The death of Energy Minister Franklin Khan will cause Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, currently in quarantine, to make his first Cabinet adjustment since the commencement of this term.
Khan was 63 years old, and just two months shy of his 64th birthday.
The People’s National Movement was plunged into mourning yesterday with the news of Khan’s passing.
Sources said Khan, a former party chairman, was found dead at his home in Maraval around 7 a.m.
Khan was not in the Senate last Tuesday. However, Government sources indicated his absence was not illness-related.
“He got the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday morning,” a source confirmed.
Government sources informed the Sunday Express that at a parliamentary caucus last week Khan had urged his colleagues to get the vaccine, saying it was his intention to do so.
“There is no one more qualified than me (to receive the vaccine), given the number of co-morbidities I have. I was living on a prayer,” he said, a reference to his multiple health challenges.
Khan’s passing follows the death Thursday night of 60-year-old heart patient Ijaz Haniff who developed a blood clot and paralysis eight days after taking the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
His relatives have suggested a link to his death and the vaccine he was given, but the San Fernando General Hospital (where he died) has said a preliminary investigation into Haniff’s condition found no evidence linking his clotting to the vaccine.
On three occasions in the last five years Energy Minister Khan found himself in hospital care as he had heart disease.
In 2016 he became seriously ill and had to be hospitalised in Thailand while on vacation there. He returned to the country via air ambulance.
In February 2017, he took medical leave following a procedure for a heart-related condition.
In April 2020 he had an undisclosed medical procedure.
Khan is the third PNM minister in the last 60 years to die in office.
The other two were former prime minister Eric Williams and former minister Morris Marshall.
It is not yet known what the funeral arrangements would be, but Khan’s death comes in a time of Covid-19, when the usual funeral arrangements which would accompany the passing of a senior State official would be muted, meaning no large crowds and probably no lying in state.
Even if he is given an official funeral, it cannot be attended by many of his friends within the PNM, a party that he held the chairmanship of, on two separate occasions and under two leaders—Patrick Manning and Keith Rowley.
Khan, known for his affable manner and his humility, was well liked within the party, to which he remained loyal, even in times of personal political tribulation.
Whether the Prime Minister, who leads the now 22-Member Cabinet, will be able to attend to pay his final respects will depend on when Khan’s funeral is held.
Government Minister Clarence Rambharat, who deputised for Khan particularly when there were long Senate sittings, said he had a long conversation with Khan on Friday, and he sounded strong and he was laughing a lot.
“When I got the news (of his passing), I was waiting to get my shot and it just shook me. I was totally disoriented,” Rambharat said.
Asked by the Sunday Express whether he still received his shot, Rambharat said yes.
Rambharat said they spoke about the fishing facility in Carenage, about the facility in Ortoire and about Mayaro.
“Frankie was a true Mayaro man. He loved that area and its people,” the Agriculture Minister said.
Rambharat recalled walking with Hacks cough drops for Khan, who had a persistent dry cough.
Yesterday the PNM Mayaro constituency, through its chairman Clifford Campbell, expressed its sorrow over the loss of “Mayaro boy... affectionately known by all as Frankie”.
Khan contested the Mayaro seat three times (in 2000, 2001 and 2002), losing twice and winning once, on his last attempt as a candidate.
And on each occasion his opponent was the same man, Winston “Gyspy” Peters.
But he was the first candidate in the PNM to have been given this opportunity and experience, since the party had a long-held tradition of not bringing back as candidates people who were unsuccessful at the polls.
Former general secretary Ashton Ford, who worked with Khan when he was chairman, said Khan was a humble person who had the party at heart.
“He went through a very difficult time. He survived and came back as a faithful servant of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Ford said. He added that Khan’s humility should be an example to all those in public office.
‘Five years of torture’
Khan was a rising star in the Manning Cabinet and the PNM in 2005 when he, along with former energy minister Eric Williams, became the subject of corruption allegations.
The allegations emerged when Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar read into the House of Representatives a letter written by former PNM councillor Dansam Dhansook alleging a corrupt payment to the two ministers.
On the commencement of a police investigation, both men resigned.
Khan, who had been appointed Works Minister in 2002 resigned in 2005 from the Cabinet, and resigned as chairman of the PNM, a position he had won in the 2004 internal elections.
But he remained in the Parliament, sitting on the backbench until 2007.
He and Williams were later exonerated—firstly Williams in 2008 and in 2010, Khan followed—after Dhansook was discovered to have perjured himself.
When the charges against Khan were dropped the DPP stated that the State could no longer rely on the evidence of Dhansook, its star witness and that Dhansook’s utterances “amounted to a conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice”.
Dhansook, who is now deceased, later admitted making a false statement.
Khan, who admitted “it was five years of torture for me and my family”, emerged without the bitterness one might have expected.
He never returned to the national polls.
But in the 2014 PNM internal elections, he recaptured the chairmanship of the party by the narrowest of margins, beating Pennelope Beckles by a single vote.
In 2015, he returned to ministerial office and to Parliament, through the Senate.
Along with Colm Imbert and Camille Robinson-Regis, he was one of the few members of Cabinet to have navigated several administrations.
Imbert’s tweet yesterday was short: “Rest in peace, Frankie.”
Former minister Maxie Cuffie, who was present when Khan wrote his resignation letter (as a minister) in 2005 and who, like Khan, has had serious health challenges while in office, said in his experience Khan was one of the most knowledgeable members of the Cabinet and he depended on his “institutional memory, expertise and political astuteness. My condolences to his wife and family,” Cuffie said.
Khan was a geologist who worked extensively in the petroleum sector.
He received a BSc in petroleum geology from The UWI, Mona, Jamaica, in 1980.
He held several senior positions of seniority at Petrotrin from 1980 to 1999.
However, his most far-reaching role in the energy sector of Trinidad and Tobago and indeed his most significant ministerial legacy was that of overseeing the restructuring, which led to the termination of the operations at State-owned Petrotrin, which had a traumatic impact on southern region and the national economy as well.
He defended the decision, saying the company had the potential to ruin the national economy if the haemorrhaging was not brought to an end.
Khan leaves his wife Laura and two children—daughter Khara Khan, an attorney-at-law who practises in the UK, and Kheron Khan, who holds BSc and MSc degrees.