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New PP House seating ahead

Saturday, July 7, 2012

“The next Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago...Keith Rowley!” The title was conferred on PNM  leader Rowley by PNM vice chairman Camille Robinson-Regis on Tuesday night as she introduced her boss at PNM’s St James public meeting. Robinson-Regis was not the only one confident about the Opposition’s future. PNM MP Colm Imbert also told flag-waving attendees: “Hold strain, as night follows day, the PNM will return to office!”


And PNM chief whip Marlene McDonald declared: “They (PP Government) have five years in office; 26 months done gone, 34 more (ahead)!” Riding on the negative spotlight resulting from National Security Minister Jack Warner’s tangle with the Highway Re-Route Movement, the Opposition held the attention of the St James gathering with blistering rounds of Warner-whipping.


That is something Warner has already shown that he recognises comes with the territory of his new portfolio, considering the lessons of the HRM issue for him. Indeed, after his baptism of fire for the HRM demolition, Warner back-pedalled from “You-ent-seen-nothing-yet” bravado to sing a different tune, deferring to the Commission of State Lands on further developments concerning the group.


Despite the fumbled launch of the revamped Cabinet’s tenure caused by Warner’s National Security initiation, his crucial portfolio will however ensure he retains his front-row status next to the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives after the Third Session of the Tenth Parliament begins next Wednesday.


(And the Opposition PNM members will remain where they are also.) Others may not be in the same position, though. The  hard reality of demotions for some within Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s reconfigured team will be brought home  by their changed seating in the House starting from Wednesday, following the session’s ceremonial opening, a PP official confirmed.


Despite the Parliament’s location at the Waterfront Complex, the Parliament confirmed that the usual full ceremonial guard of honour inspection by President George Maxwell Richards will be done. At the Red House, this usually obtained outside on Abercromby Street. On Wednesday, however, security forces involved will stand at attention outside the Parliament on  Wrightson Road’s westbound lane.


Facilitating this, the segment from the Breakfast Shed to the fire station will be closed to traffic  from 12.30 to 3.45 pm, Parliament confirmed. Officials said the east-bound lane of Wrightson Road will be converted to two lanes for both east and west-bound traffic until ceremony’s end.


For the first part of the programme, Parliament officials added, the Senate will convene in a nearby committee room while the House meets in the chamber. The Senate then joins House MPs in the chamber with members of the judiciary for Richards’ opening address. It remains to be seen what mid-term guidance will emanate from Richards, whose own presidential term ends in seven months.


Following the end of the ceremonial opening, the House will have a brief first session when ministers will take their normal House seats and certain shifts may occur. A handful of ministers were “demoted,” others shifted laterally, eight promoted and a further handful of ministries split in the PM’s June 22 Cabinet makeover.


Consequently, ex-Tobago Minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, who once defended her credit card  issues from a front-row seat, may, for instance, be backbenched following her demotion to Minister in the Social Development Ministry. Her colleague, Dr Delmon Baker, a Minister in Finance who replaced her as Tobago Affairs Minister, is expected to be promoted to her front-bench seat.


Winston Peters, bumped from the Culture Ministry, is expected to be similarly bumped from his front-row seat to the backbench. Community Development Minister Nizam Baksh, promoted to Public Utilities, could have a front-seat view. Dr Lincoln Douglas, who held a backbench seat behind the Opposition, may be shifted to a backbench seat behind the Government front row, following his promotion to Arts Minister.


New Deputy Speaker Nela Khan may shift from her backbench seat behind the Opposition to the Government’s backbench row. Suruj Rambachan, moving from Foreign Affairs to Local Government, will likely remain on the front bench, as will new Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran (despite losing Finance).  


Whether frontliner Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan will stay there or COP leader Prakash Ramadhar left on the backbench remains to be seen. Sources said COP’s leadership received a royal  tongue-lashing following COP’s statement criticising Warner’s HRM demolition. Wednesday’s House agenda includes speeches launching T&T’s 50th independence anniversary since Parliament takes its summer recess immediately after the ceremonial opening until August 22, Government confirmed.


In Tobago on Friday, the new Cabinet will undergo reorientation with lecturers similar to the exercise on governance, separation of powers and related topics which the first cabinet experienced in 2010. Opposition and Government will also share Tobago time at a Parliament “refresher” on Saturday.


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