“There is a political ship called the MV PNM, and as a sailor, when your ship goes into battle, that is no time to throw the captain overboard,” Rowley told an unusually large crowd gathered at the first PNM Diego Martin West constituency meeting opposite Starlite Shopping Plaza, Diego Martin. The sea of red gathered grew into a wave of sonic uproar, cheering in reaction to Rowley’s remarks.
“I am a sailor on the PNM ship and I know what my duty is. And it does not matter what shape the ship is in, don’t give up the ship!”
Continuing the nautical metaphor, Rowley added ominously, “There will be time enough for dry dock. And there shall be time enough for court marshal when court marshal is due. When the ship is in battle that is not time to punch holes in the hull. I am a PNM sailor in a PNM ship and I represent the PNM, the party of Eric Williams, Learie Constantine and Kamaluddin Mohammed. And you the people of Diego Martin West appointed me to a PNM constituency.”
Rowley’s remarks were just the tip of the iceberg. After closing ranks with the party whose leader, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, he has been engaged in battle with for the last two years since his sacking as trade and industry minister in April 2008, Rowley then proceeded to launch a scathing attack on the UNC/COP coalition, hitting the UNC in particular on its record of dealing with corruption, attacking COP political leader Winston Dookeran and calling the UNC/COP coalition hastily made.
Speaking for 46 minutes, Rowley mentioned former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart once in passing as he attacked UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for her record on corruption when the UNC was in power and she served as Attorney General.
Rowley alleged that former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj had made moves to call in Canadian forensic investigator Bob Lindquist to probe the Piarco International Airport project. However, after Maharaj was sacked by former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Persad-Bissessar was appointed the first woman Attorney General, she stopped the Lindquist probe.
“Bas removed Ramesh and made Kamla the AG,” he said saying Persad-Bissessar then told Lindquist, “Don’t call me. I will call you.”
“And Mr Lindquist would not continue the investigation into Piarco,” Rowley said. “That project was a major scandal...Kamla’s way of dealing with that was to stop the investigation.” He said Persad-Bissessar was one of several UNC MPs who once voted in favour of a motion to have him indefinitely suspended from Parliament on May 24, 2001, after he criticised the Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj for failing to take action on the Piarco project.
“For two months you (Diego Martin West constituents) had no voice in Parliament because Kamla and Bas voted me out of Parliament.”
Rowley attacked Dookeran, saying that while Dookeran was still Governor of the Central Bank, a post which is supposed to be non-partisan, Dookeran was helping draft a UNC manifesto, a fact which Rowley said Dookeran admitted to openly.
“While he was Governor of the Central Bank he was writing the UNC manifesto and he had no problem admitting that,” he said. He argued that Dookeran first joined the UNC not to change the party but to cloak its history of corruption with an air of legitimacy.
“It was already established that the UNC was a corrupt government and he, being viewed as a man of integrity, tried to cloak Basdeo Panday with his integrity.” He described Dookeran as a “coward cat jumping from constituency to constituency” in an allusion to the fact that Dookeran was first an NAR MP and then switched to the UNC St Augustine seat and is now contesting the Tunapuna seat as a COP.
“And he wants to cast aspersions on my integrity!” Rowley cried. He also attacked a UNC decision to appoint a doctor to the Senate even after he had been found to misrepresent his area of specialty. He warned that decisions like that one were a harbinger of things to come.
“They will do anything to get into office and when they get into office, they will do anything.”
But even as he spoke of UNC corruption, Rowley acknowledged the Udecott scandal which has hit the ruling Government after he first raised questions on it. He said he had no difficulty raising questions about Udecott which he described as a specific issue of government administration.
However, Rowley also attempted to reconcile his closing ranks with the PNM and the battle he faced within his own party under Manning after raising questions over Udecott and being punished for doing so. He argued that his dissent was a sign of the strength of the party and not of division. Admitting that the PNM had made some mistakes, he also said the party had had successes and reduced the situation down to a matter of the traditions of the Westminster system.
“I have taken issue with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago of which I was a part,” he said warning that all governments and all politicians have a propensity to be corrupt. “If it is not Calder Hart then it will be Hart Calder.”
“I had a duty to take issue with that. That is what the PNM represents…they have a problem with that. (But) they are simply seeing the Westminster system. That is the Westminster system. We are moving from strength to strength. I was the first back-bencher who took issue with a specific matter of government administration and caused the Cabinet to revise its policy,” he said.
The crowd gathered chanted “Rowley! Rowley! Rowley!” as he stood on a stage with a banner reading “Integrity. Loyalty. Strength.” Thousands of supporters brought traffic into Diego Martin to a halt just to see him.