fallout hits TT politics
tea cup as politicians clash over aid
By Sandra Chouthi
Indo Caribbean World
While many Trinidadians were sending foodstuff and other household items
to assist their Caricom neighbour Grenada in recovering from hurricane
Ivan, two politicians from opposite camps were having it out in the tea
Racist insults are alleged to have been hurled. A
teacup was thrown and smashed. The remote control for a television set
was also reported to have been pelted. The fallout is that now
allegations of assault are been hotly denied.
The incident took place between Housing Minister
Keith Rowley for the ruling PNM government and Chandresh Sharma, UNC
Member of Parliament for Fyzabad on September 15 in the tea room in
Parliament. The two were arguing over the issue of Grenadians being
granted refugee status in Trinidad and Tobago when it turned ugly.
According to reports, they exchanged racist insults.
Fingers were pointed and obscene language was used.
Sharma told the media MPs were watching cricket on
television prior to the start of the Finance Committee meeting when he
complained to Rowley that areas like his constituency continue to suffer
from inadequate housing. This is so, even as the government is on a
massive housing development programme as part of an election promise.
Sharma said Rowley accused him of being racist and
then became annoyed. Sharma, who later attended a meeting of the Finance
Committee, claimed he was hit. He reported the matter to the police.
At a post-Cabinet briefing on September 16, Rowley
denied that he cuffed Sharma.
"I want to make it abundantly clear that during
the verbal exchange with Mr Sharma yesterday, no blows passed between
us. He did not strike me and I did not strike him.
"I saw a picture in the newspapers...with MP
Sharma pointing to the right side of his face showing where he was
struck by a teacup. I did not throw the teacup. I didn’t.
"He broke the government teacup. I’m a
right-hander. If I had, in fact, hit MP Sharma in his face, he will not
be pointing at that side of his face."
Rowley said prior to the exchange, Sharma had entered
the room and mentioned that he had seen the UNC member’s newspaper
comments describing the Trinidad and Tobago government’s offer of
assistance to Grenada as a racist strategy – one to bring Grenadians
to the country to vote for the ruling PNM.
"I said to the gentleman: ‘Why is it that even
in a moment of tragedy you have to reduce it to race? Why is it that on
every single issue, you have to find a racial component to it.?’"
Rowley said Sharma called him a number of racist
names and he responded to him. They had a very heated, very short, but
very agitated exchange.
Sharma was reported to have sought attention at the
Port-of-Spain General Hospital for high blood pressure. Rowley last said
he had taken the matter to his attorneys for legal redress.
The exchange between the two men from opposing
political camps came in the midst of many Trinidadians – businesses,
NGOs, students – rushing to the call to respond to Grenadians’
immediate need for food, clothing, water and building materials after
Ivan struck. Prime Minister Patrick Manning initially offered the
Grenada government (Can) $2.5 million in assistance, but Cabinet has
since approved another (Can) $5 million. Trinidad and Tobago soldiers
have also been sent to Grenada for one month.
Manning, in visiting Grenada on September 8 after the
hurricane blew off many roofs and destroyed homes, spoke of Caricom
addressing the issue of member countries granting asylum to Grenadians
while military forces and other agencies rebuilt their battered
Asked on September 12 if the Trinidad and Tobago
government was going to give refugee status to Grenadians, Manning said:
"It’s a matter that has to be carefully considered. It has not
been considered by the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago."
Caricom held an emergency session at the Crowne
Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on September 15. Even though no
official announcement has been made about granting refugee status to
affected Grenadians, just the mention of it has already had an effect.
Police on September 15 held a man in St James after
they found him acting strangely. He also spoke with a Grenadian accent.
The man, who gave his name as Kelvin Mills, 42, said when Manning
visited Grenada and told people there they could come to Trinidad if
they had problems. He then took up the offer. He boarded a boat in
Grenada, arrived in Port-of-Spain and then went to St James.
Mills, who said his home and belongings were
destroyed during the hurricane, will be deported to Grenada.
Richardson Andrews, special adviser to Grenada Prime
Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, said on September 15 that there will be no
mass exodus of Grenadians to Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean
countries. Andrews was in Port-of-Spain to attend the Caricom emergency
"People want to stay and rebuild their country.
They are not seeking to get refuge anywhere else. There is no mood of
Manning said there could be an exodus of refugees
from Grenada unless emergency supplies reach the island soon.
"The Grenada situation is potentially a very damaging situation
for Trinidad and Tobago. The refugee problem is something that could
start at any time if the supplies of food being sent to Grenada at this
time do not reach those for whom intended in a timely fashion. It is
Four on present
TCCF help list
In its drive to help kids from the Caribbean to get
medical assistance for ailments not treatable in their native country, The
Caribbean Children Foundation (TCCF) has now taken charge of four kids to
be given treatment at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital.
Those to receive attention are 6-month old Dondre
Sewell of Jamaica; Stephan Lue Sue, 9, of Trinidad; Aaron Wallace, 17, of
Trinidad and Vergina Seeram, 11, of Guyana.
Dondre would receive surgery from Dr. Andrew Redington
for a blocked blood vessel from the heart. Total cost for her procedure,
$61,000. Her family has raised $16,555US., the Herbie Fund would pay
$25,925U.S, TCCF has committed $25,000 Can.
Stephan Lue Sue, 9, from Trinidad needs surgery for a narrowing of the
pulmonary valve vessel. She would be treated by Dr. Andrew Redington, at a
cost of $15,120 Can. TCCF has agreed to absorb this cost.
Aaron Wallace, 17, of Trinidad suffers from a brain
tumor. His surgery is pegged at $44,947 US. TCCF is committed to pay Can
$25,000 of the total.
And Vergina Seeram, 11, of Guyana requires surgery for
a brachial cleft fistula as proposed by Dr. Vito Forte, Head of
Otolaryngology. Vergina’s treatment will require approximately 10 days
in hospital and 4-8 weeks after treatment. Cost for her procedure would be
$60,000 of which TCCF will contribute $25,000. The Herbie Fund will absorb
In the four years of its existence TCCF has already
assisted 19 kids originating from Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados,
St Kitts, Jamaica and Antigua. With community support, the organization
has raised $325,000 to cover the cost of treatment for these kids.
The organization prides itself in proclaiming that
every penny collected from its many charitable events, is put to work for
saving the lives of the children it sponsors. Not a cent goes to
administer this charity; all its Directors give their contributions
Being a registered charity, donations to TCCF are tax
deductible in Canada.
This upcoming weekend, on September 25, TCCF will he
holding its 4th Anniversary Dinner and Dance at the Grand Taj Banquet
& Convention Centre, Derry & Dixie Roads in Mississauga. It is one
of the organization's main fundraising events, and as always, it is
expected that the community will support this charity fully.
Information can be obtained by calling Vidyia (416) 463-0469, Jay
(905-840-5369) or Vic (416-248-5335).
Charges of TCCF: above, Dondre
Sewell; Stephan Lue Sue; Aaron Wallace; Vergina Seeram
Mrs Varshni Jagdeo, wife of
Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo at the Gandhi Bhavan in Toronto last
Sunday Pix by
Lady puts kids first
By Camille Ross
Being Guyana’s First Lady doesn’t mean just
sitting by the seawall sipping coconut water and taking in the breeze.
For Mrs. Varshni Jagdeo it means reviving community
spirit, a term which her father often spoke of.
"Community spirit is about seeing all of us as
one universal family, where you see your neighbors child as your own
Mrs. Jagdeo has taken steps towards making this a
reality through her involvement with the Kids First Fund, of which she
is a patron.
The First Lady was in Ontario last week promoting
the Kids First Fund, which is "the only charity in Guyana that
provides emergency medical assistance for poor and needy
The four-year old organization is dedicated to
helping Guyanese children up to the age of 21, regardless of race,
religion or political affiliation.
"For instance" said Mrs. Jagdeo, "we
even have links with the captains of Amerindian villages so all sick
kids can be seen, and given a chance."
Amerindians, the original inhabitants of Guyana,
are sequestered in the interior regions of the country and generally
have less access to social services, such as health and education,
than those living in the cities and coastal areas.
"Where are poor families going to get $15,000
U.S to afford surgeries for their kids?" Mrs Jagdeo saw an urgent
need to permanently set something up for these children".
The wife of the Guyanese Head of State added that
the Kids First Fund assists people in need of wheelchairs, crutches,
and walkers. "We have established free shipping links to make
sending these items to Guyana easier."
At the Gandhi Bhavan Mandir last Sunday, Mrs Jagdeo
appeared before the congregation and spoke modestly about why she is
so immersed in charity work.
Her Guyanese parents moved to England before she
and her two sisters were born.
"There, my house was like a hostel" she
"People coming to England from Guyana, had my
dad’s phone number, and called him when they arrived."
Those with no place to go, stayed with her family
in their home which she noted "was like an elastic where there
was room to fit everyone."
While the visitors stayed, her father enrolled them
in night school, and helped them get jobs.
"We grew up this way. Getting into this work
was inevitable because of the exposure I got from my parents… very
Mrs. Jagdeo described her feelings as a child,
" I was in love with Guyana, the stories, the life, the history
and the politics. […] We ate, slept, and drank Guyana though we were
In 1997, she returned to Guyana to live
The First Lady shared her vivid recollection of one
Thursday night at 7 p.m. when a child with a brain tumor was put into
"I had to call my dad right away and ask him
what to do."
From then on, she took the necessary steps to raise
$15,000 U.S for the child’s surgery, the equivalent of three million
Mrs. Jagdeo spoke to many people and was able to
get assistance from the Ministry of Health in Guyana, and a reduced
fee for the surgery from the hospital.
"The child went, and had his surgery, and he’s
fine now" she said with a smile. Since then, the fund has
assisted "thousands of children."
But Mrs. Jagdeo also touched on the negative
experiences she’s had working with this organization.
"It’s easy to criticize, still, people think
you’re putting money in your pocket…but I have none" she said
smiling, in her pink Indian cultural wear.
She encouraged the audience to support the fund. In
addition, she offered to personally spend time with those who visit
Guyana, to show them places they can go to feed poor children, and to
"show you hospitals to see where your money is going."
Mrs. Jagdeo stressed that "our organisation
has zero administrative costs. 100% of donations go to the
Despite her personal relationship to the Head of
State, she said that the Kids First Fund is a non-governmental
When Guyanese patients of the Kids First Fund don’t
have access to the necessary surgery in Guyana, they are brought over
to Canada where the patient is put into the hands of the Three Rivers
Kids Foundation. These two charities are closely affiliated.
Last Saturday night, Mrs. Jagdeo attended a
fundraising dinner for Rehaaz Mohammed, a Three Rivers Kids patient.
The total amount raised has not yet been tallied.
Last Sunday, at the Gandhi Bhavan Mandir, over
$1500 was handed to the First Lady for the Kids First Fund.
Mrs. Jagdeo aspires to open Kids First branches in
America, Canada and the U.K.