The appearance of former senator and PNM lady vice-chairman Pennelope Beckles-Robinson at a fund-raising event sponsored by UNC deputy political leader and Government Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal provoked heated discussion and controversy within the People’s National Movement yesterday.
The event, which was held at Fun Splash Park, Debe on Saturday night, was also attended by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Minister Lincoln Douglas, husband of the Prime Minister, Dr Gregory Bissessar, and Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Rabindra Moonan.
PNM sources said the pictures of Beckles hobnobbing with People’s Partnership personalities reinforced their assessment of her as being soft on the party’s political opponents—the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and now the United National Congress (UNC), and of always appearing to pull her punches in dealing with the Government.
PNM general secretary Ashford Ford said that Beckles’ attendance at the UNC function caused “concern and consternation” among the party’s membership and supporters.
“Balisier House was inundated with calls, as well as persons coming into the party’s headquarters expressing their disapproval,” Ford said.
In a newspaper and television interview, Beckles, in seeking to explain her decision to attend the event, noted that the Park was owned by Vijay Ramai, a member of the PNM General Council, who rented the venue to the UNC Oropouche constituency.
However, Ford denied Beckles’ claim that Ramai was a member of the PNM General Council.
Ford noted that Beckles said she attended the event because she was “in the area” and it was “in a public place”.
He noted that political meetings were generally held in public places.
“So does that mean that one should appear at a UNC or ILP meeting simply because one is in the area and the event is at a public place,” he asked, “or at any other event sponsored by a political party, other than PNM, that is in a public place?”
He added that the pictures on television and in the newspapers indicated that Beckles-Robinson was the only PNM person in the crowd.
Ford said Beckles also happened to be in the area during the Chaguanas West by-election when ILP leader Jack Warner was on a walkabout and she shook hands with him.
“Has lightning struck twice?” he asked.
In response to a question, Ford dismissed any suggestion that her attendence there and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley forming part of a national delegation to attend the memorial service of South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela, could be compared and was therefore unworthy of any further comment.
However, other sources said they did not think Beckles-Robinson crossed any line.
“She certainly wanted to be on the front page of the newspapers and she certainly wanted to stir up controversy, because you can’t be a contender in politics if you are not in the public eye. So she definitely did that to start people talking, to start the conversation and have people speculating. It was done definitely to get what she achieved—national attention.” one source said.
However, another source dismissed this, saying that if that were indeed so then it would cast serious doubts on Beckles’ political judgment.
Some of the PNM membership believe that she is “appearing to consort with the political enemy” and this would not commend her to them as leadership material, the source stated.
Beckles-Robinson has stated she would consider contesting the party leadership against Rowley in the upcoming contest.
Attempts to reach her yesterday were unsuccessful as she failed to respond to calls and a text message.
Rowley also could not be reached, having left at noon for South Africa.
Ford conceded that the matter is likely to come up at Saturday’s PNM General Council meeting.