The UNC’s spiral of decline, which began with a split that led to its loss of office in 2001, continued yesterday when another second split — this time involving MPs Gillian Lucky and Fuad Khan — effectively reduced its strength in the House of Representatives from 15 to 13. Like previous dissidents Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and Ralph Maraj; and Hulsie Bhaggan and Pam Nicholson before them; Lucky and Khan are no longer under the (party) Whip. They would now operate purely on the basis of conscience. Lucky’s move was not unexpected, but Khan’s was a bit of a surprise.
In announcing their decision, however, Lucky and Khan made it clear that they were not resigning from the party, but that they planned to serve as “independent UNC members” for the rest of their parliamentary term. Yesterday’s announcement came despite last minute efforts by a third party to heal the rift. But the sequel to Thursday night’s clash at a party caucus between Lucky and Panday, over her decision to sign the report of the Privileges Committee on the tearoom brawl, was set after Panday made his statements on the role of morality and integrity in politics. “Mr Basdeo Panday, in the presence of the caucus, informed me that ‘politics has a morality of its own and that if my professional integrity is more important than politics, then I should leave politics,’” Lucky said yesterday.
She continued: “The Political Leader has clearly enunciated his position that professional integrity does not necessarily reign supreme, and should, or could be superseded by politics.” This, she said, was a stark contrast, to her beliefs as well as to the fundamental principles of the UNC she joined in 1990, and still represents. “Politics will only fulfil the mandate of the people if it is constantly fuelled with the virtues of integrity, honesty, morality, transparency, spirituality and accountability,” she stressed. Lucky seemed emotional when she read her opening statement, but regained her composure as she addressed questions on the issue.
Quoting the opening prayer of Parliament — “That truth and justice may be among us for all generations,” Khan also confirmed Panday’s statements on morality and integrity. “No one, political leader or otherwise, could make us give up our integrity for their (version of) political morality,” he said, adding that Panday’s statement “stung” him into this realisation. Khan said if the public did not want people of integrity in politics he and Lucky would eventually leave politics. Asked to comment on the issue, Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday yesterday said he was sticking to his position that it was an internal party matter. He said it would be dealt with by the party. Asked if the two MPs would be expelled, Panday said: “It is a matter for the people to decide. It is not a matter of national concern.”
Asked if she had consulted her constituents, Lucky said she consulted “wider than the constituency. I have consulted the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” she replied. Asked if they believed that their action had enfranchised those people who voted for the UNC, both MPs stressed that they remained “independent members of the UNC.” What would they do if the UNC sought to invoke the Crossing of the Floor Act? they were asked. “But we have not crossed the floor,” they chorused. Sources stated that the two MPs received legal advice that they should not resign since this would make the case for invoking the Crossing of the Floor Act stronger. However, there is still a major hurdle to such a task as the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives do not recognise the Crossing of the Floor Act.
Asked if Panday’s statement meant that party morality required UNC members to support their colleagues, whether or not they were truthful on the tearoom brawl, Lucky said she interpreted the statement to have “general as well as specific application.” She said she rejected it on both grounds. Lucky said she had not solicited the support of her colleagues. She said she had faxed a letter to the Opposition Office stating that she was no longer available for the job of deputy chief whip and education officer on the National Executive. Khan, for his part, said he was using yesterday’s press conference to inform the party of his decision.
Both MPs said they fully expected a smear campaign to be waged against them. Lucky said she expected some people to go “to the lowest low,” but she trusted that the media would be “very discerning.” When the House meets on Friday, Lucky and Khan will most likely be separated by an empty chair from the rest of the UNC, sitting like a Minority Opposition (similar to ANR Robinson and Pamela Nicholson’s seating arrangement in 1991-1995 Parliament, when there was a PNM government, UNC opposition and two NAR MPs). On Friday, Lucky will present a motion on crime and kidnapping and she expects a “lively discussion,” in which Government is going to be called to account.
UNC officials shocked over Lucky, Fuad
OFFICIALS of the UNC’s Barataria/San Juan and Pointe-a-Pierre constituency executives yesterday expressed shock and surprise after learning that their respective MPs — Dr Fuad Khan and Gillian Lucky — had announced that they were now “independent UNC MPs” in the House of Representatives. Lucky and Khan made their announcement at a news conference in Port-of-Spain yesterday. Declining to give their names, officials of both constituencies said their MPs’ announcements had taken them by surprise, and they did not have all the facts before them at this time. Officials in the Pointe-a-Pierre constituency said they plan to hold discussions on the matter later in the week.