Trinidad and Tobago opposition leader calls for urgent bipartisan meeting on COVID-19

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

Dear Sir:

Leader of the opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar has written to prime minister Dr Keith Rowley calling for an urgent meeting between government and opposition members to discuss the ongoing severe negative and destabilizing economic, social and medical impact and repercussions of the current coronavirus pandemic on Trinidad and Tobago and its citizenry.

The full text of the letter reads as follows:

I hope that this correspondence finds you in good health and good spirits, despite the very serious challenges we currently face as a nation in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, it is for this very reason that I write to you seeking an urgent bipartisan meeting of our respective parliamentary teams (each selected at their leader’s discretion) to discuss the severe economic, social and medical threat that our citizenry faces at present from this deadly pandemic, with a view to ensuring that at the end of the day, when the worst of the disease has passed, we retain a democracy that remains ready and able to function in economic and social stability and progress.

As a key national stakeholder, the Opposition UNC is responsible for 18 Parliamentary constituencies throughout the country, as well as seven Regional Corporations at the Local Government level, which places more than half the population under our direct administrative and legislative purview. As you are well aware, however, the very system of Parliamentary democracy that governs our nation in fact places the official mandate of governance, and its attendant State resources and legal power, at primarily the Government’s disposal.

In our nation’s history, with good sense and faithful adherence to our democratic principles, we have persistently managed to make this adversarial Constitutional system work, especially since we have a longstanding and highly beneficial tradition of bipartisan cooperation in admittedly infrequent  times of natural disasters and national emergencies, which affect all our citizens in a manner that very often threatens to destroy their lives and livelihoods. I am sure, Mr. Prime Minister, that as a longstanding and very experienced career politician and public servant as I am, you would agree that the current COVID-19 is indeed one such time of national emergency. It thusly requires, indeed, mandates of us, that we set aside our partisan instincts and seek to work together in battling this very dangerous threat to our nation’s ongoing economic and social viability.

Given the wide berth of citizens and stakeholders that the Opposition UNC represents, in the past few days that the dreaded COVID-19 entered our shores, our MPs, Local Government Councilors and other party representatives have been inundated with urgent, anxious and often panicked  requests and pleas from a great number of citizens across the country, pleading with us to address key fears and emergency medical needs that they now face, but have no idea how to access them.

On Friday I therefore held an emergency meeting with my Parliamentary and party officials to determine the most appropriate way forward in executing our national and legislative duty to the national public whom we were elected to serve, and which we do with honour, dedication and considerable privilege.

It was widely recognized that in times of such unpredictable, dangerous and destabilizing national emergencies, the Constitution vests all resources and legislative power into the Government of the day, and therefore, if we are to best serve our constituents and citizens, we must attempt to engage said Government to ensure that they best benefit from the vast array of  State resources available to them as their basic human and Constitutional right. The decision was therefore taken by my party and Parliamentary members, and of course sanctioned by my good self, to seek an urgent meeting with your Government with a view to:

  • Share the citizens’ health, labour and medical concerns and issues with the Government to get a proper understanding of the State resources available to them, and how best they can be accessed, and also share our own suggestions therein
  • Share our own vast expertise and recommendations in the areas of Health and Local Government, which are the two main sectors that would be called upon to deal with a crisis of such a particular magnitude and scale comparable to that of a national disaster, and of which, as a party which twice formed Government ourselves, we have considerable knowledge and experience to offer
  • Share the concerns of the various small and medium-sized business entities whose economic viability are threatened by the current COVID-19 crisis and our own recommendations therein
  • Discuss any other suggestions from both the Government and Opposition deemed relevant and necessary that will ensure that any adopted bipartisan approach is in fact legally plausible to effectively and efficiently combat the COVID-19 pandemic in our country.

I truly believe that this is indeed the best way forward in the immediate short term to most effectively serve our Constitutional and moral mandate as career politicians and high-level public servants.

I therefore trust that you will seriously consider my request, Mr. Prime Minister, for I know that despite our Constitutionally predetermined opposing roles and differences, our long shared similarities as two of the longest serving national career politicians who have both sat, at varying times, in the esteemed offices of Leader of Government and Leader of the Opposition, binds us in an eternal common goal of delivering to our beloved nation and its equally beloved citizenry, the best and most faithful service that we can render in the noble pursuit of our sacred mandate as national leaders. 

In this regard, I look forward to a response at your earliest convenience, confident in the knowledge that you will take into your active deliberation, the very serious nature of the national crisis before us, and, the crucial need to act with extreme urgency to resolve it in my outlined spirit of bipartisan cooperation, even as I thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

Following my letter, several calls have been received by my office from media representatives regarding my formal request to prime minister Rowley to hold bipartisan discussions with the opposition on issues concerning the national, regional and global crisis that has arisen due to the dangerous COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to destabilize our country’s economy and very social order, in addition to posing a fatal threat to our citizens.

I wish to state that this letter was hand-delivered to the prime minister’s office under the heading “Urgent” in the formal hard-copy form (and directly forwarded to him from me via email), only this morning, in accordance with the special etiquette and protocol that generally governs official correspondence between the two highest parliamentary offices of the land, as well as the tradition of goodwill that usually exists between former prime ministers in the spirit of national service and the public good.

This aforementioned etiquette and protocol also hold that the goodly prime minister usually responds in a likewise official manner, i.e., a formal letter of response to the opposition leader and, in addition to this, any other direct communications method he deems appropriate, be it an email or telephone call.

As of this particular time, I have not received any such formal response from the prime minister to my request. I am cognizant of the fact that having sent the letter merely this morning, the aforementioned special etiquette and attendant protocols dictate that I should rightly give him a window of at least 24 hours to respond to my request, in recognition of his presumed busy schedule as per the public office which he currently holds.

Notably, in my correspondence, I had, however, stressed the extreme urgency of the destructive national crisis at hand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the national importance of my proposed meeting and subsequent bipartisan talks in the interest of the citizenry and general national public interest of Trinidad and Tobago.

Therefore, at this time, I await the prime minister’s official response.

Should I receive no official response from the prime minister by tomorrow I will duly follow up on the matter, as per my duty as the elected opposition leader of Trinidad and Tobago and my responsibility to the national public which I have long served. Given the fact that these bipartisan talks are of crucial national interest, I will duly inform the media and general public of the same.


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