Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas and political analyst Derek Ramsarooj yesterday chastised Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley for failing to immediately refute the statements, perceived to be racist, which were made by PNM candidate Roxboxough/Delaford, Hilton Sandy.
Dumas said Rowley and Chief Secretary Orville London, who were present at the public meeting when Sandy made the offensive remark, should have immediately distanced themselves and the PNM from Sandy's statement, right there and then.
"Whoever had spoken after Sandy (on the platform) should have said 'we don't accept that kind of language'. But it wasn't said and it was only after the other side reacted ... after the ferocious statements from the UNC blogs and the Tobago Organisation of the People issued a statement, that Rowley said something ... and London has not said anything. And that's not good enough," Dumas stated.
Ramsamooj said both Rowley and London should have "publicly chastised" Sandy right away. "One would have expected that Dr Rowley, who is aspiring to be the prime minister of the country, would have been much more proactive and intervened immediately," he said.
Political analyst Winford James said Rowley should have pulled Sandy aside and have a conversation with him which should have led to any immediate withdrawal and apology for the remark. "It would have given the man (Sandy) a chance to redeem himself right there on the platform," he said.
James lamented that there was no "resistance" to Sandy's remark on the very platform and that the intervention (from the leadership) only came after the TOP raised the issue.
Sandy, addressing a public meeting, had stated that if his constituents did not vote for the PNM that "a ship from Calcutta" was waiting to sail to Tobago.
The matter was taken up by the TOP and the UNC bloggers and Sandy apologised, saying he was "overwhelmed by the exuberant atmosphere and erred by referencing what was perceived as as racist statement".
Despite their criticisms of Sandy's statements, however, both Dumas and James said they did not believe it had done Sandy or the PNM irreparable damage in the THA campaign.
"I would not say it has done him irreparable damage in Tobago because a lot of Tobagonians feel the same way ... and agree with Sandy. He ought not to have speak it on a platform in public. But the truth is that a lot of Tobagonians have the same attitude—that if you vote for the TOP, 'all them Indians from Trinidad would come and take over,'."
He said: "That has been going on, on the ground, for months", adding that it predated the campaign. "Sandy just forgot where he was and said it publicly," Dumas stated.
He said platform speakers in the campaign have spoken about "pagans coming in". "What do you mean by pagans? All these coded words that everyone knows what they mean," Dumas said, adding there were even racist jokes in the schools.
Dumas, nevertheless, said Sandy's remarks would do some damage because there were also a lot of people in Tobago who reject that kind of language. He said at the end of the day, however, it would do the PNM more damage nationally than in Tobago. "And that is why Dr Rowley ran quickly to say he had spoken to Sandy and he must apologise," he said.
Noting that politicians do tend to become "overexuberant" in front of a crowd, Dumas said if people continued to talk in those terms and the PNM wins," is it not the same people (in the Central Government) "from Calcutta, quote, unquote, that we (in Tobago) would have to deal with?"
James said because of Tobago's demography (the vast majority of the electorate is African) and history shows the statement would not hurt the candidate or the party's chances. "In Trinidad, you are likely to pay more than in Tobago, (for such a remark)," he said.
He said while he accepted that Sandy could have been overwhelmed by exuberance, his apology should have come sooner, "as soon as he recognised her error".
"It would have been far better if once he had come to his senses, he apologised and not have to be motivated by the TOP. "Though, one should add that politicians always tend to wait (rather than immediately withdraw an injudicious comment), hoping that nobody would pick up on it," James said.
Ramsarooj said Sandy was one of the most senior active politicians in Tobago and his unfortunate and irresponsible comments were detrimental to his political well being. Ramsarooj said Sandy should know that there would be a political price for such politically incorrect statements. An apology would not rectify the damage done to his reputation, he said.
He said Sandy had compromised the political appeal of the PNM, especially among the undecided and swing voters. Ramsarooj said Sandy's statement would hurt the PNM's chances not just in the THA election, but there might leave a negative connotation in the pending local government elections, especially where swing voters play a crucial.
"There must be no place on the political landscape for direct or subtle talk of racism, he said. He added that within the framework of good governance and political ethics, politicians in other countries do the honourable thing and resign. "If the PNM has to talk about ethics and acceptable behaviour then they must lead by example," he said.
Ramsarooj said it appeared that subtle racism was seeping into the public domain at the national level. He said while there is an element in the population which may be motivated to vote along ethnic lines, there was a much stronger element of the electorate which rejects any subtle or direct voting intention based on ethnicity. See Pages 4 and 7