Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar being greeted by a supporter. Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

The United National Congress (UNC) is strong and will be fighting the 2020 general election without a coalition, says Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

“For those naysayers who say UNC cannot win, today I say to you, the UNC will win any election that is called,” said the party leader. “We must understand and appreciate that there is a difference between unity and coalition. Unity is what we are, we are the United National Congress and we will not engage in any coalition. We are strong enough to stand alone,” she said.

Speaking at yesterday’s UNC national assembly meeting, at Couva South Hall, Couva, Persad-Bissessar said there is always room for everyone in the “house of the rising sun” as she issued a call for all to come under the UNC.

There was a large turnout of supporters from constituencies throughout the country and all ranks of the party, including all MPs, were present.

“Anyone in Trinidad and Tobago, come home, come home...we will fight together, come home,” she said.

In 2010, Persad-Bissessar became Trinidad and Tobago’s first woman prime minister under a coalition government.

Five parties made up her then-People’s Partnership (PP) government—the UNC, the Congress of the People (COP), the Tobago Organisation of the People, the National Joint Action Committee, and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ).

By the end of the five-year tenure, the fragmented Partnership was defeated by the People’s National Movement (PNM), led by Dr Keith Rowley, in 2015.

The UNC won the 2000 general election on its own under the leadership of then-prime minister Basdeo Panday. However, a year later, Panday was forced to call an early election after then-MPs Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and Ralph Maraj alleged government corruption.

There have been calls for Persad-Bissessar to again engage in unity talks with former UNC members, the COP and other political figures.

Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh had moved a resolution calling on the UNC political leader to hold talks with anyone who is interested in national development. The motion was seconded by Barataria/San Juan MP Dr Fuad Khan.

The motion was not brought before the assembly yesterday.

Singh said he was told the motion has to go through a congress before it comes to the assembly so the timeliness of it was not there.

He said he was hoping to articulate a view that the coalition is the best option, but given Persad-Bissessar’s declaration of no coalition, that debate is now over.

Singh said he supports his leader and the focus now is to win the election and strategise, securing the marginal seats.

“However, I caution there are greater risks by going it alone,” he said.

Khan told the Express he got what he wanted as he pointed out that while Persad-Bissessar said there will be no coalition she welcomed unity--under the UNC.

Khan expressed optimism that former UNC members will heed that call as he noted former PP minister Vasant Bharath and former senator Larry Lalla were in the audience yesterday wearing yellow shirts.

Membership growing

Persad-Bissessar said the UNC’s membership is growing and she is confident of victory at the next general election, just as she was confident the UNC would win the Batataria local government by-election.

She said coordinators are at work in the marginal seats and they have been meeting and listening with people and developing plans for the local community.

The UNC, she said, has spent every day for the last 1,239 days “working on our plan for the way forward”.

She knocked the Rowley Government, saying that it has delivered nothing to the people and has no plan.

“Trinidad and Tobago needs the UNC now more than ever and we must remain focused, disciplined and committed to finding the solutions to the challenges we face as a nation,” she said.

“In his fifth month of his fourth year as Prime Minister, Rowley has nothing to show. He would desperately like to get you to ignore your eyes and ears, to convince you of the wonderful job he’s doing. But like the Emperor, his clothes are missing,” she continued, adding that the PNM spent $166 billion and has nothing to show for it.

Persad-Bissessar listed failures of the PNM in various areas and urged the people to not lose hope.

“As a famous British prime minister said: When you want something said, ask a man; when you want something done, ask a woman! And when this woman was prime minister, I delivered for the people of Trinidad and Tobago!” she thundered.

Plans and policies

She said the UNC has been working together with some of the best and brightest minds to develop plans and policies, including the party’s Economic Recovery and Diversification Plan 2020-2025.

“The task facing the next UNC government will be to bring our economy back onto a sustainable growth path, restart the diversification process and restore trust in government,” she said, adding that a UNC government would get the people working again.

“We will make strategic investments in the non-energy sector, where we have strong competitive advantage, market opportunity and growth potential,” she said.

She said the UNC’s economic plan outlines new drivers of growth to create new jobs and generate new sources of foreign exchange.

Persad-Bissessar said the party identified several diversification flagship economic projects which will mobilise and engage the private sector in kick-starting economic recovery and growth.

These include agriculture and agro-processing; digital economy--Digital Innovation Corridor; creative industries--Port of Spain Trini ‘Creative Arts Street’; renewable energy--Tamana Solar TechPark; infrastructure--Piarco-Aeropark Maritime Hub; tourism--Plymouth International Cruise Ship/Marina Complex; Tobago’s first locally-branded hotel.

Positive changes

She cautioned that the task ahead will not be easy but she was confident that there will be positive changes.

Persad-Bissessar promised that the Couva hospital will be open within three months of a UNC government in power.

She added that her government will rebuild Port of Spain General Hospital and refurbish Mt Hope Hospital and build and open as many health facilities as needed.

“We will re-open the GATE to allow our youngsters to access tertiary education,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar said her government will also open the UWI South Campus, with a Faculty of Innovation to train youngsters to be fully ready for this IT-led society.

She said based on models of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States and the Home Office in the United Kingdom, the UNC shall merge National Security, Immigration, Refugees, and Justice into one streamlined Ministry of Home Affairs.

“We will create conditions to revive the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship, business investment and job creation. The UNC will lower corporation tax to a minimum of 18 per cent over the next five years,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar called on the brave to step forward in interest of country as she announced nominations for those seats the UNC does not now have a sitting representative in Trinidad will be opened on February 4.


The announcement of the appointment of a committee to review the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination and Concordat has met with support from parents and psychologist Dr Varma Deyalsingh.

The Ministry of Education announced yesterday that Cabi­net has given approval for the establishment of a committee to “further review and recommend changes to the conduct of SEA and transition to secondary school and the Concordat”.

The ministry said the establishment of the committee was initiated following a series of consultations last year.

SANATAN Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) general secretary Vijay Maharaj said the denominational boards are upset over the Government’s “disrespectful” move in not appointing any of its members to a committee to further review and recommend changes to the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) and the Concordat.