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Security plots, portfolio changes…

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Even if they’ve recently been foot tapping to Kees’ Hello at least half of Parliament’s 41 MPs will be out of upcoming Carnival festivities.

Opposition MPs like Barry Padarath, who normally play mas, will instead be marking the Hindu festival of Shiva Raatri. Several ministers are taking a break overseas with family, they confirmed.

Even President Anthony Carmona yesterday announced vacation plans over Carnival, though he played mas last year.

How much Thursday’s news—of people held concerning a plot to disrupt the Carnival—may influence overall participation numbers in the national fete, remains to be seen.

But the revelation has hit home hard enough with several foreign countries who immediately issued alerts on T&T, creating a publicity nightmare square in the middle of T&T’s best known asset.

T&T’s reputation as the regional source of the most Caribbean Isis recruits—180—had already garnered international concern.

Events like Carnival would have made upgraded security a must following the crumbling of Isis overseas and international warnings to countries since last year about potential for homegrown terrorist sympathisers.

Thursday’s plot news, the first such development for T&T following global alerts in recent years, therefore attracted immediate spotlight.

One of the E-W Corridor masjids searched by police on Thursday did lose an estimated handful of members to Isis recruitment over 2013- 15. Two of the detainees studied in Saudi Arabia; one detained in Saudi
Arabia for 16 months, questioned on suspicion of terrorism.

But timing of the incident could not have been worse—for Carnival, economy and country image. Whether successful containment of problems will recompense, will be gauged later. Bidding to bolster confidence, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon yesterday publicised walkabout plans for Tuesday.

Thursday’s incident, however, reignited tensions by some Muslimgroups concerning Government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation—now under scrutiny by a parliamentary team.

Thursday’s developments have made it one more issue which Government must tackle this mid-term year which began with enough activity—planned and unplanned— to signal increased political “pace” in 2018.

The death of former president, George Maxwell Richards spotlighted the presidency weeks ahead of scheduled election of a head of state.

Richards departed amid his much loved Carnival season, with his “40 Days” coming right after Carnival—next Friday. Whether Carnival stakeholders heed Opposition calls to honour him nextweek will play out.

As Richards created history in his own ways, President–elect Paula-Mae Weekes, makes her own. Her selection places Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s administration on par in terms of gender achievement with the People’s Partnership’s first female prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

But the next issue—appointment of a Police Commissioner— taking somewhat longer than expected, is raising queries on possible return to drawing board status. Issues surrounding the Police Service Commission’s selection process have clouded the matter and PSC’s image. The need to settle this posting has become more urgent following Thursday’s plot revelation.

Government also has housekeeping matters with next Wednesday’s Cabinet retreat.

Non portfolioed MPs and Senators aren’t part of the event.

At Monday’s meeting where Cabinet members were notified of the retreat—sources say—the advice was to shape up or ship out, following performance complaints from some quarters.

Whether Wednesday’s retreat brings portfolio changes beyond Public Administration—which Rowley recently indicated he’d divest—is also ahead.

Apart from shifting that Ministry— which he held since Minister Maxie Cuffie’s stroke—there’s focus on other areas concerning Cuffie.

A public meeting on February 22, first of a six month series is— like Wednesday’s retreat—expected to prep PNM for next year’s local government and Tobago elections.

And among key internal issues that need addressing—sources agreed— is communication.

Following Thursday’s plot revelations—and 66 murders to date—security is obviously the key external one.


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