Trinidad and Tobago: United National Congress (UNC) Senator Jearlean John earned a strong caution from the Senate President when she brought back the ‘Calcutta ship’ issue that in 2013 put the People’s National Movement (PNM) in controversy.
John spoke during a debate on the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) (Amendment) Bill 2021 on Tuesday, when she recalled that during the campaign period leading up to the January 25 THA election, an attempt was made to link the UNC to the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP).
The UNC had previously declared it was not contesting the election or taking any other part and denied any connection to the PDP, led by Farley Augustine when fliers appeared around Tobago claiming the parties were linked.
The government has gone to Parliament with amendments to the THA Bill seeking to increase the number of seats on the island from 12 to 15 to break a six-six electoral halt in place since the election.
The People’s National Movement (PNM) and PDP, holding equal seats, have been unable to reach a consensus on a presiding officer for the THA and have suggested a return to the polls may be the only path resolution.
The UNC has accused the Government of using its simple majority in the Parliament to pass legislation from which it may benefit and tamper with democracy.
Senate President Christine Kangaloo was forced to her feet when John recalled the attempt to link the parties and said: ‘And in the last election where we had that result of six-six, you would have seen where, I do not know if you follow these things, Madam President, but I saw where there were people with fliers with the image of the Leader of the Opposition on it and others.
‘Madam President, I am still relevant; I am talking about the six-six. And to me, that was a dog-whistling. I do not know if that is why we do not have vaccines today in Trinidad and Tobago. They must be feeling’ that Calcutta ship has to bring it.’
Kangaloo stirred immediately and said: ‘John, now you are steering off of the matter at hand.
John, who is Tobago-born, complied and said: ‘Yes, Madam President. That was a comment coming out of Tobago, but I am guided.’
She continued: ‘You see, and there they were, what does it mean to have the image of the Opposition Leader? As if that is a bad thing. Nevertheless, Tobago spoke, and they spoke loudly, and they said you would get six and you will get six, and that is what we have to work with.
They never asked that we come to this Parliament to resolve any issue.’
While campaigning for the 2013 THA election, former assembly-member Hilton Sandy warned voters against the People’s Partnership coalition, under then prime minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar and a ‘Calcutta ship’ sailing to Tobago.
Sandy and the PNM were chastised for what was seen as racial dog-whistling and the perpetuation of ethnic divisiveness.
John was referring to Covid-19 vaccines. The Government’s acquisition has been heavily scrutinized, and concerns were raised when this country would receive enough product from launching a national vaccination drive.
She added: ‘Of course, it appears as if the Government wants to ensure that they do not lose. So this is about coming to this House and saying, how do we ensure that we cannot lose?’
She accused the PNM of compromising the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) integrity and said it was ‘political business’ to have instructed the EBC on the number of electoral seats.
John knocked the Government for lack of consultation before taking the matter to Parliament and questioned why Rowley was meeting with deputy political leader of the PDP, Dr. Faith B Yisrael, at 9.30 a.m. yesterday at Magdalena Grand Hotel. She said she been sent a copy of the letter inviting Yisrael to meet.
Having agreed with Al-Rawi’s ‘no six is better, is bigger than the other six’ statement, she went on to ask why then meet with the PDP.
‘How is that fair?’ she said, also asking how the Government had arrived at 15 electoral seats for Tobago. She wondered whether the PNM was trying to solve the problem after seeing the answer and remarked: ‘This is crapaud jig-jig.’
John said the UNC maintained that the drawing of lots was the only solution, and the PNM had taken the stance of ‘let’s use the law to break the law.’ ‘This is illegal,’ John said. ‘We must not pass these amendments.’