In response, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she has accepted his resignation, thanked him for his service, but in a parting shot noted that the demands he had made of Government were “impossible, unreasonable and reckless.”
MSJ was a member of the five-party coalition PP Government which includes the United National Congress (UNC), led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and Congress of the People (COP) with political leader Prakash Ramadhar, who is also Legal Affairs Minister.
The other two parties are Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) led by Ashworth Jack and National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) with Chief Servant Makandal Daaga as its leader.
Prior to the announcement, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was notified by Abdulah of the decisions by way of a text message and an e-mail.
Formal letters of his resignation and the party’s withdrawal from the PP were expected to be forwarded to the Prime Minister last night. Other coalition partners were also given notice of the action.
The decision to withdraw from the Partnership was made following a meeting with the National Executive and Activists Council of MSJ.
According to Abdulah, the MSJ subscribes to the declaration of values and the principles articulated in the Fyzabad Declaration of May 2010 but efforts to change what the party saw as poor governance of the country by PP continued to “fall on deaf ears.”
The Fyzabad accord was signed by then MSJ political leader Errol McLeod who, however, contested the general election on a UNC ticket and was elected as Pointe-a-Pierre MP. He was appointed Labour Minister, and earlier this year, handed over the reins of the MSJ to Abdulah.
When contacted, McLeod disclosed he was in New York on his way back to Trinidad and would comment on the MSJ’s departure from the PP today.
McLeod had attended an International Labour Ogranisation conference in Switzerland and was instransit to Trinidad.
“I couldn’t talk with you now, I am on my way at the check out counter on my way from New York. Talk to me tomorrow (today),” he told Newsday.
Abdulah, general secretary of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), announced the decisions at the union’s headquarters, Paramount Building, San Fernando at about 1.15 pm.
Among some of the MSJ’s major concerns, he said, were the “odious system of contract labour in the Public Service and State Sector, advancing an agenda for labour law, privatisation of State entities such as Petrotrin and First Citizens Bank, governance in terms of constitutional and local government reforms, political victimisation, corruption, nepotism and patronage, implementing cultural sectors agenda (as stated in the manifesto) and establishing a policy position to stop the use of force by police, moves to stop the legitimate and peaceful activities of civil society, including protest action by workers and rights of the media.”
In her statement last evening, Persad-Bissessar said the Government would be strengthened by Abdulah’s “predictable but timely departure.”
Abdulah’s resignation comes amid speculation that Persad-Bissessar was going to revoke his appointment as part of her review of her Government and State boards. She is expected to announce her changes after tomorrow’s Labour Day celebrations.
Sources said she is also expected to call the other Partnership leaders to a meeting on the MSJ’s departure.
Commenting on the developments, however, Persad-Bissessar yesterday said, “I respect the decision of the MSJ and David (Abdulah) to so do. I am compelled to tell you that the list of demands made by David over the past few months were always impossible, unreasonable and reckless. It seems David’s entrance into government never allowed him the advantage of a national perspective.”
Abdulah, she said, “remained trapped in isolationist thinking” and should know that he “cannot negotiate governance like a labour union leader representing the interest of only one group.”
“In government your responsibility is larger than that,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar believed not everyone can make the transition.
“As for David’s accusations, they are vacuous and without a shred of evidence. We have established a more transparent and accountable government than any other before. David’s comments and criticism as a parting shot fired from the gun of a new political aspirant is an ambitious quest for power. We do take this opportunity to thank him for his service and wish him all the best.”
Persad-Bissessar promised that her Government will continue with the labour agenda in the absence of the MSJ.” McLeod, she said, continues to be a “huge resource” within the PP government.
Coincidentally, Abdulah also made a claim on McLeod’s loyalty saying the Labour Minister remained a member of the MSJ. He said McLeod was made aware before he left that the “party (MSJ) was considering leaving the Partnership.”
Reading from his prepared speech, Abdulah said the MSJ believes “the time has come for the MSJ to paddle its own canoe.”
“We recognise that to build a mass party, non-ethnic, and which does not depend on the largesse of either the State or powerful financiers, is not an easy task. This cannot be achieved by me simply resigning from the Senate or the MSJ leaving the Partnership. It can only happen by way of political action.”
MSJ said among the reasons the movement joined the Partnership was primarily to get rid of the Patrick Manning-led People’s National Movement (PNM)
He continued, “Secondly because we felt that the Partnership, while far from perfect offered the possibility of beginning to effect some progressive change in governance. The first objective was accomplished, the second objective now seems thwarted notwithstanding our best efforts by powerful elements in the partnership. It is not about changing the system of governance but rather changing the faces because it is we time now.
Abdulah went on to criticise Government ministers, who, he said, ignored MSJ’s concerns although the party demonstrated its seriousness about issues placed on the national agenda by removing 11 members of ten State boards (other than the tripartite boards) and its non-participation in two second anniversary celebrations last month.
“It was but one manifestation that our message of the need to change governance was falling on deaf ears. Then too was the response by leading members of the Government. One tried to intimidate us into ‘toeing the line’, yet another sought to make a joke out of what was really a very serious issue. One would have thought the leaders of the partnership would have met with some urgency.
This has not happened not withstanding the fact the political leader of the COP also publicly spoke of the need for the Partnership to address major issues. the political leader of the UNC acknowledged that something has to be done but has taken the approach of using her constitutional power as Prime Minister to re-align her cabinet, review state boards.”
He said the Prime Minister without consultation with leaders announced Government’s decision to abolish criminal appeals to the Privy Council.
He said the PP never seemed serious about changing governance as there has not been another meeting of the partners since the last meeting on May 8 and a statement by MSJ on May 21. “We are going to make the effort. History will eventually judge us as whether we were right or wrong. We have the knowledge that we are right. The citizens of the country deserve better.
He said his party’s departure from the coalition should not be seen as opening the door for the return of the PNM.
“The MSJ is committed to build a mass political party not a pressure group that can offer itself to the electorate as a serious alternative to traditional parties. Within the next few weeks, the party intends to intensify their programme of walkabout, cottage meeting, public forums and other activities.”
Abdulah said he is still open to dialogue with the Prime Minister.
“If the Prime Minister requests a meeting of me as political leader of the MSJ, of course I would meet. But I do not know that the position we have taken is up for review or consideration.”
He said the MSJ is prepared to go forward with its plan to build a mass political party.
Abdulah said over the last few weeks he never felt alienated as a result of his utterances against the Partnership.
He said it was important for him to make the announcement before Labour Day so as to encourage workers to join the MSJ as “we go forward in the process of building this party.” In the history of Trinidad and Tobago politics, no labour party has ever been elected to govern the country although trade union leaders and activists have gone on to secure seats in the House of Representatives.
Efforts were made to contact, COP’s Ramadhar, on the MSJ’s pull out but calls to his cellphone went unanswered. Daaga also could not be reached for comment.
Jack, TOP leader and THA Minority Leader, however said Abdulah has exercised his democratic right.
“I want to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his future endeavors. This is a democracy and people have a right to come and go and David has exercised his right in this democracy,” Jack said.
He refused to say if he had been summoned to a meeting of the leaders of the Partnership.
The MSJ’s press conference was attended by fellow trade union leaders. In the conference room, Abdulah was supported by OWTU president general Ancel Roget, head of Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non Governmental Organisations (FITUN) Joseph Remy, Sheep and Goat Farmers Association Shiraz Khan and several other party members.