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TWO-MAN BATTLE FOR PNM GENERAL SECRETARY
With special voting on today for the PNM's September 30 executive election, the battle is keen for key posts.
One is PNM general secretary—tasked with organising and running the ruling party—where contestants are PNM's Port-of-Spain North constituency executive chairman Chinua Alleyne and Rowley Red team member Senator Foster Cummings.
They agreed to a 10 question snapshot with GAIL ALEXANDER to lend insight into their bid.
Cummings says Government handled the economy well and the hardships can be expected to be over "soon". Alleyne says he's learned politics is about people—not power or control.
Uncle Patrick taught me politics is about people—not power
Q: What's your background personally and also with the PNM?
A: I'm an alum of Queen's Royal College, a Health Management/Administration professional, a project manager by training, and an entrepreneur. Currently, I'm a member of PNM's General Council and Central Executive, chairman of POS North/St Ann's West constituency executive and party Youth Officer. I've previously served as National Youth League treasurer, Youth Officer (Male) and POS North/St Ann's West vice chairman.
What prompted your participation, particularly for the general secretary's post?
I've presented myself because I've identified the areas that need work. I'm willing and very capable of delivering results. Through my contributions, I've been able to identify where the General Secretary can fill gaps that exist. For example, I'll improve the communication between Balisier House and constituencies. The right message needs to flow from executive to members and members' voices need to be heard by the executive. As we prepare for the upcoming election cycle—Local Government, General, and THA—there's need for us to ready members who'll contest these. As General Secretary, I intend working to provide these opportunities for growth and development.
What's your view of the outgoing executive's performance. At the launch of Mustapha Abdul-Hamid's campaign, you spoke about "caring and listening".
I'm a part of the outgoing executive and we've had several great successes! I commend all who offer themselves to serve—outgoing or incoming—and cast no indictments on the incumbent management. There'll always be more work to be done. The question will always arise: 'Who are the right people to get the required jobs done?' The answer will be the result of these internal elections.
Because some candidates are former Manning administration ministers—and you're Mr Manning's nephew—there's perception of a "Manning team". What's your take...how much of an influence has your uncle been on your career?
I'm proud to be able to count Uncle Patrick amongst my family members. I learnt from him politics isn't about power or control, but about people. I've worked hard to stay true to that philosophy during my service in PNM. But there's only one slate in this internal election—that's Team Rowley.
That there are so many independent candidates who are passionate about party democracy and service should be applauded and encouraged...we can disagree without being disagreeable. That's precisely why the General Secretary is so important. I'll give fair hearing to all and work with the leader and other executive members to chart a unified way forward.
The fact that many have chosen to contest posts against the Rowley slate— is there a rift in PNM? If so why?
This phrasing suggests there's an 'us' against 'them'. I disagree with that. It's the responsibility of any member who feels they have a positive contribution to make towards the party's development and the political landscape to offer themselves when the opportunity presents. That's what we've done. The fact that a number of independent candidates have presented themselves should be applauded. At the end of the election—we'll remain one strong, resilient, united PNM family, supporting the work of our leader Dr Keith Rowley.
What feedback about the party have you obtained from members in campaigning?
In any contest, there'll be some opposing views but my track record personally, professionally, and politically has given me the edge over my counterpart. There has been and continues to be great excitement and support for my candidacy. I have a reputation for integrity, discipline, respect, and consistency. Voters know I get things done, members are excited to put me to work after electing me.
How do you feel about recent Red team attacks including by Colm Imbert and Dr Rowley on Mustapha Abdul-Hamid and sniping at your concerns that PNM needs a more "caring and listening" executive?
My focus is on service to people and party. To do this effectively, we must listen to members' needs and views. My pledge is to give all a fair hearing and use suggestions and opinions to continue PNM's work. 'Attacks' on a campaign trail are neither uncommon nor unexpected. My emphasis is solely on the membership and building a deeper relationship not only ahead of elections, but after, as general secretary.
What happens to PNMites with concerns if there aren't significant enough changes in the executive to fully reflect feelings.
Once the election is operated freely and fairly, results will fully reflect members' feelings. Members have been presented with options for the executive. It's their responsibility to head to polling stations and vote. Once done, we'll remain one strong, resilient, united PNM family.
What's the plan if you don't win?
I'm confident I will win. Regardless of the outcome, my mission doesn't change. I continue supporting the work of the political leader and the PNM, lending my time and talent to its development. My candidacy is by no means a solo event. I take this opportunity win or lose to thank those who believe in me and have dedicated their time and support.
FOSTER CUMMINGS: Expect the hardships to be over soon
Q: Tell us about yourself and PNM background.
A: I'm married, the proud father of seven. I joined PNM in 1987—an active member for 31 years. I was the youngest constituency chairman to serve at age 19. I served as Couva South chairman and also La Horquetta/Talparo chairman. I've been a General Council member for 25 years and on Central Executive for 20 years. I've held National Executive positions of Youth Officer, Field Officer, and Elections Officer and managed several General and Local Government election campaigns and THA elections. I believe strongly in the founding principles of this party which has been responsible for most of T&T's progressive development. I've served at every level and am offering myself as general secretary to continue meaningful contribution to PNM and ultimately T&T.
What prompted participation—did Dr Rowley ask you to be on his slate, did you volunteer?
As outgoing elections officer, being involved in party elections is nothing new to me. Offering myself for the position of General Secretary is something I've contemplated a while. I believe my many years serving at various levels has helped prepare me for such responsibility. I'm thankful Dr Rowley sees my value in that regard and included me on his slate.
The post is key for any party. What do you say on complaints that party systems are "sluggish" and "dominated by a clique". How would you correct this?
The post is a very important one. PNM's been fortunate in having a history of formidable individuals holding it—the late Morris Marshall, Martin Joseph, more recently Ashton Ford. PNM's governed by a constitution with systems and processes. It's my intention to honour them. I also commit to examining ways of improving and modernising the way we operate in keeping with our principles. The PNM's a movement for all the people—not a few."
What's your view of PNM's strengths and weaknesses?
PNM's strength lies in its unwavering commitment to ensuring every citizen is afforded opportunities to maximise their potential and enjoy the best standard of living and taking advantage of the opportunities available to them. The party has always seen our people as our greatest resource. We're committed to govern for the greater good—one of our greatest strengths. A weakness that we may have might be the expectation held by many that the party could turn things around in troubled times quickly.
We've proven we're able to stay the course during challenging times. But as PNMites we need to be mindful of the challenges of that assignment. Our Government led by Dr Rowley has been doing an excellent job with the economy. Now we can say: better days are coming.
Your opponent is the nephew of late former prime minister Patrick Manning and executive (youth officer) member, what's your view of the contest with him?
In this party, any member could challenge for any position when the opportunity arises. It's a sign the democratic principles are alive and well. I respect my opponent's desire to serve.
Because some challenges of the Rowley slate are former Manning ministers, there's perception a "Manning team" is contesting. Do you subscribe to that view?
I personally don't see it like that...it's simply our democracy at work.
Is there a rift in the party—and why?
I'm not aware of any such situation.
Concerns were aired at the last convention that PNM needs to pay attention to foot soldiers who feel alienated, address unemployment and "discrimination" concerning government contracts. MP Fitzgerald Hinds was dissed in Beetham—you've always been seen as representative of PNM's rank and file, what's your assessment of this?
The administration, unfortunately, assumed office at a time when T&T faced severe economic hardship. The Rowley Government has done well to navigate through these difficult times and keep us out of the IMF's jaws—but sacrifices and cuts had to be made. Fortunately, we're beginning to see improvements in our situation. As a result of the Government's sound management, we can expect the hardships to be over soon.
Convention attendees felt ministers, MPs, and senators need to make themselves more available—what's your view?
Such calls are expected during competitive election times. PNM's always been known to demonstrate a commitment to listen and act in service to people. That's still the case. We've seen Dr Rowley himself traversing T&T having conversations with the people. The opponents, as party members, have a right to contest if they choose. I respect their right to so do.
If elected, what would you do consolidate the ranks?
The party's demonstrated ability to accept results and consolidate thereafter to face the electorate as a unified party. I'm committed to ensuring this happens ASAP after the elections.
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