Pennelope Beckles-Robinson

Why did Government give its ambassador to the United Nations Penny Beckles an exemption to return home for PNM screening this weekend when thousands of T&T nationals seeking exemptions to come home are being denied this?

That’s the question raised by the Opposition after National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday confirmed Government gave Beckles an exemption to return.

“Government must now also give UNC Princes Town MP Barry Padarath an exemption to come home from Florida to be screened by the UNC or they’ll be guilty of discriminating against him,” UNC MP Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.

After news that Beckles was granted an exemption, Padarath in Florida, said yesterday, “I”m now in the process of applying for an exemption for myself and my infant daughter.”

Beckles is among three PNM nominees for Arima. The executive has recommended incumbent Anthony Garcia.

Dr Hillary Bernard was also nominated along with Beckles.

Arima was to be screened on Saturday but yesterday Arima executive chairman Cagney Cassimire said nominees will be screened on Sunday at Queen’s Hall.

Beckles is based in New York.

Concern about whether she’d make it home for screening arose after PNM general secretary Foster Cummings recently said there would be no screening of overseas candidates by Zoom or other technology.

The PNM Mayaro executive’s initial recommended nominee Antonio Ross withdrew since he was in Texas. Mayaro officials claimed he’d applied for exemption but didn’t get through in time.

This week it was learned Beckles was “coming home nevertheless”. Yesterday Young said Beckles has to find her own way back on a flight and has to pay for her own quarantine. He said she’s expected by the weekend.

Guardian Media asked PNM general secretary Cummings how Beckles would be screened if she’s quarantined. He said, “When the screening team meets this weekend we’ll examine that, no… she hasn’t contacted the party… I can’t comment on how she got an exemption (ahead of others )”

The UNC’s Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “It’s scandalous the PNM can open the borders for screening of a candidate but would deny so many others the right to return home – a blind man, cancer patients, students, families seeking to be reunited, workers wishing to come home to suffering families.”

“They kept the 33 people in Barbados for weeks before telling them something, treating them in a most inhumane way. But their favourite PNM stalwart is coming back home – for screening! This sends a message the PNM takes care of its own and they have no consideration for the wider population.”

“This must be a lesson to all – especially the thousands stranded outside who want to return, the PNM’s prepared to breach the Constitution and rule of law in their party’s interest.”

Moonilal questioned how Beckles would be screened if quarantined.

“Government must be condemned for this arbitrary whimsical approach to exemptions. They must now allow Barry an exemption to return for UNC’s screening. It’s only fair. Thousands outside of T&T must be depressed and angry at how the PNM’s committed breach of the constitution and national anthem- every creed and race find an equal place.”

Padarath said, “I’ve been asked (by media) if Ms Beckles is coming home if I’d want to return on the same plane. But she’s in New York and I’m in Florida. The people who should be on that plane with her are the many T&T nationals in New York who are in dire straits now, some in homeless shelters.”

Padarath pointed out that the only person who can grant leave to a sitting ambassador is the prime minister.

Arima chairman Cassimire said he hadn’t heard from Beckles. He said he wasn’t in decision-making quarters to speak about her exemption. Beckles hasn’t replied all week to texts and calls on her situation.

PNM sources said if she wasn’t chosen for Arima she may be placed in Lopinot Bon Air which still has to get a candidate. PNM PRO Laurel Lezama Lee Sing wasn’t accepted for that seat recently.