Who is Dr Kirk Meighoo and who does he think he is? Is he a loose cannon in the United National Congress (UNC), given free rein by his political leader to run wild?
Meighoo, 52, recently landed himself and his party in hot water with a controversial news release reacting to the latest travel/crime advisory issued by the US.
In the news release, Meighoo blasted the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) and drew conclusions on crime that outraged the ruling party.
The US Embassy in Port of Spain was also forced to respond that it was apolitical.
The Meighoo/UNC release boldly stated that the US had advised its citizens “DO NOT TRAVEL to Laventille (MPs Fitzgerald Hinds and Adrian Leonce), Beetham (MP Fitzgerald Hinds), Sea Lots (MP Keith Scotland), Cocorite (MP Symon de Nobriga), and the interior of Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain (MP Stuart Young) due to crime. US government personnel are prohibited from travelling to those areas at all, and also to downtown Port of Spain (MP Keith Scotland) and Fort George overlook (MP Symon de Nobriga) after dark.”
Would he issue such a release again? Sure, he says. No regrets.
Meighoo was appointed UNC public relations officer (PRO) on January 6.
The Sunday Express sent Meighoo 11 questions last Friday to get an insight into his modus operandi.
Here are the questions and answers:
1. What is the mandate of the PRO of the UNC?
The PRO is mandated to increase and enhance the relationship of the party to the wider public and to make known and clear the party’s policies, programmes and also interface with the public so that the party is well informed and has good relations with the various sectors. There is also a committee of public relations officers throughout the party which the PRO heads.
2. In the time you have been in that role, do you think you have improved the image of the party?
That’s really for others to say. I can say that I have worked hard to do so and I hope that I have.
3. Are press releases issued by you on a daily basis sanctioned by the political leader before release?
Not all of them, but certainly everything I do release is vetted and cleared with the leadership.
4. On reflection, given the criticisms from the PNM and US Embassy, would you write such a press release again with respect to the US advisory that was issued?
5. Don’t you think you were stretching it wildly?
No, not at all. In fact, finally the issues of the release have been addressed by the national community. If we didn’t nobody would have; it would have gone like the umpteenth releases beforehand and named all these hotspots and called the country out on terrorist activities the PNM has always let slide and ignored. Remember we had three bombings in Port of Spain and they’re like “oh well let’s forget about that”. We were the subject of a hearing in the US Congress about our citizens going to fight with ISIS in Syria. This was not being addressed. We raised it and did a national service.
6. How do you respond to criticisms that your role as party PR officer is unconventional and contentious?
Well then it sounds like I’m doing my job right.
7. Are you also responsible for the UNC’s social media platforms?
I am part of a team that has existed before I was PRO so I’ve joined the team.
8. There has been noticeable low viewership of the UNC’s virtual meetings. Why do you think this is so?
We have different platforms, some viewers have migrated to the YouTube platform but it is something that we ourselves are looking into. A virtual platform can never be as engaging as a real platform, but in the aim of what we set out to do we’ve been extremely successful because we regularly put out our views, policies and criticisms and we have been getting a lot of traction. It certainly has been hitting the right people. If you compare our viewership online to TTT, we exceed them. The PNM may have an event at the same time as we do and they are being broadcast live on TTT, but if you look at their YouTube and Facebook numbers, we exceed them. This sometimes goes for CNC3. TV6 has a very good social media presence; we have not yet been able to touch them, but we are looking to grow. There are political entertainers who go on lives every day and they become very famous, but while it is good entertainment it does not translate into votes.
9. You have fought against the UNC in the past. Why did you change your mind?
In my previous party, the DNA (Democratic National Alliance) we were part of the UNC Alliance, we were a separate entity and the decisions taken in the party weren’t necessarily my personal decisions, but I followed the decisions of the party.
When I left the party in 2018 I was independent for a while and then I declared by support for the UNC in 2019 and joined the party. The reason is: the UNC is the only option to replace the PNM.
We are a two-party system. In the 2020 elections that just passed, you had, I think, 21 small parties and Independents that ran, that includes Jack Warner, Phillip Alexander, Nikoli Edwards, Garvin Nicholas, the COP, and combined they did not get five per cent of the vote. In 2015 it was a similar thing. If we really want change as opposed to just talking about it, we have to work within the system. The historical legacy of the UNC is absolutely unmatched in terms of its history of struggle for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
10. The UNC celebrated its 32nd anniversary on Friday. What are some initiatives to look forward to?
The party is reviewing its constitution with a view to strengthening it. One of the things I’m so pleased about in looking at the constitution is how much of those foundational core principles of recognising the diversity of people in Trinidad and Tobago who are standing up against discrimination, standing for the small man and women and ensuring they are included in the economy and society. I’m so pleased to see this has remained a part of the constitution and it is something that I certainly am dedicated to promoting and enhancing.
11. What is your political ambition?
We (UNC) want to form the next government of Trinidad and Tobago and save this country and put it on the path that it is supposed to be. There is no way that Trinidad and Tobago is supposed to be in this desperate social and financial condition. We were supposed to be the Singapore, the Hong Kong, the Dubai of the Caribbean. From 1962 to ’82 our GDP per capita was the same as Hong Kong and Singapore. Because of all the bad governance by the PNM in those 20 years, when the decline happened in ’82 we were wiped out but those countries kept moving up. It is only because of PNM mismanagement and my only ambition is to ensure that we get back in government.
In those short ten years that the UNC was in government we probably did as much as or more than the PNM did in those 50 years. People think the UNC and the PNM have been in power for equal amount of time but it’s not; it’s 50 years compared to ten but what we were able to accomplish in those ten years is amazing. Imagine if we had 50 years like the PNM had, then Trinidad and Tobago would be unrecognisable because we would join the ranks of those developed countries.