Warner: Panday’s death must unite Trinidad and Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this August 12, 2023 file photo, former UNC chairman Jack Warner speaks at the UNC rally, in San Fernando, ahead of the local government election on August 14. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

FORMER UNC chairman, FIFA vice-president and People’s Partnership (PP) government minister Jack Warner paid homage on Tuesday to former prime minister Basdeo Panday.

Panday, 90, died on Monday.

In a statement, Warner said he decided to speak now about his former friend and political colleague after allowing a respectful period for other political leaders to express their sympathies on Panday’s death.

“This is no time for politicking, I think we, our country should reflect on Panday’s vision. The greatest homage we can pay Mr Panday, our fifth prime minister, is to bring our country together – to a space where every creed and race can find an equal place and ask God to bless our nation.”

Warner asked the population to remember that Panday was also a family man at heart.

“I thank Oma his wife and his four daughters – Niala, Mickela, Nicola, and Vastala – for sharing their husband and father with the world.”

Warner said this sharing may have been unwilling at times.

“On occasions I am sure, they regretted the very public space their father occupied. He belonged to all of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Warner said while Panday’s roots were in labour and politics, some people might consider him to be another father of the nation, similar to TT’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams.

Throughout Panday’s trials and tribulations, he continued, his wife Oma was his enduring strength.

“Oma, you were the wind beneath his wings. May you and your daughters find solace at this time amid the mammoth loss you have suffered.”

Warner said Panday will forever be the man who breathed life into our national anthem “where every creed and race find an equal place”.

He added that through Panday’s tireless work as president of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union, he paved the way for the children of sugar-cane workers to aspire to and achieve great things.

Warner said it was Panday’s work on the labour front which set the stage for him to become the first Indo Trinbagonian prime minister.

Panday, he continued, never allowed the pomp and splendour of his office to make him forget where he came from.

“What I perhaps most admired, and moreso as people share their personal memories with Panday, is that he could be seen in photos with princes, paupers, men, women, children – the kaleidoscope that represents Trinidad and Tobago. This was Panday’s vision, this is part of his legacy.”

Warner said the UNC is another enduring legacy of Panday.

Panday, he continued, poured his heart and soul into forming the UNC.

“He saw the UNC as the ray of hope for TT, the only opportunity for the country to progress.”

Warner recalled the UNC’s genesis in 1989.

“After being in the opposition desert for six years, the UNC, under the leadership of Basdeo Panday, won control of the government in 1995 and Panday served as prime minister from that time to 2001.”

He added, “Such a visionary he was that the symbol of the UNC is the sun rising above the Trinity Hills.”

Warner was elected UNC chairman under Panday in October 2007. In November 2007, he was elected as Chaguanas West MP.

In July 2009, Warner together with former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Winston “Gypsy” Peters started a caravan for change in the UNC against Panday’s leadership.

The trio became know as “RamJack G.”

In January 2010, Warner endorsed Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar to lead the UNC instead of Panday.

With Warner’s help, Persad-Bissessar defeated Panday in the party’s internal elections on January 24, 2010 and was elected UNC leader.

On February 25, 2010, Warner was a catalyst in encouraging a majority of opposition MPs to sign a petition to then president George Maxwell Richards that led to Persad-Bissessar replacing him as Opposition Leader.

In April 2014, Warner resigned from the Cabinet and the UNC as a result of FIFA-related corruption allegations. He apologised to Panday for not listening to him about Persad-Bissessar not being fit to serve as prime minister.

Before last August’s local government elections, Warner said he had put his differences with Persad-Bissessar aside to join her and former national security minister Gary Griffith in a UNC-NTA coalition to contest those elections.

Since leaving electoral politics in May 2010, Panday has been critical of Persad-Bissessar’s leadership of the UNC. He has repeatedly said the UNC would not win another general election while she leads it.