Warner was speaking on a private motion filed by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley over the Nizam Mohammed race issue, a motion which arguably backfired for the Diego Martin West MP even as he moved to place scrutiny over the Cabinet’s policy on race.

At the very start of his contribution, Warner simply had to point to the ethnic composition of the Opposition benches to begin building an argument that the PNM has, for decades, discriminated against East Indians.

“I ask you today, look at the composition of your whole team,” Warner said to Rowley, “and you tell me, from among your twelve members, who is of East Indian origin? Tell me.” Warner said the PNM has not opted to place East Indian candidates in traditionally “safe” PNM seats for general elections. (Warner is the UNC’s Chaguanas West MP, representing a constituency which has been traditionally aligned to the UNC, a party with East Indian roots).

“Your party could not put an East Indian in Diego Martin North/East? Your party could not put an East Indian in Port-of-Spain South? Your party could not put one in Laventille West?”

“What is the purpose of this motion? What they are trying to do is to put in people’s heads that the People’s Partnership is pursuing a racist agenda in a desperate bid to build up their crumbling support,” Warner theorised.

Warner denied that the Government has a racist policy and provided statistics covering the composition of boards, diplomatic appointments and Cabinet membership. He warned Rowley that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones and to be mindful of the PNM’s own checkered history with regard to race.

“What they want to do is to have one standard for themselves and one for us,” Warner said.

The Minister of Works and Transport said that in 30 years the PNM had never had a Hindu in its Cabinet right up to 1986 and thereafter had Cabinets in which the East Indian population was not proportionally represented. He accused San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning of recently using racial propaganda to cause racial tensions; recalled a policy approved by Rowley when he was Planning Minister in which Rowley advocated for positive discrimination in favour of Afro- Trinidadian youths.

Of $53 million in secret PNM Culture Ministry scholarships, Warner said, less than ten percent went to East Indians. He noted that the PNM deprived the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the race watchdog body, of funding; was found to have misled the court in the matter of an application for a radio licence for an Indian radio station in which the PNM government was accused of racial discrimination. Warner said the PNM government had court rulings against it for its treatment of East Indian public servants; distributed CEPEP and other contracts to constituencies that did not have large East Indian populations; closed Caroni 1975 (Ltd) and sent home 10,000 workers, the majority of whom were East Indian.

With regard to board appointments, Warner said under the PNM there were 508 non-Indians (79 percent) and 138 Indians (21 percent). In contrast, under the People’s Partnership there are 508 non-Indian board appointees (47 percent) and 579 Indians (53 percent).

With regard to appointments to diplomatic posts, Warner noted that eight appointees are African, five Indian and one Caucasian.

“What are you trying to prove? What are you trying to raise here?” Warner asked of Rowley. “What more do you want? You want blood? Why are we here wasting time? Look at your team and see if you have any reasons to throw stones at anybody!”

Earlier, Rowley referred to the removal of former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Nizam Mohammed, whose appointment was revoked by President George Maxwell Richards amid controversy over remarks Mohammed had made about a racial imbalance at the highest levels of the Police Service. Mohammed, at a Parliament committee, had said that there were no Indians at the highest ranks and that he would take steps to address this. He also explicitly denied that positive discrimination (or affirmative action) in favour of Indians would be employed, but rather promotions would be based on merit.

Every member party of the ruling coalition, the People’s Partnership (PP), condemned Mohammed’s statements after they were made. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar met the President over the issue. Though Mohammed was forced out of his job and a new chairman was installed last week, Rowley persisted with yesterday’s motion in order to raise the question of whether or not Mohammed’s position reflected the policy of the Government.

“The position taken by the former PSC chairman raises the question as to whether he was acting on his own,” Rowley said. “Or does it point to a wider policy of the Government?”

Rowley said all members of the recently-appointed board of the Estate Management & Business Development Corporation (EMBDC) were Indian.

“All eleven members are of one ethnic origin,” Rowley said, as Government Chief Whip Roodal Moonilal shouted examples of boards with more diverse leadership such as TSTT, Plipdeco, and the Port Authority. Rowley also said all the chairmen of Regional Health Authorities in Trinidad are Indian.

Rowley said he was told that Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, on a trip to the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy at New York, had openly questioned the ethnic composition of staff there upon arrival during a visit.

He further referred to a report drawn up by a team of police officers, which did not comprise an Indian member, on the reform of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT). He noted that the report, sent to Cabinet, recommended that SAUTT, in its restructuring, be mindful of a need to reflect the ethnic composition of the country.

“There is nothing wrong if the Government has a policy with this objective,” Rowley said. “But come out with it in the open. What is the status of this recommendation? What are we moving to?”

In response, Government MPs argued that the purpose of yesterday’s motion was to paint the Government as racist. If that was the intention, Warner ensured that it backfired by unveiling a long list of issues which raised the question of the PNM’s history of race.

“Your recently elected executive in the PNM does not have a single Hindu in it,” Warner said of the current PNM. He went back further.

Between 1956 and 1986, Warner said, the PNM did not have a single Hindu in its Cabinet. Between 1956-57, of 13 persons in Cabinet two were East Indian (16 percent). From 1957-58, of 14 Cabinet members two were Indians (14 percent). From 1958-59, of 13 two were Indian (15 percent); 1959-1961 out of ten, two were Indian; 1961-66 of 18 persons in Cabinet two were Indian (11 percent).

“Even while the Indian population was growing, it was not growing comparatively in the Cabinet,” Warner surmised. Under the NAR, he said the proportion of Indians in Cabinet lingered at about 23 percent.

Warner contrasted this with the UNC from 1997-2000 when there were 24 Cabinet members, 14 of whom were Indian (58 percent). In 1995 to 1997, of 22 Cabinet members 14 were Indians.

Under the PP Government, of 26 Cabinet members, 14 are Indians (53 percent) and 12 Africans (47 percent).

The Chaguanas West MP accused former PNM prime minister Patrick Manning of inciting racial tension due to remarks he made about Indian races in civil-strife plagued Fiji.

“That is the fear that is being instilled in this country,” Warner said. “One that is intended to cause divisiveness.”

Warner also accused Rowley of hypocrisy. He said Rowley, when Minister of Planning in 2003, had approved a COSTAATT programme that proposed to target Afro-Trinidadian males.

“If it was good for him then, how is it bad for Nizam now?” Warner said. “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Warner, the Works and Transport Minister, referred to the lawsuits of Feroza Ramjohn, Devant Maharaj and the Maha Sahba radio licence issue in support of his arguments. He said under the PNM CEPEP contracts went to almost all PNM stronghold constituencies but not to constituencies like Siparia and Caroni East.

“Do not come here and pontificate,” Warner said, noting it was Holy Week.

As a final trump card, Warner informed Rowley that Ramlogan had never travelled to New York in his official capacity as Attorney General and called on him to apologise. Rowley refused.



More in this section