Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has hit back at the General Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Satnarine Maharaj, who alleged that former prime minister Patrick Manning was a racist.
Dr Rowley, in a lengthy statement to the media following today's Cabinet meeting, said Maharaj's statement borders on sedition and could only have the effect of disturbing the peace.
He told the media that he maintains that this is still a free country and that people are free to express their views.
"So I am taking no issue with any person's view and assessment of a situation. However, the headline in today's Guardian (newspaper) is more than an expression of view. It is an expression of view that can have the effect of misrepresenting the country's history and facts with regards to public administration, racial solidarity and peace of T&T," Dr Rowley said.
He said that he was not there to defend Patrick Manning but to defend the record as he said that a lot of people might have read and digested the "evidence" given by Sat Maharaj as though it was fact.
He said that if they did, then it is quite possible that their relationship with the rest of society can be influenced "not for the better".
SEE ALSO: Sat Maharaj: Manning was racist
Closing down of Caroni 1975 Limited
Dr Rowley pointed to Maharaj's view that Patrick Manning closed down the sugar industry with the intention of bringing hardship to the East Indian population of T&T.
Dr Rowley said that the sugar industry in T&T was a private sector business that engaged a large section of the East Indian population. He noted that a number of those companies were going out of business because of the economics of the industry.
"In 1975, a PNM Government bought up all these small estates and created a state company called Caroni 1975 Limited. What that action did, it allowed T&T - which had a sugar industry that was dying - to survive another 20 years with significant billions of state-injected funding", Dr Rowley said.
"I've never seen that action on behalf of a PNM Government, as a racist action," he said.
He noted that the sugar industry was surviving mainly on the fact that the export component of the sugar went to two markets - the European Union and the United States - under preferential agreements that allowed for favourable prices.
However, he recalled, the World Trade Organisation intervened to change the preferential treatment and T&T then lost its markets for sugar.
"The main thing was the markets were not there, so the preferential markets died. Even with support from the Treasury, with the loss of the markets, the sugar industry came to point of no return. Against that background in 2002 a decision was taken to close the sugar industry in T&T," he said.
"So for somebody to get up today and say that the closing of Caroni 1975 Limited was a racial act to suffer Indian people, is close to sedition, meant to create discord and disturb the peace," he said.
"In bringing about closure, a number of matters were dealt with in a very generous way. VSEP was enhanced, pension was improved and it cost taxpayers billions of dollars," he added.
"So it is quite wrong and misleading for anyone to try to rewrite the country's history that saw a humane government and country responding to a challenge like that and portray it as short of...terms I will not like to use," the prime minister said.
Removal of Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma
The prime minister then turned to another point raised by Sat Maharaj, the removal of Chief Justice Sat Sharma, saying he would not say much on that matter.
"I simply want to put on the record that the removal of a Chief Justice in T&T involves the Office of the Prime Minister. It doesn't matter who is the prime minister. If a Chief Justice has questions to answer, it involves the Office of the Prime Minister.
"In the case of Chief Justice Sharma, the records will show that the allegations of misconduct did not come from Patrick Manning. They came from DPP Henderson," Dr Rowley said.
Removal of House Speaker Occah Seepaul
Sat Maharaj had also listed the Patrick Manning Government's removal of House Speaker Occah Seepaul as an act of racism.
"We were not going to allow Speaker Seepaul to remove the mandate of a government that we earned from an election," he told the news conference.
"She took on herself to reduce the government majority so that the government would fall. She suspended Ken Valley and said the next time the Parliament reopens, she would suspend, me, (Wendell) Motley and (Keith) Sobion. We took action as a government to protect ourselves from being suspended from parliament by a Speaker who had gone rogue,' he said.
The Feroza Ramjohn Issue
The prime minister then turned to the issue involving Feroza Ramjohn.
"Feroza Ramjohn as a public servant...the same Patrick Manning approved her promotion from Port-of-Spain to London.
"After that was done, the security services brought to Mr Manning's attention that in investigating a matter involving corruption regarding T&T passports, that officer seemed to have been implicated. Mr Manning withdrew the approval for her to go to London. She felt aggrieved and went to the court claiming action was taken without giving her an opportunity to be heard," Dr Rowley added.
He noted that while the court agreed she should have been given an opportunity to be heard it never adjudicated in the matter brought by the security services.
I95.5 FM radio license
Sat Maharaj had claimed that the award of a radio license to businessman Louis Lee Sing to operate I95.5FM while Radio Jaagriti awaited one, was a racist act.
"I was in the Cabinet when a Cabinet note came. I95.5 was broadcasting on a license held by Hilson Phillips in Tobago. He leased the license to I95.5 and they were broadcasting on a license that someone else had. They had business problems and Hilson Phillips withdrew his license, so this station had to be shut down today for tomorrow." he said.
"They came to Cabinet asking for a license of their own, given that they would lose their jobs and so on. Minister Imbert asked the question, 'Is this the only license in the pipeline?' We did not agree in the moment, we asked the Minister to check and see if other licenses were ready to be approved. The Minister checked and responded to Cabinet that no other license was approvable on that day and time. On that day the license was approved (to I95.5FM)," Dr Rowley said.
"Immediately after that was made known, Sat Maharaj complained that he had a license inside. The Cabinet was disturbed because we had asked about it," he said.
He said that when they investigated, they found out that there was an application in which Mr Maharaj had an interest.
"Dr Lenny Saith was tasked in finding out why it was not reported to Cabinet for approval. He found out that the request was only partially completed and that the pubic servants reported to Cabinet that there were no other approvable licenses because it was not fully filled out and could not yet be approved," he said.
"Dr Saith was told by Mr Manning, in my presence, to contact Sat Maharaj and advise him to fill out the application and that it would be approved. I was told that Mr Maharaj did not and the next thing we knew was that this ended up in the Privy Council on the basis that we were racist," Dr Rowley said.
Dr Rowley said that Maharaj's claims that the Divine Echoes orchestra was a "Christian band to play Christian music" was completely false.
"My recollection is that it is a dance band. Whether you agree with it or not, it wasn't a Christian band playing Christian music, it was a dance band. Today it's being used as proof of racism in T&T," he said.
Promotion of East Indians
Dr Rowley then referred to Maharaj's use of the Ryan/La Guerre report on race relations.
Maharaj noted that the report suggested East Indian people were not being promoted to higher levels in this country.
"That statement is a bold statement on its own. It does not tell you that Mr Kenneth Lalla was chair of the Public Service Commission longer than anyone else and unless he was discriminating against hs own people, I am not not sure why Maharaj is using that," Dr Rowley said.
He said Maharaj's statements were confirmation of the use of free speech in this country, used to paint the PNM in a particular way.
"I reject Mr Maharaj's attempt to defend what he thinks he is defending and I will defend this country's record as I was a part of that record," Dr Rowley concluded.
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