(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday knocked secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj for describing former prime minister Patrick Manning as a “racist.”
Speaking at the post-Cabinet media briefing, Rowley said while Maharaj’s statements were proof of the country’s democracy in action, he was “duty bound” to respond to his comments.
“This is still a free country, people are free to express their views. I’m taking no issue with any person’s view. However, the headline in today’s Guardian is more than just an expression of view, it can have the effect of misrepresenting the country’s history and the facts of certain situations with respect to public administration, public policy, racial solidarity and the peace and stability of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Rowley said citizens would have digested Maharaj’s statement as facts and he could not allow such a record to stand with no response to it since “it is possible that their behaviour would be influenced and not for the better.”
The PM said Maharaj’s comments in trying to justify his claims were wrong and misleading and an attempt to rewrite the country’s history.
“I respect Mr Maharaj’s attempt to defend what he thinks he is defending but I will defend the country’s record, especially when I was a part of that record.”
In yesterday’s T&T Guardian, Maharaj claimed a series of discriminatory practices Manning had perpetuated against East Indians in T&T were racist, bias and discriminatory.
In highlighting each of the cases Maharaj raised, Rowley gave an account of how they transpired on behalf of the then People’s National Movement-led government.
Caroni 1975 Ltd closure
Rowley insisted that its closure was not a racial act.
Having served as agriculture minister from 1991 to 1995, Rowley contradicted Maharaj’s accusations that the shutting down of the sugar industry was done to increase hardships of the sugar workers, outlining that the creation of Caroni 1975 Ltd was done to rescue the sugar industry.
“It had nothing to do with race… it happened that the Government of the day, which happened to be PNM, intervened and created that injection of life into the (sugar) industry.”
He added that despite the injections of money into the sugar industry, amounting to over $2 billion, it was necessary to phase out sugar production.
Islands such as St Kitts and Nevis and Barbados, Rowley said, also closed most of their sugar industries as well.
“For somebody to get up today and say that the closing of Caroni 1975 Ltd was a racial act to suffer Indian people, is close to sedition, made to create racial discord and disturb the peaceful fabric of Trinidad and Tobago. That allegation cannot be supported by the facts of the day.”
On Maharaj’s claims regarding former Chief Justice Sat Sharma’s attempted arrest, Rowley said the removal of a Chief Justice requires the office of the Prime Minister, stating that the order for the arrest did not come from Manning but from the then Director of Public Prosecutions Geoffrey Henderson, who indicated that Sharma’s actions merited his removal.
Sharma was accused of attempting to persuade the DPP to drop a murder charge against vascular surgeon Dr Vijay Naraynsingh in 2004.
Rowley also defended Manning’s decision to place former House Speaker Occah Seapaul under house arrest.
He said Seapaul suspended former parliamentarian Ken Valley and indicated that she had intended to suspend two other parliamentarians—Wendell Mottley and Keith Sobion—in what she said was a bid to reduce the Government majority.
“We took action as a Government to protect ourselves in the Parliament from a Speaker who had gone rogue.”
Referring to Feroza Ramjohn, a public servant who instituted legal action in seeking justice for the lack of promotional opportunities, Rowley said there was an inquiry regarding corruption involving T&T passports, in which Ramjohn was implicated, which led to Manning’s withdrawal of her appointment to a position with the London mission.
Ramjohn took the matter to court and the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour, calling the issue of the passports “purely circumstantial.”
Radio and TV licences
On the radio and television licences requested by Maharaj, who claimed that his application was refused due to racial discrimination, Rowley said Maharaj’s application was found to have been incomplete and even after a request was made for him to complete his application and re-submit, Maharaj declined, preferring instead to take legal action.