Former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira climbing climbing over a railing at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) compound on Tuesday morning to attend the funeral of former prime minister Basdeo Panday. – Photo by Lincoln Holder – Lincoln Holder
FOREIGN and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne condemned HOPE political leader Timothy Hamel-Smith and his deputy Karen Nunez-Tesheira after they climbed over a fence in San Fernando on Tuesday, to attend the state funeral service of former prime minister Basdo Panday.
Hamel-Smith was Senate president under the UNC-led People’s Partnership coalition government in 2010-2015.
Nunez-Tesheira was finance minister in the Patrick Manning administration from 2007-2010. She resigned from the PNM last year after unsuccessfully challenging the Prime Minister for the party’s leadership.
Nunez-Tesheira and Hamel-Smith climbed over a fence along the Rienzi Kirton Highway to enter the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) as other guests were arriving to attend Panday’s funeral.
Minutes after, photos of Nunez-Tesheira were posted on social media. They went viral. Soon there were dozens of memes about sneaking into fetes and jumping fences featuring Nunez-Tesheira.
Nunez-Tesheira and Hamel-Smith claimed they had to do so because they did not receive invitations to the funeral.
Browne rejected their claims when he addressed the media shortly after they entered SAPA and were ushered to a tent outside the building.
He described their actions as “the very sad intervention that was witnessed on the exterior of SAPA.”
Browne said this was disasteful at this “very important state event of reflectful tribute and goodbye to a long-serving leader, at very many levels in this country.”
He rejected Hamel-Smith and Nunez-Tesheira’s claims that they were excluded from the event.
”What I can tell you is that the planning of the seating within SAPA, limited seating, has been done in extremely close collaboration with the Panday family.
“Up to this morning, we have been working with Mickela and other members of the Panday family to ensure that every seat in SAPA is properly assigned, and invitations were issued accordingly.
“These were not selections of the government. These were selections based on close collaboration with the Pandays.”
Mickela Panday singled out Browne for praise for his help in organising the funeral during her eulogy.
Browne stressed, “That’s the way in which these events must be conducted.”
Over the last week, he continued, there had been opportunities for people concerned about not receiving invitations to the funeral to have their concerns addressed.
“Many people have done so and have received the relevant feedback and facilitation wherever possible.”
He added, “To turn up this morning in that manner and try to grandstand outside of a state funeral in that manner and attract attention – I saw climbing over a railing and all sorts of behaviour – is unbecoming and unseemly and unfortunate and very disapointing in the circumstances.”
Browne hoped people will take note “of how we conduct ourselves in a forum like this.”
Hamel-Smith and Nunez-Tesheira defended their earlier actions.
Hamel-Smith said they got no feedback from the Office of the President, Office of the Prime Minister or the Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry about whether or not they were invited.
Nunez-Tesheira claimed Browne ignored them when they tried to get his attention earlier, outside SAPA.
She said a traffic warden suggested they climb over the railing to get in because the military procession bringing Panday’s body was due to arrive soon.
Nunez-Tesheira added that this person showed more respect for her and Hamel-Smith’s former offices than Browne did.
“The papers should see this is how they (government) treat a former president of the Senate and one of their former colleagues – and you want to know why this country is where it is.”
Nunez-Tesheira said Browne could have acted differently, by trying to facilitate her and Hamel-Smith.
“What does that say about him? What does that say about the Government?”
In a statement, National Transformation Alliance (NTA) political leader Gary Griffith condemned her and Hamel-Smith for their behaviour.
“One surely cannot expect to ask the nation to allow you the opportunity to lead and serve a country, when you act in such an irresponsible manner as jumping over railings to enter a State event when you were not invited.”
Griffith also claimed the organisers of the funeral disrespected Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar by not recognising her presence in the programmes for the service.
“It speaks even more about the lack of professionalism of those in the state, who decided to make such a decision.”
The Prime Minister and Persad-Bissessar attended, but neither was invited to pay tribute to Panday.
Dr Rowley was recognised on the programme, but Persad-Bissessar was not.