The People's Partnership has achieved better ethnic balance in the appointments of boards, Works Minister Jack Warner stated yesterday.
He was speaking in the House of Representatives on the motion filed by Dr Keith Rowley, asking the House to reaffirm its collective commitment to the principles of fairness and meritocracy in public affairs in the light of the "reckless and divisive statements" made by the former Police Service Commission chairman Nizam Mohammed.
The debate on the private motion saw the UNC chairman and the PNM political leader facing off on the contentious issue of race.
Warner said in the PNM regime, "of the boards (members) appointed 508 were non-Indians and 138 were Indians", representing 79 per cent non-Indians, while 21 per cent were Indians.
"Shame! Shame!" his colleagues chorused.
Warner said by contrast, in this People's Partnership era, 508 of the appointments were non-Indian, while 579 were Indian, a ratio of 47 per cent non-Indian and 53 per cent Indian.
"So what are you trying to prove?" he asked Rowley.
Warner then pointed to the PNM's team in the Parliament, which reflected a lack of ethnic balance.
"Look at the composition of your whole team and you tell me in your 12 (elected) members, who is of East Indian origin? Your party couldn't put an East Indian in Diego Martin North East? In Port of Spain South? In Laventille West? Look at the 12 of you and tell me who is East Indian?" Warner asked.
"What am I? What am I?" Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon, a 'Dougla', shouted.
Rowley, speaking earlier, had recalled that Warner had stated that no board was appointed without considering the question of ethnic balance. He said something therefore went wrong with the appointment of the Estate Management Business Development Company board. He referred to a picture of the board, "published before the Mohammed issue", which showed that every single one of its 11 members were of East Indian origin. "That is balance! Well balanced!" his colleagues satirised.
"We saw it. We did not make any issue of it. We simply assumed that they were there on merit to contribute. Well if this is the case, then don't tell us then that the policy is to have boards reflect the national community. Because that is what Mr Mohammed was saying when he embarked on this crusade to bring about balance," Rowley said, adding that this composition put the lie to Government's stated policy.
He said the PNM had a complaint that two African clerks of work at the EMBD, whose contracts ended his year, were put on a month to month contract. Meanwhile, the company hired eight new clerks of work, all of one ethnic origin.
"This causes people to think that there was some policy at work," Rowley said
Rowley also referred to the boards of the Regional Health Authorities (RHA). He said all the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the RHAs (with the exception of Tobago RHA) were East Indian.
"We saw it, we did not make an issue of it. Because it is your prerogative to appoint who you want to appoint," he said.
He asked whether there was some policy of "rectification" taking place against the background of what Mohammed stated was his intention—to fix ethnic imbalance. He added that the CWU was saying the same thing was happening at TSTT.
Rowley suggested that Mohammed was not alone when he made his statements, especially since Mohammed invoked the Parliament's support in fixing what he saw as a problem.
He noted that the "garrulous Attorney General" was outstanding by his silence during the period of the Mohammed controversy.
"In fact he was careful to go underground when this matter was attracting the attention of the country," the Opposition Leader said.
Rowley said when he (Rowley) went to New York mission last November, he "was very distressed by the number of staff members who came to me to tell me that the Attorney General paid a visit to the mission and on entry to the mission the only thing he was interested in from his opening comment was the ethnic composition of the mission and he made comments openly to the staff about the ethnic composition and raised questions about the need to fix it".
House Speaker Wade Mark told Rowley that since he was imputing improper motives, and raising the conduct of a member, it was unparliamentary and out of order. Rowley said he was making "a statement of fact.
"I am imputing nothing. I am moving to the point that the position taken by the PSC Chairman raises questions as to whether he was on his own as a maverick with this ridiculous position he had. Was it an individual position or does it point to a wider policy of the Government?" Rowley asked.
Rowley added that the AG expressed similar sentiments at a meeting with the First Division of the Police Service. He said despite the denouncement of Mohammed's statement by the leaders in the coalition and senior Government members, there was still in the Government system the "Julie Browne" Report, titled, "An Operational Plan to reorganise and restructure SAUTT'.
This report, he claimed, stated that in restructuring SAUTT and creating the NIA, "concrete steps should be taken to effect ethnic and gender balance in the composition of these new organisations" and that this should become "cornerstone policy of these new entities". He said he wanted to ask Government how it proposed to accomplish this objective. He said he was satisfied that the report was being "operationalised".
Rowley said there was enough disquiet in the country about decisions or threats being made to address job positions and opportunities based on ethnic lines.
"Who is of Afro-Trinidadian origin, who is of Indo-Trinidadian origin. Tell us what part this is playing in the Government management of the State's business," he said.