Trouble for UNC over MP's threat to quit By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 18, 2002

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PORT-OF-SPAIN -- Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was scheduled to return to Trinidad and Tobago last evening from a pre-election fund-raising mission to Canada to face a political bombshell.

As reported yesterday in the media, one of his closest and high profile frontline colleagues, Carlos John, former Infrastructure Minister, has decided to quit party politics and will not be contesting the next general election.

John himself remains publicly mum on the issue of his decision to quit active party politics under immense family pressures amid financial scandals involving some of the country's top entrepreneurs and including critical scrutiny by the police of a TT$500,000 cheque he has made available to his private sector friend of longstanding, Ish Galbaransingh to help honour his (Galbaransingh's) own debt commitments.

Galbaransingh is among six leading personalities, among them two former cabinet ministers, and top private sector official currently awaiting trial on various corruption charges, some in relation to the country's posh, most modern airport in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Piarco International.

The 'Sunday Express' first broke the news of John being under pressure from influential family members to quit politics and to avoid taking sides between the governing People's National Movement of Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Panday's UNC between now and new elections.

But as the media, including both yesterday's 'Trinidad Guardian' and the `Express' made clear in reports with, respectively, varying headlines, `Cracks in UNC' and `UNC may be in trouble', it was not at all clear if John will either absent himself from or abstain in a vote if and when the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament should be convened to elect a Speaker, having previously failed to do so.

The 18-18 seat each secured by the PNM and UNC has made it difficult for the normal democratic governance of the country and it is the emerging consensus that a new election cannot now be delayed beyond October since the government's authority on the 2001-2002 budget would have expired by then.

Panday, questioned by the media while still in Toronto on what appears to have been a successful fund-raising mission, following a similar trip to neighbouring Guyana, has declined to offer any comment to the media.

That is, as he said, before first having "to speak with my colleague Carlos who I know like a lot of us, is being deliberately put under pressure by the PNM, using the police, while it remains most reluctant to go back to the people for a verdict by which we must all abide..."

Panday said that the police have to be careful how they protect their own "reputation and integrity" in this matter of harassment of UNC-affiliated financiers while leaving entirely free those who are the financiers of the PNM and have "their own motive to embarrass those supporting us".

But Prime Minister Manning insists that his government was not carrying out any campaign against the UNC and that the investigations had nothing to do with him. He also declined to comment on John's reported plans to quit the UNC.

He said he was just "an interested bystander" and following very closely the developments but admitted, "I am not surprised".

Asked if he would risk calling a new session of parliament with the hope of being able to exploit the apparent internal problems of the UNC and even get one or two of its MPs to vote with the PNM for a Speaker, Manning said he had not yet considered any such developments and "I have approached no one in this matter".

By today, however, either John or Panday, if not both may make the situation clear by way of an expected statement, that could, as one source hinted, "be joint or coming directly from the UNC leader".

Carlos John was a top executive of Colonial Life Financial and personal assistant to its Chairman Lawrence Duprey, one of the region's leading entrepreneurs and known supporter of Panday's UNC, and is currently the parliamentary representative of the St. Joseph constituency, which he won by overwhelming majorities both at the 2000 and 2001 elections and which is one of the four crucial "marginal seats" for both the PNM and UNC.