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Dr Bishnu Ragoonath

Gail Alexander

With Trinidad and Tobago battling the COVID -19 crisis, it wasn’t necessary for the Prime Minister to bring race into play with his recent post about certain border closure issues, says political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath.

Former diplomatic service head Reginald Dumas added Prime Minister Keith Rowley should have left the matter of race alone.

Rowley’s government was under fire recently when the group stranded in Barbados accused Government of race when they were unable to return after local borders closed. National Security Minister Stuart Young denied race was involved. Both he and PNM Rowley took umbrage with the story on the issue in the Express.

On Monday the Prime Minister queried what the Express thinks “now that an East Indian prime minister in a Caricom nation” had taken a position that his government isn’t opening its borders to let even nationals in, “ many of whom are East Indians.” He said that decision in Guyana came a month after “ a T&T prime minister made the same decision” for identical reasons. He the editor of the Express, elements of staff, politicians, lawyers, and selected columnists invoked race to” facilitate disgruntled people’s racist interpretations and “wrote headlines and editorials to defend “dastardly irresponsible conduct.” He claimed the objective was to shape a “political narrative” which they believed would be negative to Government.

Responding to queries, Ragoonath said, “We’re into an election year and race will be one of those issues that will be played by both sides of the political fence. The question is, is it necessary to bring race in at this point in time with T&T amid this COVID-19 crisis. The simple answer should be, No.”

Ragoonath said politicians should be more responsible in how they raise issues affecting T&T society. He said the PM also brought race into the issue when he spoke of reasons for recently disbanding the private security companies’ arrangement. Racial discord was cited.

Ragoonath said Rowley didn’t complain of race then, but found reason to, when the (race) allegation was made regarding the TT citizens in Barbados.

“Based on that, all sides of the political spectrum need to act more responsibly, work together and put aside racial and other differences to get over the COVID crisis before we head into election 2020 campaigning when race will obviously be a critical factor.”

Ragoonath said in his other role as chairman of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, he’s received complaints from both sides about MPs’ statements, but the Council couldn’t say anything yet until three months before elections are due – June.

Dumas said the issue of race was raised in the Express article on the group in Barbados, “Until they spoke, it didn’t cross my mind what race they were.”

He noted Young’s comments on their return which he said should have been the end of the matter, “But this is an election year, people are oversensitive on the issue of race, this (race) surfaces in a big way at election time. But if it were I speaking, I’d have left it alone and not said anything,”

“The National Security Minister had already given a statement on the issue. All the (PM’s) statement did was raise the temperature again on the issue of race and we could do without that,”

meanwhile political analyst Dr Winford James said he didn’t hear Rowley’s comments personally but Young’s statements were satisfactory to him. He said he felt there are people who were quick to raise the spectre of race and ethnicity when people of a certain ethnicity were aggrieved and considered themselves wronged. On Rowley’s reported comments, he said he detected the PM was peeved people were quick to raise race and ethnicity and he’d used the analogy of the Guyanese situation to frame his response.

James felt Rowley was justified to be peeved at the proffering of race as explanation, “The superior thing is to say nothing. However, he’s human. We don’t know what pressures and frustrations he’s under, so sometimes a statement comes out, which on reflection, we shouldn’t have said anything at all. Sometimes amidst a situation, something pops out of your mouth which in calmer circumstances would have been restrained.”

“It looks this way. There’s no way people can say there was racial or ethnical discrimination in the way Government’s handling COVID-19. The question is if a prime minister can keep calm 100 percent of the time.”