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Marlene’s real job; Muslims consolidating

Saturday, March 3, 2018

She was so involved, settling in with her new job at the Public Administration/Communication Ministry that Minister Marlene McDonald didn’t make it to the start of Parliament yesterday.

Promoted from the last seat on the Government backbench to a new one—six up the row—she didn’t get an early chance to Christen that, either.

But the mood of hilarity in the Chamber prior to proceedings—when she was expected—signalled many were awaiting her entrance.

“Rudy Indarsingh, I go buy you a bottle of honey!” PNM’s Fitzgerald Hinds offered.

“You was on that committee that buy the (Tobago) boat?!” Indarsingh replied.

“A proud moment…,” Hinds gleamed.

Not that MPs were debating it yesterday but McDonald’s latest job comes within a package of consolidation developments in various sectors in the last week.

Where she’s concerned, PNM sources said her job may be more than in the Ministry.

That McDonald was Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s main pillar—Opposition whip—over 2010-2015, and that she’s one of only a handful of seasoned Ministers is the tip of the political iceberg.

Never completely sidelined after last July’s dismissal, she’d continued chairing Cabinet’s Report Review team and Parliament’s Foreign Affairs team.

Most importantly, McDonald is a strong instrument for PNM’s “grass roots” reconnection drive after support’s been sorely tested by Government’s economic policies. Particularly so following recent east PoS rumblings which PNM’s Stuart Young correctly said cannot be ignored.

PNM officials believe McDonald is necessary to help consolidate the party and return it to moorings ahead of upcoming tests: a June internal PNM election when some executive posts may be challenged by those seeking to “take the party back.”

A Barataria by-election (replacing late councillor Pernell Bruno) when former PNM deputy Nafeesa Mohammed—who lives there—was recently fired from Government, and expected fallout from that. Plus, 2019 local government and 2020 polls.
Caricom states are also consolidating regarding counter terrorism strategy, big item at Caricom’s recent meeting. It’s particularly necessary considering regional tourism dependency—and in T&T’s case, following movement on Tobago’s Sandals project.

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also consolidated her political stocks, one-upping Government in securing agreement on a two and a half year sunset clause for the Anti-Gang bill.

Consolidation of T&T security will be of greater importance—internationally—considering the profile of T&T conveyed following the Carnival threat alert, Rowley’s confirmation of an Isis cell locally, plus Caricom statements about 200 nationals known to have “expressed sympathy and contact” with Isis.

Rowley’s promise to meet the Muslim community when he returned from Caricom—yet to materialise—may have to include more seats. Efforts recently intensified among newer independent masjids to consolidate with older traditional Muslim groups.

Muslims of T&T spokesman Imtiaz Mohammed said a meeting was held Wednesday with the main Asja body and other groups including attorney Nafeesa Mohammed on the Anti-Terrorism bill “and discussions turned to unity of all bodies.”

Nafeesa Mohammed added, “The one good thing arising from the so-called Carnival ‘threat’ is, Muslims are coming together.”

While a planned media briefing on the matter with Asja fell through on Thursday, another meeting tomorrow continues talks on the bill, consolidation of groups and a proposed March 11 rally.

Imtiaz Mohammed said “The effort is to sensitise the wider Muslim community on issues. This is a critical juncture. Recent statements—Carnival threat etc—have been a wake-up call. Things we’ve seen on BBC and CNN are reaching home. It’s become difficult to be a Muslim in T&T,” he added.

“Those detained during the Carnival alert may now find it difficult to travel among Caribbean states after recent Caricom statements. Some Government statements have tarnished the community and Islam’s image. We’re particularly concerned about the PM’s statements. If we feel insecure, the non-Muslim public may also feel insecure around us—so overall this has the potential to divide T&T.”

There are 40–plus independent Muslim groups—most led by young people—with members totalling about 30,000, he estimated.

Eyes now, on how respective consolidation efforts flow here on in.


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