Ministers’ Firing Sparks Debate about Women, Race & Politics in Trinidad & Tobago

Political longevity has always been a tricky business in the Caribbean, but in the wake of two recent scandals, ministers in Trinidad and Tobago's coalition People's Partnership government are finding out just to what extent.

First came former Minister of the People and Social Development Glenn Ramdharsingh‘s unruly behaviour on a domestic flight, which the blog Wired868 summarised like this:

According to a report lodged by CAL flight attendant Ronelle Laidlow, Minister of the People Glenn Ramadharsingh drank a bit too much, got a Napoleon complex, thought the cabin was his living room, mistook Laidlow’s breast for the suggestion box and threatened to have her sacked.

The minister subsequently apologised, but Wired868 didn't find his effort to make amends sincere:

Ramadharsingh gave a qualified apology. He insisted that he was not drunk, did not touch the flight attendant’s breast and never threatened her; but he was sorry for everything else.

In short, the Minister’s apology was like ordering a chicken roti with extra pepper and getting dry paratha instead.

In a follow-up post, the blog called the whole display “the most ridiculous dismissal in local politics after the sack race also-ran lost his job for effectively mistaking a CAL plane for his living room and incorrectly reading the future of a flight attendant that he took for his night nurse”:

Ramadharsingh, like most self-indulgent tykes, got cranky, wailed at the authority figure in the room and then, allegedly, reached for the nearest tot-tots.

Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha general secretary Sat Maharaj called for Ramadharsingh to be immediately rested from his Cabinet portfolio and, within hours, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fired him.

Perhaps the public should send future suggestions on Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet to the Maha Sabha.

The post went on to list “the Prime Minister’s dirty dozen of replaced Cabinet members”:

Ramadharsingh is the second Cabinet member to be forced out due to foreign intervention.

Former National Security Minister and ex-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner did not survive a meticulous investigative report tabled by former Barbados attorney general Sir David Simmons.

Mary King, the Irish-born ex-Transparency International head, was first to go after she was involved in awarding a $100,000 IT contract to a company she jointly owns with her husband.

Collin Partap, minister in the Ministry of National Security, took a joyride with flashing police lights and then refused a breathalyser test.

Justice Minister Herbert Volney went for failing to sneak through Section 34 on Independence Day.

Communication Minister Jamal Mohammed was not smart enough to hide his stupidity; and Brigadier John Sandy could not get a handle on Reshmi Ramnarine let alone dangerous crime.

And Warner was just an absolute fire-trucking disgrace who was allegedly involved in everything from ripping off poverty-stricken Haitians, wishing death on a respected environmentalist, facilitating bribes and possibly money laundering for a Qatari FIFA colleague, cheating World Cup players and Chaconia medal winners of promised bonuses and arguably using taxpayers money to solicit political favours from the local football body.

Thanks to the revelation of a former girlfriend, Sacha Singh, bloggers would soon have another name to add to the list of dismissed Ministers of Parliament – Minister of Tourism, Chandresh Sharma – who allegedly assaulted her during an altercation early last month and is now the subject of a police probe surrounding the incident. As the blogosphere erupted in commentary over the issue, Sharma “took in front”, as Trinidadians say, and tendered his resignation.

Mr. Live Wire was one of the first to follow the developments:

Mr Live Wire read the police report filed by Sacha Singh against Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma, gasped at the perfect alignment of what is surely the most important yet inconsequential story in local politics and passed out.

He then supplied background information, which he felt provided valuable context about the minister's penchant for this sort of behaviour:

The Sharma story started ten years ago with a storm and a teacup. Literally.

In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada and, along with over a dozen fatalities, cost the island an estimate US$900 million in damages and prompted nations and well-wishers all over the world to dip into their pockets. The Trinidad and Tobago government, then led by the PNM, was among the contributors.

In the Parliamentary tea room on 15 September 2004, Sharma, no doubt as versed on Caribbean affairs as his current colleagues, allegedly told Rowley that the PNM’s assistance to Grenada was racially motivated; and all hell broke loose. Well, at least a teacup was smashed.

Sharma spent another two hours debating in Parliament before he decided to file a police report in which he claimed that Rowley hit him with his hand, a teacup, two remotes and everything in the room but the television.

Sharma was represented by present Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the matter.

The case from the MP and the PM SC was so unconvincing that it was thrown out by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee and the DPP Geoffrey Henderson while UNC MP Gillian Lucky broke ranks with her party in disgust at the whole episode and Sharma himself did not appear before the High Court to give evidence. The matter cost taxpayers $5 million in legal fees.

He continued:

Fast forward to 12 March 2014, when Sacha Singh supposedly regained consciousness at the Grand Bazaar Mall in Valsayn after Sharma allegedly shoved her to the ground. This from a man who went under drips at the Port of Spain General Hospital because a teacup broke in a room that he was in.

Apparently Singh…decided to lure Sharma into a confrontation with [another] former lover and young child at 7.45 pm on a Wednesday night. Sharma caught a look at the child and bolted; the [mother] caught Sharma and the MP allegedly begged her not to hit him since he was ‘a Brahmin boy.’

Since then, Sharma and his former attorney, Persad-Bissessar, have been incommunicado. Live Wire cannot confirm that young women all over the country are dying to put the sweetman minister in a caste anytime they get their hands on him; and an increasingly large number of voters are demanding a new caste-away from the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, political blogger The Eternal Pantomime interpreted the whole affair as a form of poetic justice. Referring to last general election through which current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar rose to power, she said:

In 2010 it was woman power….remember that? Ironically, or maybe justifiably, since Kamla’s tenure has done nothing to improve the lot of women, it seems that women are going to be the downfall of her govt. Last week it was Glen Ramadharsingh, the Hamper Man, breaching civil aviation rules, threatening a CAL flight attendant and grabbing at her breast in the process of issuing his threats.

This week we have an equally lurid scandal downing Sharma. Sacha Singh, his now ex-girlfriend, forced a confrontation between Sharma and a woman with whom he allegedly had a relationship and a child. The child is now 12 years old, and the implications are that he has not met his responsibilities where the child is concerned.

You have to pause for a moment and understand the shame this must be causing the orthodox Hindu community and UNC supporters. For the orthodox Hindu community, it is knowing that a pundit, indeed, a self-proclaimed Brahmin (imagine in the Caribbean Brahmin and caste are still used), fell from such a great height. Theirs is a community known for publicly espousing strong family values and kin ship ties.

She called out what she saw as overt racism by some supporters of the main governing political party:

Generally, UNC supporters, people who described themselves as openminded, inclusive and intolerant of racism and corruption in 2010, spend most of their days defining the Afro-descended community of Trinidad and Tobago as ghetto rats, prone to violence, poor, always seeking handouts, deadbeat dads etc. So imagine the irony, when a government minister, who claims to be of the highest possible social caste in Hindu society, turns out to be a hitter of women, a philanderer and possibly (if the child is his) a dead beat dad? It makes us realize that dysfunction doesn’t belong to a race, it can happen in virtually any ethnic community and at all economic levels…

You see, MP Sharma, you hurt women, several women. The first of whom was your wife. I suspect if you have any daughters you have hurt and violated their trust as well. In not providing full disclosure to Ms Singh, you hurt her as well. And then, as a man, and alleged upstanding member of the community, you brought your office into disrepute by assaulting citizens of the country.

On that note, CODE RED posted what it considered “the Top 10 sexist and heterosexist moments in Caribbean Politics” – the two disgraced former ministers, Ramdharsingh and Sharma, tied for the Number 1 spot.

Finally, The Eternal Pantomime looked at the issue in the context of next year's general elections:

Between Glen and Chan Kamla is now limping to elections 2015 like a cripple with a stone in he right shoe. It isn’t pretty. And no matter how much she tries to make these firings and resignations put her in the light of a strong leader they don’t. The constant abuse of women under her tenure tells me that she doesn’t have a gender policy and that the men under her don’t respect us. We have seen far too many young, articulate women bullied by this government: Asha Javeed, Denyse Renne, Anicka Gumbs Sandiford, the women of the Highway ReRoute Movement, and now, Ronelle Laidlow and Sacha Singh. In the midst of this, the feminists who loudly and proudly supported Kamla’s 2010 bid for office are deafeningly mute.

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