr Speaker, the foundation upon which the principles of parliamentary privilege have been developed are being eroded,” Mrs Narace wrote.
“Eroded by you!” Narace interjected, pointing at Gopeesingh, before continuing the letter.
“It would seem that the time is now upon us to explore the relevance of these principles and the means by which ordinary citizens can be protected from unwarranted attacks,” Narace read. “I ask that you take whatever action you may consider appropriate in order to prevent any further misbehaviour.”
“Take him to the Privileges Committee!” Manning cried out.
And while yesterday morning Gopeesingh provided documents to the Integrity Commission in relation to his allegations, Narace warned that he will be taking legal action of his own by triggering the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act which deal with false reports.
“And let me serve you notice that I will be pursuing Section 32 of the Act to ensure that the member for Caroni East pays the proper price for his false allegations,” Narace told the house, adding, “There is a jail term involved...You could apologise, you could not apologise, it is entirely up to you.”
Narace resurrected old allegations made against Gopeesingh, in particular a US$50,000 cheque sent by the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA)’s Liason Office to former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday during Gopeesingh’s chairmanship.
“That’s the Liaison Office!” Gopeesingh protested, rising from his seat in the hope that Narace would give way. But Narace did not. A seated Gopeesingh continued his protest. “You shameless! That was adjudicated by the board six years ago! Why they ain’t jail me?”