I swear! Jabari Fraser looks at Senators Drayton, Mark and Richards

“I, having been elected a member of parliament, do swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Trinidad and Tobago, will uphold the constitution and the law and will conscientiously and impartially discharge responsibilities to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, upon which I am about to enter.”

That is the oath that each parliamentarian took before officially beginning to serve the people in the 11th parliament.

But, before the ceremonial opening, former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar snuck in a few punches, not in-keeping with the oath she was set to take.

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections. (Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)
Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates victory at the 2010 General Elections.
(Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2015)

Persad-Bissessar is not doing much to regain the trust of middle-ground voters who supported her in 2010. And based on her actions since September 7, it is understandable to think that she is not concerned about the political legacy she has been establishing.

It is understandable that Trinbagonians, who are accustomed to partisan board appointments may wonder about whether or not Helen Drayton was truly independent when she was a senator. In this democracy, cronyism has so become the norm that merit seems out of place and smells funny.

All questions can easily be resolved by examining her contributions in the Hansard.

PNM previously made terrible choices for state boards, which led to the monster that was Calder Hart.

Dayton’s contributions were always measured and sensibly thought-out. Logic, research and a meticulous attention for detail were always evident. Her criticism was never partisan and her positions came on the back of a solid private sector career.

It is interesting to note that the same Drayton who Persad-Bissessar has been quick to criticise and demonise is the very person who, in a private motion, sought to have a joint select committee of parliament to consider a legislative framework to regulate campaign financing.

Photo: Former Independent Senator Helen Drayton was appointed Chairman of State-owned television station, CNMG. (Courtesy Icatt.org)
Photo: Former Independent Senator Helen Drayton was appointed Chairman of State-owned television station, CNMG.
(Courtesy Icatt.org)

This was promised as an urgent priority by the PP in 2010. The Partnership took no action to get the ball rolling.

More amazing is the fact that during the 2015 campaign, members of the PP sought to make it out as if this were their initiative.

Persad-Bissessar, as Prime Minister, frequently complained that she was harshly judged and criticised because she was a woman. Yet she took the important occasion of receiving her instrument of appointment as opposition leader, to bash a woman with an impeccable professional and public profile, over decades in the private sector. The mother and grandmother took up time and space in the President’s office to question another woman’s character, with critiques based not on logic but politicking.

The perspiration from a hectic campaign has taken off most of the caked mask that had her smelling like a rose for five years. Before she was even officially opposition leader, she alienated many of the middle class voters who were filled with hope for her in 2010 but have no chance of supporting her at any point again.

The same breath that was used to criticise Drayton, was used to highlight Wade Mark as “a very experienced man in parliamentary practice and proceedings.”

Photo: Former Speaker of the House and current UNC Senator Wade Mark.
Photo: Former Speaker of the House and current UNC Senator Wade Mark.

No presiding officer of the Lower House has ever come and gone to the other place, to head the government bench.

Persad-Bissessar has now made Mark, fresh from the ‘wuk’ of Speaker of the House, an opposition senator. If there was any doubt that he was unsuitable, his inability to act in a manner becoming of a speaker was reinforced when he allowed Vernella Alleyne-Toppin’s character assassination to go unchecked, kick-starting the “No-Rowley” campaign.

The selection of Paul Richards, by the president as a senator is questionable. While it is a pleasing thought to know that media workers have the potential to be so highly-regarded, and to so progress to sit and meaningfully contribute to law-making (and stopping); it is a bad idea for him to continue as the jack-of-all-shows at CNMG.

Richards has been the master of ceremonies at PP government events, including heavily politicised ones like the launch of the new health card, which was considered to be a pre-election gimmick.

How any aspiring journalist or announcer of quality could host such events, then turn around and interview politicians and read newscasts is beyond me. It breaks all the rules of fair journalistic engagement.

Photo: New Independent Senator Paul Richards (right) and former People's Partnership Senator Christlyn Moore.
Photo: New Independent Senator Paul Richards (right) and former People’s Partnership Senator Christlyn Moore.

Imagine the feeling now that he is a senator appointed by the president. That, along with the bold-faced affirmation that he “nah leavin” his current job should be an indication that his judgment may not be of the quality expected from independent senators.

It is left to be seen if government, opposition and the president’s men will bear true faith and allegiance, and conscientiously and impartially discharge their duties to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

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About Jabari Fraser

Jabari Fraser
Jabari Fraser is a journalist and broadcaster. Over the last 14 years, he has worked in media, as a foreign language interpreter and teacher, and as a development communications specialist around the Caribbean.

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  2. The reality is that TT does not have a large pool of individuals to draw from when it comes to selecting Independent Senators, State Agency Boards, etc…. also many people who do have the intellectual understanding and critical thinking skills simply don’t want to be associated with anything pertaining to the state, especially after the last debacle. …

  3. In discussing the appropriateness of the appointment of Paul Richards can we not look to the example of the late Dana Seetahal? Lawyer, often retained by the State, independent Senator, columnists, panelist on many news programs and no stranger to morning news programs. She didn’t resign from anything!

    We should also remember that Independent Senators are infact entitled to their opinions for or against both the government and the opposition. When they cast their vote they are taking a side, hopefully only for what is before them on that day, next month could be a different story and rightfully so.

    Only time will tell.

    • I agree with you in theory, however I would prefer for the door not to be opened in the future for questions to arise as a result of (possible) conflict of interest. To borrow a quote, transparency must not only be done but must also appear to be done.

    • Agreed. The President, in opening the new parliamentary term, lamented the difficulty he had in choosing the Independent Senators and hoped that more members of from a wider cross section of society can participate in future. I believe Mr. Richards appointment echos that wishful thinking. Media practitioners are supposed be independent and unbiased. Is Mr. Richards biased or is it that no media personality should hold such a position?

      • I think that by their very nature Independent Senators have to be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. If, therefore, there is likely to be the perception that an Independent Senator may not be able to function as a genuinely independent, disinterested parlaimentatian, then it makes sense, I submit, that a genuinely independent president would look elsewhere.
        Which raises the question about Thomas Aquinas…

    • How are ‘independent’ senators nominated though that might help answer the question

  4. I do agree with the analysis. As for Paul Richards continuing, there seems to me to be a potential for conflict of interest.

  5. I suppose there are space constraints but I would have liked to see included here some mention (if not discussion) of the PNM’s appointment of defeated candidates Clarence Rambharat and Avinash Singh. It might have helped to dilute the clear impression I get that this is definitely an anti-Kamla and probably an anti-UNC piece.
    And I think that a couple of the Independent Senators may well feel offended by the use in the last paragraph of the term “the President’s men.”

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