Wednesday, January 17, 2018

MP Donna Cox Undergoes her biggest test today


Donna Cox. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank

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Her mind was made up. As Amelia Cox nervously paced the living room of her apartment on George Street, Port of Spain, she considered the facts which she hoped would salve her conscience. Already a mother of four boys, Cox was pregnant again a fact she kept from her husband and everybody else. She was certain that this pregnancy would result in the birth of yet another boy and not the girl she and her husband had yearned for. With her family already in a financial fix, Cox had resolved in her mind that she would abort her pregnancy. With the help of her friend, she had already visited a midwife and made a downpayment.

With a week left before Cox was due to terminate her pregnancy, her mother-in-law came knocking on her door.

"Are you pregnant?" she asked Cox bluntly. But Cox fervently denied it.

"Well, I had a strange dream," she said. "In the dream a man told me to tell you that what you are going to do away with, don't do it because it's a hen (a female fowl)."

Cox was overcome with fright. She felt that the man who had appeared in her mother-in-law's dream was God who was trying to dissuade Cox from going ahead with the abortion. Cox never returned to the midwife, not even to get a refund. Months later she delivered a baby girl whom they named Donna.

Little had Cox known that the baby she had planned on aborting would decades later play a significant role in the political party of her family's choice and would represent the people of Laventille East and Morvant amongst whom she lived.

"I was touched when she told me," says Cox (Donna).

"When I remember it I always tell myself "Lord, at least you directly intervened in my abortion because a lot of people went ahead and had abortions without that kind of intervention", so I am here for a purpose and I feel it's a good purpose."

There are two sides to Donna Cox, there's the Member of Parliament for Laventille East/Morvant, then there is the church-going Donna Cox who relaxes to gospel music.

Cox describes herself as meticulous and that comes as no surprise. The family lived a comfortable life in Success Village, Laventille. Her father worked on the port while her mother was a housewife. Cox's childhood was a sheltered one but with five brothers she was also a tomboy. She was on the receiving end of a lot of flak and picong from her brothers.

In her family, God came first, followed by family then education. Cox's mother was sure to signal her disapproval when she received a negative report from her daughter's teachers at Providence Girls' Secondary School.

"Like ah raise ah parrot or what?"she once chided Cox on hearing word that her daughter was a chatterbox in the classroom.

Later on, when her hopes of a career in law fell short, Cox quickly became absorbed in public relations. She worked in that field for several government ministries before taking up the post of corporate communications manager at National Flour Mills.

Cox had worked under the NAR, UNC and PNM administrations. But when she decided to take the leap into politics, it was obvious whose side she was on. In 2007, under the PNM, she became Minister of State in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, then in 2008-2010 she was Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security. She has been MP for Laventille East/Morvant since 2010 not a job for the weak, says Cox as she details the list of social ills afflicting the community.

"There are a lot of social programmes that need to be implemented in Laventille. There is a breakdown of social life, there is a breakdown of religion. We need to bring back these old time systems where it takes a village to raise a child, where everyone must look out for each other. That is not happening. A lot of parents in the community are not taking responsibility for the upbringing of their children..."

Cox says that youths in Laventille need sustainable employment and criticised government programmes such as 'Colour me Orange' and 'Hoop of Life'. She insists that the problems in Laventille are far too complex and deep-rooted to solve with temporary fixes that act like mere plasters on open sores.

"I am no fan of those short term measures, I feel they need to be given proper jobs that they will be able to earn a living and the fact that there are people going into the community and giving these youngsters money, I will never agree to that. That could never help crime. Hoop of Life deals with sports but again all these measures are temporary," says Cox.

"When a team wins a million dollars, what next for them? What skills are being taught that they can now impart to others? And that is why I'm saying that these programmes are not sustainable and sustainable programmes are what we want in Laventille."

Laventille has always been considered a PNM stronghold and yet the PNM has been accused by critics as well as by some in Laventille of not doing anything substantial for the community at large, I point out to her. Cox contends that a lot of programmes were introduced by the PNM administration which a lot of persons took advantage of, and some did not.

"When you are the government, you are the government of all..the PNM had concentrated on fixing the whole of Trinidad and Tobago instead of concentrating on fixing their strongholds, and that might have been a minus, because what is happening now is that the government presently is fixing their strongholds, making sure the roads are done, making sure they get their facilities, Cox says.

I know that the PNM did not concentrate on fixing their strongholds, Laventille had to wait like everyone else to get the amenities they wanted. The concentration was based across the board in Trinidad and Tobago."

Since becoming a politician, Cox has lost friends, she and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar once enjoyed a great relationship, but are no longer friendly, she says. There have also been many moments when she has to put politics ahead of her family. But politics can also get really nasty as Cox has found out first hand.

Earlier this year when Parliament debated Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley's motion of no confidence in Persad-Bissessar, Cox in her contribution criticised the PM's national security adviser Gary Griffith. Later, as as she was leaving the chamber Cox alleged that Griffith confronted and threatened her. Griffith denied the claim. Cox made an official report to House Speaker Wade Mark.

But the final result was not in Cox's favour.

"The Privileges Committee where the government has the majority voted that he did not breach any standing order so I will let the public judge based on that. After all the evidence pointed to Griffith being wrong...these are some of the unfair things you encounter being a politician. But as I always say - all unfair games must play over. So I have accepted that and must move on.".

Cox remained coy when addressing what, if any role she would like to play should the PNM take office in the future.

"I am the Member of Parliament for Laventille East/Morvant and when we get back in office I want to make sure that I do as much as I can for my constituency that's my first priority as a politician because they are the ones that have me here, not the other way around," she says.

Today as the PNM hosts its annual convention, Cox faces one of her biggest tests as she goes up for the position of chairman of the PNM Women's League, lady vice chairman of the PNM - a role she has held for the past five years. Under her stewardship, Cox says she has seen the women's league flourish and the attendance at monthly meetings skyrocket and expand to include seminars preparing women for leadership roles in politics and in society. She has also hosted programmes across the country on the topics of family life, health and domestic violence, cosmetology, etiquette and dancing.

"If people judge on my performance as lady vice chairman of the party, then I expect to win,"says Cox.

Her challenger is veteran politician, Pennelope Beckles-Robinson.