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Balisier House - the head office of the People's National Movement (PNM)

Gail Alexander

The PNM’s Mayaro nominee, US-based Antonio Ross who didn’t get to be screened via the Zoom platform, says his situation was different to Arima candidate Pennelope Beckles-Robinson’s who was screened by Zoom.

“I applied for exemption to return to T&T on May 22 but Ms Pennelope Beckles-Robinson is our UN ambassador. Her exemption is justified by reasoning of her role. Let’s not conflate the issues,” Ross said yesterday.

“I have full confidence in Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s arrangements to bring T&T nationals home in a safe way that covers everybody. Once I’m home soon, look for me campaigning with PNM’s Mayaro candidate Bunny (Mahabirsingh),” he added.

Ross yesterday cited several issues in his situation which he said were different to Beckles-Robinson’s own, after queries from some quarters – including the Opposition – on why he wasn’t screened by Zoom the way Beckles-Robinson was.

Beckles-Robinson, one of three Arima nominees was based in New York as T&T’s permanent representative to the United Nations. She was granted exemption to return home, arrived last week and was quarantined. She was screened via Zoom technology last Sunday. Beckles-Robinson edged out incumbent Arima MP Anthony Garcia who was recommended by the Arima executive. Beckles-Robinson on Monday said she got no special treatment.

Ross who’s in Texas was Mayaro executive’s recommended nominee. Bunny Mahabirsingh was also nominated. In May when Mayaro candidates were first being screened, the executive was told nominees had to present themselves for screening. But Ross wasn’t in T&T.

PNM Mayaro chairman Clifford Campbell said the executive then wrote the party saying his unit understood Ross’ inability to enter T&T and also regarding possible complications due to Ross’ dual T&T/US citizenship.

“….Antonio accepted the circumstances,” Campbell added.

PNM officials said in a Guardian Media article then that Ross later sent a letter withdrawing from the process.

Mayaro eventually sought new nominees and while it recommended Bridgitte Adams, last Saturday Mahabirsingh was chosen.

Yesterday Ross said he didn’t consider his dual citizenship an issue, “I’d have returned it. I’m solidly PNM. My father (late former PNM Senator Vernon Gilbert) was active years ago.“

Ross added,“ If I’d been screened and granted exemption to re-enter T&T, a large cross-section of the population would have condemned and castigated Government.”

Ross said he was an ordinary citizen and didn’t expect to be treated as an ambassador.

“It’s not that I couldn’t be screened. It was a case of if I was screened and successful, then what? Preparation for an election would have required my presence in the jurisdiction several weeks in advance of the actual election date. That’s simply not possible at this time.”

Ross added, “I’ll be home in good enough time to work with (candidate) Bunny Mahabirsingh and the rest of my party when exemptions are granted to the other T&T residents currently sheltering in place in the US due to the pandemic.”

Campbell added, “Antonio could well be in the next batches of people coming home. He’s indicated an intention to assist the campaign significantly.”