At 3.18 pm yesterday, the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications issued a two-page statement titled, “Government responds”, as promised earlier by Minister Vasant Bharath at the post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair, who said Cabinet had “briefly” discussed the matter.
The statement did not confirm nor deny the identity of the balding man in the video, but it did hail Sports Minister, Anil Roberts, for keeping the Opposition on their toes.
“It is rather peculiar that an undated video, framing what is alleged to be a Minister of Government, surfaces, one that carries no evidence of anything but a distraction from the real burning issue of the day, some of which were raised by the Honourable Minister of Sport, Anil Roberts,” said the statement.
“Any attempt to answer the questions on the video would serve the agenda of an Opposition so desperate to distract the population from the achievements summarised in the fourth anniversary of the People’s Partnership.”
The statement said it is no coincidence that it had been Roberts who had made allegations that Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley had an interest in the Beetham Wastewater Project over which Roberts had asked if Rowley and a group of investors had met Environment Minister, Ganga Singh.
The statement said, “Those questions remain more relevant today than any video of an alleged Minister rolling an unidentified substance. There is no relevance to the political theatre crafted by agents of mischief, produced and directed with obvious intent to distract from issues that affect the population.
“The Government sees this as nothing more than a vicious attempt at character assassination and will not validate it with any further commentary.”
The statement alleged the Opposition wants the population to forget the Government’s achievements such as economic management, water distribution, construction of schools and clinics, reduced crime and business investment.
In the post-Cabinet news briefing, a reporter asked about the video prompting emcee, Dennis Mc Commie, to say that no Cabinet Minister at the head table need reply if they did not want to. Yet seated in the wings, Communications Minister Vasant Bharath rose and took the podium. He promised an official statement from his ministry on the matter. While no reporter had called the name of any Minister, Bharath advised that if reporters were nimble on their feet they could get an interview with Roberts outside the conference room.
Newsday asked if Cabinet had discussed the matter? Bharath replied that Cabinet had discussed the matter “briefly”, and promised that a statement was “imminent”. Even before the briefing was ended, reporters quietly streamed out to take up position around Roberts waiting outside.
After delivering a tirade specifically directed at the Opposition Leader, Roberts hurried off outside the building refusing to take reporters’ questions, but instead eluded them by ducking into a security room and doubling back inside the main building.
In his exchange with the media, Roberts did not confirm nor deny that it was he in the video, and did not comment on the activities purportedly occurring, but attacked Rowley whom he blamed for the airing of the video.
“I know you have come here to talk about video, video and more video. Let me tell you and let me tell the nation and especially Dr Keith Christopher Rowley that no video, no music video, no video game or no voodoo could ever stop me from letting the population know that Dr Keith Rowley is the worst thing that could possibly happen to Trinidad and Tobago.”
“I was expecting something, I was expecting many things. Now if this video is all they could do, well PNM you have to come better than that.”
He said he had expected a reaction since eight weeks ago when he had alleged in Parliament that Rowley had an undeclared interest since 2000 in the $1 billion wastewater project.
“I knew that after destroying the ‘minority leader’ of the PNM, there would be something coming, and if the video is all they have, let me tell you again, video nor voodoo could make me hush up, shut up or go anywhere.”
He urged the media to ask Rowley about the waste water project and its investors, and whether any of the latter had financed his re-election bid in last Sunday’s People’s National Movement internal elections.
Roberts asked why Rowley is allegedly trying to defame him and other Cabinet Ministers.
“We will not shirk from our duty. We shall continue to work and tell the population the truth about Dr Keith Christopher Rowley. He could talk ‘bout video, you could talk ‘bout video (but) the real issues are what (former Port-of-Spain Mayor) Louis Lee Sing alerted this country to, and he described Rowley as Mugabe, Stalin or Hitler.”
Roberts paraphrased former prime minister Patrick Manning’s “raging bull” attack on Rowley. Quoting from a document he repeated direct quotes attributed to Manning about Rowley: “What I do see in the video, Mr Speaker...I see hate, I see bitterness, I see vengeance, Mr Speaker. I see a raging bull.”
He stressed he will not waiver from speaking out against the Opposition.
“No tobacco, no hemp, no cow manure can ever smoke me out. Good afternoon. Have a great day.
Later yesterday, the Congress of the People (COP) failed to fulfill its earlier promise in an 11.44 am statement from COP leader Prakash Ramadhar to media houses to meet “a COP Minister” to get urgent clarification on the televised video.
Reporters were initially directed to COP’s north office, Flagship House, St Clair, but before they could reach, they were diverted to COP Operations Centre at Charlieville, only to hear a COP official say that party secretary, Clyde Weatherhead, had advised that the meeting was cancelled.