In addition to her duties as Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday assumed a new ministerial portfolio—that of Minister of the People and Social Development. She explained her reason—so close is that ministry to her heart and so critical it is to her vision.
This follows her sacking of Glenn Ramadharsingh on Tuesday night, in the wake of allegations of misbehaviour on a Caribbean Airlines flight from Tobago. She would take charge, for now.
In a release issued yesterday the Prime Minister stated : “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 empowerment of people”.
The Prime Minister added: “Given the strategic importance of the ministry to my Government’s overall objective of eradicating poverty and enhancing the quality of lives and citizens who are differently-abled or disadvantaged by their circumstances, I will assume charge of the ministry, while I consider an appropriate replacement.”
Last evening, after the International Women’s Day Tea which she hosted at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, the Prime Minister told reporters there was precedent for her taking over the portfolio as in the past Patrick Manning had held the portfolio of Finance Minister while he was Prime Minister. She said also that Basdeo Panday had held the portfolio of National Security minister while he too was Prime Minister. She added that she did not expect Ramadharsingh to become a “rogue” MP. The Prime Minister also recognised Ramadharsingh’s contributions and service to the Government.
Ramadharsingh had managed this ministry from May 2010, following the People’s Partnership victory at the polls.
Yesterday Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Minister in the Ministry of the People said she had a very close working relationship with Ramadharsingh. “I feel sad. However I respect the vision of the Prime Minister and I do respectfully share (her vision) and support her in whatever decision she has to make. Considering the fact that I do not have any information on the matters that she had before her to deliberate on, that information she has, is not information to which I was not privy, I trust her judgement and her wisdom in these matter. But of course I am sad. And I wish him (Glenn) all the best in his future endeavours.”
Asked how the ministry was functioning, Alleyne-Toppin, who did not yet know that the Prime Minister would be taking charge of the ministry, said the ministry was “so well oiled and such a leader in public service business”. “I often I congratulate them (the staff) and I tell them I have never worked in any place where there is so dedication to duty in the public service. I really do cherish them, applaud them and really love them,” she said
She said she was awaiting the new minister. “But we are all here, dedicated and willing to serve our people,” she said.
News of Ramadharsingh’s dismissal made international headlines and was featured on ABC news, Miami Herald, AP and Yahoo and other major news outlets. They presented it as a disorderly conduct on an airline. These reports stated that Ramadharsingh was fired from the Cabinet for “harassing a flight attendant”.
The Siasat Daily, an Indian newspaper, stated that an “Indian-origin minister was fired for rowdiness”. The newspaper noted that the Prime Minister was “herself a person of Indian origin”. The Prime Minister’s statement on the revocation of Ramadharsingh’s appointment said: “As I have always said that regardless of the consequences, I remained resolved to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do,” Persad-Bissessar herself a person of Indian origin said.
“My decision in the past demonstrate this consistency regardless of whether you are in my Cabinet or not. No one is exempt from the measure of value based leadership. There must be no compromise on integrity, no allowance for arrogance, no room for violation of mutual respect; there will be no sacrifice of our values on the altar of political expediency,” the Prime Minister stated.
Ramadharsingh was on a Caribbean Airlines flight from Tobago to Port of Spain when he refused to stow his carry-on bay following a request from flight attendant, Ronelle Laidlow. After the flight landed he allegedly attempted to reach for her name badge which was pinned to her blouse and touched her breast in the process. Laidlow alleged the Minister told her that her days with the airline were numbered. Ramadharsingh denied touching the flight attendant or threatening to have her fired. But he apologised for refusing to cooperate with her requests to remove his luggage and blamed his behaviour on “severe fatigue” .
Ramadharsingh is expected to take a position on the back bench when Parliament meets tomorrow. However he is professing his continuing loyalty to the People’s Partnership Government.