Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray at the Piarco International Airport today, shortly before Persad-Bissessar left for South Africa to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Coudray with act as Prime Minister in the absence of Persad-Bissessar. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank.

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PM heads to Mandela’s funeral; Marlene to act

By Michelle Loubon

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has said Minister of Local Government Marlene Coudray will act as PM while she flies out today to attend the memorial service for the former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, 95, who had been ailing for several months, died last Thursday.
Persad-Bissesar said the national flag will be flown at half mast at all government and school buildings on Tuesday and Wednesday as a sign of respect for Mandela’s passing.

Persad-Bissessar, who heads T&T’s delegation, could not confirm the names of the Caricom leaders who will be leaving today but she said T&T’s delegation will include Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, Senator Faris Al-Rawi, and chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee Khafra Kambon.

She said they will meet Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz and Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin who are already in South Africa.

Persad-Bissessar spoke during the Prime Minister’s annual Christmas Children’s Treat at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain, yesterday.
On Saturday during a toy distribution event at Arima, she also said the government was chartering a Caribbean Airlines jet to attend the celebration of Mandela’s life.

With respect to the flag being flown at half mast, Persad-Bissessar said: “Under the Ministry of National Security (Section 20) of the relevant legislation, we will fly our flag at half mast Tuesday and Wednesday while we are paying tribute by attending the service in South Africa.”

On the topic of the attendance of the Caricom leaders she said: “ We are still finalising it. but I know the Prime Ministers of Bahamas (Perry Christie), Grenada (Keith Mitchell), St Lucia (Kenny Anthony). I believe it will be finalised by later this evening. Then we can send out a press release.”

She added: “Cadiz is in South Africa for a conference and he will join us there. Minister Toppin is there. Khafra Kambon has agreed and the Leader of the Opposition (Rowley).”

But she said the details about who will be attending the memorial service have not yet been worked out since only six people can attend between Tuesday and Wednesday.

She said: “There is a person constraint as to the number of people who have been invited to attend the venues. Tuesday is the memorial service and Wednesday is the viewing of the body. That is the constraint... how many persons we can take from the delegation. We have our ambassador ( Harry Partap) and Permanent Secretary from the Foreign Ministry (Margaret Parillon).

She added: “Only six people can attend between Tuesday and Wednesday. We can share it up.”

Asked about the issuance of visas and yellow fever inoculation, Persad-Bissessar said: “My staff have been working assiduously over the weekend to put everything in place. Most of us had the yellow fever vaccine having travelled to India at some point ago. I think we are pretty okay. Visas, yes.”

Persad-Bissessar said the route will facilitate easier access.

“ If we had passed through the UK, we would have had further constraints. We will fly to Rio De Janeiro (Brazil) to refuel and then pursue over the Atlantic to come back.”

Asked about the cost, she said: “Not at this point in time we are having it worked out. In terms of the commitment, we have to honour the great work of Mandela. The cost will not be exorbitant. I have nothing to hide.

It would have cost more to fly so many of us down to South Africa.”
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