Is Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Cabinet at “war” over Government’s Covid-19 exemption policy to enter Trinidad and Tobago?
An assertion to that effect was made in the Parliament yesterday by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who said he was in possession of screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation, in which National Security Minister Stuart Young was upbraided by Government colleague Foster Cummings over his handling of the repatriation of nationals stranded abroad since March 2020 due to Covid-19.
Moonilal said the screenshots were evidence that Rowley’s Cabinet was “at war” as he repeated the Opposition’s call for Young to resign.
He said the conversation showed Young being told by a “Foster Cummings” on the chat that he would not support Young in Parliament, and citizens needed to be allowed to come home.
The House of Representatives yesterday debated a private motion of no confidence filed against Young by the Opposition, which deemed the action necessary as a result of a “draconian”, “authoritarian” and “unconstitutional” decision to keep Trinidad and Tobago’s borders closed since March 22, 2020.
Nationals abroad now require an exemption applied for online to be approved by the Minister of National Security to re-enter Trinidad and Tobago.
Moonilal opened by asking if Young and Government members participated in a committee or sub-committee wherein they took decisions that were beneficial to their families.
He recalled Government announced last year that a committee was to be formed to deal with the issue of repatriation during the pandemic.
“Did the Prime Minister exempt his own daughter to come into Trinidad and Tobago?” Moonilal asked.
Moonilal described Young as an “all round failure and “incompetent”.
He said he had in front of him a “remarkable” screenshot of the conversation in a WhatsApp chat called “Members of Parliament” where he recognised some names.
Moonilal said the screenshot, dated January 19 at 8.41 a.m., showed a “Stuart Young” saying, “We are already there except we don’t keep everyone for 14 most are allowed seven days in State quarantine or State supervised quarantine (where you pay) and then seven days home. That is the difference. The Australia system requires everyone who is granted an exemption return to pay.”
The person listed as “Foster Cummings” responded, “I do not share the view that our citizens and permanent residents should be subject to an exemption to return home. Many of our citizens are still stranded abroad and have not been able to access the exemption after almost a year. Although we are in a pandemic we cannot render our citizens stateless. We can require them to have the negative PCR test and quarantine at their expense.”
There is “definitely a war brewing”, Moonilal said. “They are fighting among themselves in the Cabinet over the exemption policy.”
Moonilal said Government MPs had come out and put on a brave face and a unified front to say that “all of us agreed”.
He said he would not use an “un-parliamentary word”, but the Cabinet was fighting over the very policy and process being discussed.
“After that quarrel, Foster Cummings left the chat,” he said. “That is the unity the Prime Minister spoke about, that we make decisions together.”
Fire for CFO?
Moonilal raised another question pertaining to Young’s conduct, having noted earlier it was only during a motion of no confidence that an MP’s behaviour and conduct could be brought into question.
He asked Young to clarify if he had bullied the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) into clearing him and his family of a safety violation at a Westmoorings Towers apartment.
Moonilal asked Young whether he had “influenced” or sought to bully the CFO to write a report clearing certain residents after they had obstructed a corridor, potentially endangering the lives of children and older people.
He said a report from the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service (TTFS) had demanded that the residents clear the corridor of “their things” to create a free way, and it was later discovered that the residents in question included Young and relatives.
Moonilal asked if the people cleared included Young himself.
He said he will produce the records to show the incident, including photographs.
In her contribution in the House, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also accused Young of abusing his office “in his private affairs”.
She claimed he was in breach of his lease conditions for his apartment at the Towers, which required that all residents not block passengers and corridors which impede safe passage to emergency exits in case of a fire or emergency.
She said the Fire Prevention Unit of the Fire Services did an inspection and highlighted hazards.
The Speaker however interrupted to say that the motion was about the Minister of National Security executing his duties.
Persad-Bissessar said the minister had responsibility for the Fire Services and wanted to know if Young called the Fire Services.
However, the Speaker ruled that this matter was not relevant to Young’s performance as a minister.
Moonilal also criticised Government’s claims that crime had gone down last year, saying restricted activities due to the pandemic would have resulted in reduced criminal activity.
Government should not boast about 2020 when “people park up home and you don’t want your brother at your house”.
“Who is committing the crime?” Moonilal asked, having said earlier that even criminals were afraid of Covid-19.