new faces: Newly appointed Opposition senators Avinash Singh and Dianne Baldeo-Chadeesingh at yesterday’s news conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader on Charles Street, Port of Spain. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

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Camille: My baggage same as Govt’s

PNM leadership up to party, says Rowley on Pennelope’s firing

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

New Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Ca­m­ille Robinson-Regis suggested yesterday she had no more baggage than many of the mem­bers of the Government, including her counterpart, Leader of Government Busi­ness in the Senate Ganga Singh.
Speaking at a news conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader in Port of Spain, held to formally introduce the new senators, Robinson-Regis was asked whether she was coming with political baggage and therefore might become a soft target for members of the Government. The “baggage” was a reference to the credit card controversy in which she had been embroiled in May 2007.
“Some of the members who are there are persons whom I have already dealt with, in particular, Ganga Singh. And he has a certain level of baggage. The other (Government) members may not have had baggage when they were coming in (the Senate), but now, they have baggage. So it might be baggage for baggage,” she said.
She noted it was not only the members of Parliament who brought up the so-called baggage but also members of the media.
“I have explained my so-called baggage on more than one occasion and it keeps co­ming up. But I am sure I would be able to deal with any­thing that comes up in the Senate and I do expect it to come up. Some of you would know that I am well known for my snappy retorts,” she said. She said she brought a wealth of experience to the Senate, having started her political career there during the 1991-95 term.
As he defended his senatorial choices, Opposition Lead­­er Dr Keith Rowley had this to say to his political detractors: “Stay out of PNM business”.
“We would not be foolish enough to take advice from them as to who is suitable and who is best able to represent the PNM (People’s National Movement). The last piece of advice we need on how to conduct our business is from the UNC (United National Congress), the ILP (Independent Liberal Party), the TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People), the alphabet,” he said.
He was responding to criticisms from Government members and ILP leader Jack Warner, who lambasted him on the removal of Pennelope Beckles-Robinson.
Rowley said the Government changed senators “like they did their clothes and nobody took any notice”, so he was pleased the PNM shake-up was generating such interest in the national community.
“When we make changes, we are held to a higher standard and we accept that with humility,” he said.
Asked whether Pennelope Beckles-Robinson was removed because she was po­sing a threat to him in the inter­nal election, he said that was not the basis on which the change was made.
Rowley said Beckles-Robinson remained a member of the PNM leadership by virtue of her position as head of the Women’s League, “and one can hardly get higher in the PNM than that”.
“The Parliament is not the end of anything,” he added.
“Don’t sell me short...if I accomplish one thing and that is to open up the party, giving party members full control of its leadership and preventing incumbents from dominating the internal election process, if that is all I would accomplish in the PNM, then I would go happily, thinking I had made significant change. And that has been accomplished by our one-man, one-vote position...and by crea­ting a vacancy so that for the first time, party members can determine who is the best person to lead them into the im­minent general election. This was never available to party members before,” Rowley said.
He added: “If I choose to make myself available when the time comes, I would run on my record. Others would do the same. And the same way I would be examined, they would be exa­mined as well. With ‘one-man, one-vote’, the party members at the individual level would choose who would lead the party into the next general elec­tion.”
“We will take no advice from Jack Warner. The choice of the PNM leadership is a matter for the members of the party,” he stressed, when asked to comment on Warner’s statement o f encouragement and support for Beck­­les-Robinson in any leadership bid.
Rowley said the PNM team now has three women and three men. The youngest member of the team is Avinash Singh, who turned 25 two weeks ago.
Rowley joked yesterday he had to wait until Singh turned 25 to announce the changes. He said he promised the youth that those who were standard-bearers in areas like Felicity and who came forward as Singh did, “fighting against all odds” but was unsuccessful at the polls, would not be cast aside.
He said it had been the practice not to have people defeated at the polls coming into the Parliament in the same term of their defeat. He said this country was a small coun­try.
He recalled Orville London, now Tobago House of Assembly (THA) chairman, lost in the first THA election in which he ran. Rowley himself ran for the Tobago West seat in the 1981 election and was brought in the Senate in 1991. “So nothing is cast in stone,” he said.
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