Monday, February 19, 2018

'Distasteful' Panday


'spoke the truth': Former prime minister Basdeo Panday responds to questions from the media at yesterday's funeral service for former MP Kelvin Ramnath outside the Arunodai Presbyterian Church, Balmain, Couva. —Photo: Dexter Philip

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That was how the wife of former parliamentarian Kelvin Ramnath described the tribute paid to her dead husband by former prime minister Basdeo Panday during yesterday's funeral service.

After Panday's remarks, Deborah Ramnath took to the podium and stated that the service was not the platform for political bashing. "I thought that for a few hours I will sit and hear nice words, pleasant words. I didn't think it would have been used as a platform for bashing. There are other forums for that and I think it was a bit distasteful," she said.

Kelvin Ramnath, a former United National Congress (UNC) Member of Parliament for Couva South, who last held the post of chairman of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), died at the Augustus Long Hospital last Saturday of a heart attack. He was 63.

Panday, a longtime friend, was among the speakers listed to pay tribute to Ramnath at the Arunodai Presbyterian Church, Balmain, Couva.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and several Government ministers attended the service.

Panday told mourners he was displeased by the glowing tributes paid by members of Government after Ramnath's death. "The same colleagues who in 2010 did not think he was fit enough to continue as a Member of Parliament in the constituency of Couva South, which he represented continuously for over 34 years. Those same colleagues who in 2010 poured scorn upon him and treated him with contempt," he said.

Panday quoted what several Government members, including Persad-Bissessar, had to say about Ramnath following his death.

Responding to comments made by Minister of Housing Roodal Moonilal, Panday said, "It was the same minister who asked Kelvin during his screening, 'What have you done for the UNC and what do you think you can do now for the UNC?'

"Such was the contempt with which this great man was treated. Those who shower praise on him, now that he is no longer with us, in 2010 thought he was unfit to represent his constituency. The only thing they thought he was fit for was chairman of a board of a State enterprise."

The outpouring of love for Ramnath after his death, Panday said, was "twisted irony".

Panday told mourners Ramnath spent 26 years building the UNC and was a founding father of Club 88. "Yet after 26 years, he was deemed unfit to be a candidate for the UNC in the 2010 elections, so ending an enviable political career by the envious," he said.

Panday recalled Ramnath telling him, "'Chief it is your own louse that does bite you the hardest.' How right he was."

Panday ended his tribute by saying, "There are some who will be quite displeased with what I have said here today, even though every word I have spoken is the truth. But I know there is one person who will be applauding all now. His name is Kelvin Ramnath."

Persad-Bissessar did not respond to Panday's accusations when she addressed mourners. Instead, she remembered Ramnath as a dedicated friend and citizen. "He gave the best years of his life to the benefit of his constituents of Couva South. He chose to lose political office rather than stoop to conquer... he was a proud man because he understood the meaning of upholding personal dignity. For he was always a very dignified man.

It was more about a man who valued his self-respect. He also gave respect where it was deserved," she said.

Panday later told reporters he thought the church was the best place to speak the truth about his friend.

"And if I have told one single lie, then please point it out to me. I say to them weep not now. You did not weep when they crucified him," he said.

National Security Minister Jack Warner described Panday as disgraceful and commended Ramnath's wife for her stance.

"As Kelvin's wife say, don't use this occasion to try to score political points. I want to commend Debbie Ramnath for the dignified way in which she handled that and, more importantly, I want to commend the Prime Minister for the dignified way in which she delivered her tribute. She took the high ground.

"I wish it could have more Kamlas in this world and less Pandays. That will make the world a better place. Don't use this forum. It is undignified. Why do Kelvin that?" he asked.

Ramnath's son, Kelvin Ramnath Jr, said although Panday's statements were valid, his father's funeral was not the right place to deal with the issue.

"It needed to be said but not today," he said.