Coming almost a month shy of the PP’s three-year anniversary, UNC chairman Jack Warner’s resignation from the National Security Ministry now relegates the former frontline MP to backbencher, a PP spokesman said last night. Speaking after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced she had accepted Warner’s resignation, PP officials said Warner, who usually sat at the PM’s right hand in Parliament, will no longer sit there.
They said Warner, who remains Chaguanas West MP, will now sit on the furthest PP backbench, near Colin Partap—once his junior National Security Minister—who was fired in August 2012 “That will be his seat unless he goes against the UNC whip,” they added. Persad-Bissessar last night spent the eve of her 61st birthday, today, announcing she had accepted the resignation of Warner, also her party’s chairman, from the Cabinet following the release of the findings of a Concacaf report Friday.
The report, which was compiled by former Barbadian chief justice Sir David Simmons, found that Warner did not disclose to world governing soccer body Fifa, or Concacaf—which represents soccer in the North/Central America and the region—that the US$25.9 million Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence was built on land owned by his companies. The PM also shifted Emmanuel George from Works to National Security yesterday.
Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan also assumed the Works portfolio. Warner, who held Works as mega-ministry when he first assumed office in 2010, had the portfolio drastically slashed in a 2011 reshuffle. He was bumped back up to National Security last year, after Persad-Bissessar removed Brigadier John Sandy from the ministry.
Persad-Bissessar moved on the controversial issue yesterday, less than 24 hours after returning home from her US trip, and ahead of her departure for Canada tomorrow. Soon after the Prime Minister arrived home at 11 pm on Saturday, she told reporters at Piarco International Airport that she would meet with Warner at the “earliest opportunity.” Warner was conspicuously absent from the small group of ministers at Piarco who welcomed her home.
Persad-Bissessar said she had been briefed on the Concacaf report’s findings by the ministers who came to the airport and had also seen it via technology. She had said then her next step would have been to speak with Warner. “... And thereafter I’ll speak further,” the PM had added. Asked if Warner had a case to answer, Persad-Bissessar replied: “I’ll meet Mr Warner tomorrow (yesterday).
“The allegations are troubling ones for all of us. The Reuters report was one thing, I think this report is composed of some very troubling issues and certainly when I meet Mr Warner we’ll have further discussion on that,” she said. On the COP’s call for Warner to step down or be removed, she said PP members were free to express views. She said she had never found that Partnership members did not support decisions she had made in their three years in office to date and did not think it would happen now.
After the PM spoke events developed swiftly. Early yesterday, PP officials said the situation was expected to be resolved before Persad-Bissessar left T&T again—tomorrow—for a state visit to Canada. They acknowledged the situation could not wait until her return from Canada. At 11 am yesterday, PP members were invited to Persad-Bissessar’s Phillipine, San Fernando, residence for a 2 pm meeting, including MPs, senators, ministers of state, TOP and NJAC members.
She met with various groups separately and Parliamentarians, one-on-one, it is understood. Some MPs, like Herbert Volney, did not attend. Warner, who arrived after the meeting began, was described by many as “looking depressed” when he arrived. He carried a similar expression as he left without addressing members of the media gathered outside.
Persad-Bissessar is expected to speak further on the issue at UNC’s Monday night forum tonight in her Siparia constituency. It is uncertain if Warner will attend. The cliffhanger concerning Warner occurred yesterday even as the UNC held constituency executive elections in ten constituencies. Polls in 31 others are complete, party officials said.
It also developed ahead of Friday’s Parliament sitting, where Opposition Leader Keith Rowley has a motion concerning Warner on the agenda and to which Warner had promised to reply with an attack on the PNM leader. Claiming Warner was unsuitable for ministerial position, and the Prime Minister had not taken action with respect to him, the PNM wanted Parliament to “express its disapproval of the Prime Minister’s failure to take appropriate action.
PNM whip Marlene McDonald said if Warner was removed, the motion would still be debated. “I’m sure Dr Rowley will speak to any changes that might come before the motion,” McDonald added. PP’s issues will be the focus of PNM’s public meeting tomorrow in UNC heartland, near Warner’s constituency—Chaguanas.
Fifth Cabinet minister zapped
Jack Warner was the fifth minister to lose their positions from Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet. The others were:
• Mary King from Planning (May 2011)—over a contract/family issue.
• Therese Baptiste-Cornelis—shifted from Health ( June 2011), recalled from Geneva diplomatic post (August 2012) over international statements.
• Colin Partap from junior National Security ministerial post (August 2012)— over his alleged refusal to take a breathalyser test outside a Port-of-Spain nightclub.
• Herbert Volney from Justice (September 21, 2012)—over his involvement in the Section 34 fiasco