Speaking out: Fired People’s National Movement (PNM) senator Fitzgerald Hinds makes a point at yesterday’s sitting of the Senate at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. Seated on his right is Pennelope Beckles, who was also axed as a senator by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY



Shock as Opposition Leader removes ally in Senate shake-up

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley fired his longtime “pardner” Fitzgerald Hinds in yesterday’s shake-up of the Senate bench, shocking every man jack in the process.

Hinds, a man who had been firmly in Rowley’s corner from the onset, had his appointment revoked, along with the person most likely to run against the political leader in the party’s leadership contest—Pennelope Beckles-Robinson.

They have been replaced by former minister and high commissioner Camille Robinson-Regis, defeated by election candidate 26-year-old Avinash Singh and former TV6 news presenter Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh.

Robinson-Regis will be the new Leader in the Senate.

Hinds took his dismissal in complete stride.

“It is with great enthusiasm and pleasure that I, given the experience I have, would be willing and happy to give way to new blood coming forward in the PNM as we prepare for government in 2015. I don’t regard this (dismissal) as anything bad or any ‘axe’ (falling on me). I think it is a sensible decision on the part of the leadership that I support fully and I am enthusiastically supporting the decision to make way for young, fresh blood, he told reporters, shortly after the changes were announced.

Hinds added he had learned over the years to respect Rowley’s political judgment.

The Express learnt Rowley had met with Hinds at 10 a.m. on Monday to inform him of his decision to remove him in order to give new people the opportunity to serve the party in the Senate. The Opposition Leader met with Beckles-Robinson at 3.15 p.m. that same afternoon.

Hinds, who has served in Parliament for over 15 years, said he hoped he had exercised his time in the Parliament successfully and effectively for his political party. He said he was impressed with the new faces. Asked whether he would turn up on the party’s slate for the next general election, he said he did not know what the future held.

“I will put my hands on another part of the (PNM) rope and join my colleagues in pulling and saying in unison ‘heave’ because we want to see the UNC on their (derriere) at least by 2015,” he said.

In the appointment of Singh, Rowley has altered a virtual PNM convention of not appointing a defeated candidate to the Upper House and in the same parliamentary term (of the defeat). 

The appointment of news reader Baldeo-Chadeesingh was also a surprise and has drawn some criticism from some party members who questioned the low profile she has maintained since joining the party.

Beckles-Robinson is yet to comment on her removal. But she was cheerful as she declined to be interviewed by reporters at the end of the sitting. She later spoke in the Senate and thanked the political leader for appointing her to the Senate. She also thanked the Parliament.

As she entered the chamber, a number of Government senators, such as Leader of Government Business Ganga Singh and Devant Maharaj made their way toward her. 

Maharaj had earlier told the media Beckles-Robinson’s firing revealed “dark forces in the PNM were conspiring against a long-standing member”. Maharaj said Beckles-Robinson, who was always cordial, brought a measure of soberness to the “unbridled exuberance” of Faris Al-Rawi and Fitzgerald Hinds. Maharaj, who gave the interview before it was disclosed it was also going to be Hinds’s last day in the Senate, said Hinds and Al-Rawi were being “foisted” on the country.

As the sitting began and question-time came, the Government members heckled Hinds and Al-Rawi, as they sought to ask supplemental questions. “That’s the leadership race taking place,” Maharaj said, as Hinds asked whether the Government was sending the issue of the $6.8 firetruck controversy to the police or the Integrity Commission in the light of the minister’s admission no procurement procedure was followed.

“You laugh. That is taxpayers’ money involved,” Hinds shot back. Undaunted, even on his last day, Hinds asked: “Is the minister prepared to accept that the Cabinet was reckless at best and complicitous at worst in supporting this transaction?”

When it was known that Hinds was leaving the Senate, the picong changed. The Attorney General explored the ethnic angle, saying: “Hinds boy, dey sacrificing you for the Indian vote.” When Hinds persisted with more supplemental, Ramlogan taunted: “That is why they moving yuh.” Hinds rejoined: “I have no Range Rover.”

Heckling aside, Government members became more indulgent toward Hinds. As the hour for question-time came to a close, the Senate waived of the standing orders to extend it so that Hinds could complete a supplemental question. “We will accommodate Senator Hinds on his last hurrah,” Ganga Singh said. But when Al-Rawi proceeded to ask another supplemental, Singh stopped him. “You will be here next week.” “He will be joined by Ras Nancoo­singh,” Ramlogan joked.

Later Al-Rawi said the People’s Partnership, which has changed 12 senators since May 2010, was hardly in a position to talk about the PNM senate changes. He said all PNM senators were there at the leader’s discretion and they were pleased to work with the PNM in any capacity they could.

“The fact is that the Senate is a place that allows you to grow talent and Mrs Beckles-Robinson is easily someone who could easily go right now and win a seat,” he said. He said it was within the political leader’s discretion to review the position of each senator to decide whether he wanted to grow more people. “It is really about the 2015 race... We enjoy our work here in the Senate. But the political party’s growth is more important for all of us and winning the next election, so if any of us is removed, it is with a purpose,” he said. • See Page 8

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