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Gathering dark clouds on PP horizon
Despite gathering dark clouds on the trade union horizon, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is at least one burden lighter, today. This, after the Integrity Commission cleared her of any breach regarding her stay at the Tunapuna home of businessman Ralph Gopaul in 2010. The delight-cum-relief in Persad-Bissessar’s statement in announcing the commission’s verdict signalled how much she realised the issue could have weighed on Government’s public image. While Persad-Bissessar prepares to celebrate the Emancipation holiday with the Afro-Trini community, Works Minister Jack Warner last night was scheduled to attend an Indo-Trini prayer Satsang featuring Indian-born, US-based Swami Chakradhari. This morning, Chakradhari will convey similar blessings on the Opposition PNM, when he visits Balisier House, PNM chairman Franklin Khan confirmed. Both political sides may need it.
Apart from deepening national issues ahead, the UNC’s executive election in January—heading into Government’s mid term—could hold the potential to take the UNC to a crossroads of sorts. Following recent international (FIFA) and local (Cabinet change) spotlights on UNC chairman Warner, he’s predicted, “It’s not over...”
In a second wave of probes, FIFA gave Caribbean football organisations up to Wednesday to speak on the bribery allegations regarding Muhamed bin Hammam, with whom Warner was initially a co-accused.
These results will finalise FIFA’s report on the entire issue in which Warner has figured. Between this and after last week’s UNC executive meeting where party election issues were discussed, came an e-mail sent to the media on Tuesday. Mysteriously signed “UNC whistle” ( sic), it contained “rigging” allegations about UNC’s executive election preparations, claiming a “cabal” wanted to “oust” Warner in the election. UNC general secretary Dave Tancoo immediately struck it down saying, “National executive members have a great relationship —something that seems to particularly upset this (e-mail) phantom writer.” “There’s no inner cabal or conspiracy to unseat or oust any executive member. Perhaps the letter writer is referring to another political movement—the one whose purpose he or she truly serves.” Tancoo added, “If there was so much as a hint of evidence of all that the masked writer alleges, they would have rushed to the police or media with it. Until then it should be left where it deserves to be— in the dustbin of rumour mongering and political witch-hunting.” Tancoo said there’s been an increased demand for UNC membership forms due to UNC’s “growing attraction.”
On the e-mail’s allegation of a “lockdown” of membership forms, Tancoo added, “UNC has always had a structured manner in distributing forms to ensure accountability.” Suggesting applicants go to constituency offices, executive members and Rienzi Complex to effect membership, Tancoo said UNC follows a procedure similar to the Elections and Boundaries Commission’s regarding eligibility to vote. “Any objective reader would recognise the intent of that e-mail was to mask its political agenda in commentaries laced with racial undertones and victimhood. Written under the guise of someone who purports to be a UNC supporter, it’s more attributable to Balisier House than Rienzi Complex.” Former UNC general secretary Glenn Ramadharsingh also said membership cards were seen and approved by all executive members and MPs. UNC vice chairman Fuad Khan added, “This e-mail is a total fabrication. It’s obviously PNMites trying to push a wedge between Jack and the good relations in the party.”
UNC MPs talk ‘in the fullness of time’
Warner didn’t reply to calls. But several UNC MPs were asked their view of the Partnership Government and whether they felt there was truth to the claim of an anti-Jack “cabal.” MP Herbert Volney’s concerns centred on problems he’s encountered with “entrenched” public service issues affecting his constituency (see news). MP Clifton de Coteau said, “There’ve been loud whispers about this (cabal). I’d think it was PNM strategy to create chaos. Jack is a prominent performer and of African heritage so they may want to use this to advantage.” Asked if he thought Warner was being unfairly treated, de Coteau said, “I’d hate to think people would be so politically unsavvy or insensible to try marginalising Jack.” On if he thought this was happening, De Coteau paused, then added. “It would be politically foolish...selfish to marginalise him. One would have to be on a suicide mission. You’d have to live with the repercussions—they have to think about that.” Asked if he was happy with the year of performance and the credibility of some in Government, de Coteau “preferred to reserve comment.” On what needs fixing, De Coteau said, “Assessment in any organisation is necessary. For election there was big enthusiasm, we have to maintain it. If people aren’t happy it’ll lead to PP’s demise.” MP Winston Peters said, “We’ve had some errors of judgment; as we proceed, we’ll correct it.” On allegations of an “anti-Warner cabal,” Peters said, “In the fullness of time I will speak on those things...they say you have to observe things and then talk on the tenth time.”
FUAD—SHAREHOLDER IN ST Augustine Private Hospital
Health Minister Fuad Khan, who is a shareholder at the St Augustine Private Hospital, is moving next week to put his shares into a blind trust to avoid conflict of interest. When Khan was “outed” by the Sunday Guardian of July 24 as still operating as a doctor at the St Augustine Private Hospital, it was not revealed that he was also on the board of the same hospital for several years. And though off the board since 2009, he remains a shareholder to date. After Persad-Bissessar told him to choose between ministering to the sick and being minister, Khan—Health Minister for a month—chose the latter. Khan subsequently confirmed to TG he’s also a shareholder of the St Augustine Private Hospital and was on the board between 2000 to 2009. Khan said he resigned from the board because he was “fed up.”
“I was invited to a shareholders’ meeting up to two weeks ago but didn’t go,” Khan added.
“(But) I’m going to my legal adviser next Tuesday to put my shares in a blind trust to avoid conflict of interest. I‘m in the process of tying things up,” he added. A government spokesman acknowledged Khan was formalising his personal business. But Opposition PNM MP, Dr Amery Browne, says: “Serious ethical issues arise if Khan continues to benefit from shares in St Augustine Private Hospital while serving as Health Minister.” “The Prime Minister must denounce the practice of government ministers holding private pecuniary interests within the same sectors they are mandated to oversee, given their role in the Cabinet. She must also state Government’s position on this matter in clear terms and soonest.”
Browne said the PM “appears to be ignorant of or oblivious to the Code of Conduct for parliamentarians and key aspects of the Integrity in Public Life Act.” Browne noted that a Health Minister has a key role to play in overseeing the entire health sector including public and private institutions. He noted the ministry has a role in relevant functions including the issue and revocation of licences for private institutions, management of arrangements for transfer of patients from public to private facilities in certain circumstances (with payments to the private centres), and the oversight and regulation of practices within private institutions. Browne noted, “A Health Minister is called upon to make decisions impacting doctors who are employed in public hospitals and also simultaneously in institutions such as St Augustine Private Hospital. “A Health Minister serves to help inform and advise the public in situations where there are allegations of wrongful death or gross medical negligence involving a private facility.”
Browne added, “In all such circumstances the Prime Minister and her ministers must consider the importance of public confidence. That confidence will be eroded if ministers continue to benefit from holding private interests within sectors that fall under their purview.” Browne cited dangers of conflict of interest considering the recent allegations involving the Brian Lara Cancer Centre. Browne added: “If we had a Health Minister who was directly profiting from shares in that institution, there would have been much less public confidence in any of his pronouncements or advisories on the issue of possible over-radiation.” Criticising Persad-Bissessar’s leadership, Browne added, “If Khan’s situation goes unchecked, we anticipate a day when an issue at the private hospital in which the minister holds shares, or an issue which affects the private health industry, would come before that minister for adjudication or a policy position.”
No choices for Khan...
When Khan was appointed Health Minister, the July 2 column noted Khan’s challenge included that of cronyism which PP has been accused of. This would have been due to his past—and apparently continued—links within the health sector. Khan candidly confirmed he did not tell his boss he was still practising—something he admitted he should have done. How long he would have taken to do that if his dual role wasn’t revealed, is anyone’s guess. How successful his decision to stick with the ministry—rather than his patients—may be also remains to be seen, considering his previous action in appearing to sidestep the integrity process. In choosing Government over patients, the question might also arise why he would so easily give up “the sick” if he’d said their interest was important enough for him to continue attending them after becoming minister. Persad-Bissessar’s ultimatum for Khan to choose came quicker than her response on the same situation regarding Warner and his recent dual FIFA and Government roles. It was the Opposi- tion who called for Warner to choose. Despite FIFA’s recent guilty verdict against bin Hammam and with further FIFA probes on, Persad-Bissessar is still in Warner’s corner, judging from her explanation on the difference between Khan and Warner’s situations.
Marlene ‘acts’ for Keith...
While some PNMites appear to have taken the Parliamentary “vacation” seriously, PNM chairman Khan’s absence from two General Councils aroused particular queries recently. Khan says he was overseas and then at a family function when the councils were held. Former PNM general secretary Martin Joseph has made a comeback in assisting in consolidat- ing ground membership, Khan says. PNM deputy leader Marlene McDonald meanwhile is helming party work in the absence of leader Keith Rowley, now at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in London. Rowley was alongside former leader Patrick Manning at last week Friday’s dinner-dance held by San Fernando East, entitled “Mefil” (a Hindi for “ gathering place of fun and festivity”). Rowley sat at Manning’s table as speakers, including former state board chairman Malcolm Jones, praised Manning. Jones (on Manning’s Web site) noted Manning’s integrity and anti-corruption stance to the extent, Jones said, that Manning espoused the view that “every top had to sit on its own bot- tom.” The position is similar to the stance Rowley has taken regarding allegations against PNMites (including Manning) that his leadership would not defend the inde- fensible. In the absence of one-on-one confrontation with the Opposition, the Government, however, has other issues to defend itself—and the public—against.
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