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UNC swearing-in and out

December 23, 2000
Extract Express

THE swearing-in ceremony for ministers serving in the United National Congress (UNC) administration took a bizarre twist yesterday, when some who had been invited to be sworn in never got the chance to take the oath.

President Arthur NR made his way to the podium at 4.20 pm, 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Almost immediately, the President's aide-de-camp, Capt Anthony Phillip-Spencer, started calling out the names of those to be sworn in as ministers.

After 15 ministers took their oath of office at President's House, the ceremony came to an abrupt end, 25 minutes later, with an air of uncertainty hanging over the just-concluded proceedings.

There were bewildered looks on many faces.

Former Culture Minister Daphne Phillips, Bill Chaitan, the Pointe-a-Pierre MP; Roy Augustus, the defeated UNC candidate for Arouca North, and Ortoire/Mayaro MP Winston "Gypsy" Peters were surprised and disappointed at not being given a ministerial portfolio.

Phillips, Chaitan and Augustus told reporters they had all received invitations from the Prime Minister's Office to come to President's House to be sworn in as ministers.

But this was not to be.

After the 15 were sworn in, Panday, besieged with questions from reporters to explain the strange turn of events, would only say: "No comment."

Asked if this was his Cabinet and whether more people were supposed to be sworn in at a later date, Panday said: "No comment. I wouldn't add anything to what the President has already said on that matter."

Told the President had not said anything about those who had not been sworn in, Panday said he had no comment to make.

"No comment," he said, when asked whether other Cabinet ministers would be sworn in in the future.

Panday then excused himself, saying he had a meeting with the President.

Arnold Corneal, communications officer in the Office of the President, said Panday had originally requested that Robinson swear in 25 ministers.

In a subsequent meeting yesterday, around 11.
30 am, both men agreed to have 15 ministers sworn in instead, Corneal said.

Corneal said he was told there might be other persons coming to the ceremony and to avoid any "embarrassment," they allowed people in who they had not catered for.

Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said he was baffled by what had happened.
"I can't understand what happened here today," he said, adding, "It is not in accordance with what I know about."

Asked if the swearing-in ceremony was cut short as a result of the President's ill-health, Maharaj said: "I don't know. I don't know."
He told reporters he did not know what the meeting between Panday and Robinson was about.

Maharaj also remained mum on why no Minister of National Security was appointed.

"A Cabinet has been appointed and the Government can function," he added.

"I am a little confused.
I don't know what is happening," Phillips said.

Phillips said she was invited by the Prime Minister's Office, and was told she was going to be sworn in as a minister.

Asked if she thought she was not sworn in because she had been defeated at polls, Phillips she had heard this was a rumour.

"But there are people who had not faced the polls who have been sworn in. So I wonder what is the logic," she said.
"I am disappointed."
Augustus, who said he had been invited by the Prime Minister's Office to be sworn in as a minister, voiced disappointment at not being able to take his oath.

"I'm just trying to find out what the real situation is," Augustus said, noting he was not shocked by anything that had happened.

Augustus said he was now waiting for information and instructions from Panday.

Peters said he, too, did not know what had happened.

"To be honest, I don't know even what it is happen.

"I wasn't sworn in....
I was sitting here, hanging, waiting here, just like everybody else." Asked if he was surprised by what had happened, Peters said maybe this was the way things were supposed to go.

"I am just here waiting until they call me again," he told reporters, laughing.

Chaitan said he had to come to President's House expecting to be sworn in as junior minister in the Ministry of Energy.

Noting he was not sure what the procedure was for an appointment of a junior minister, Chaitan said he, too, was waiting for instructions.

"It could be another time," Chaitan said, adding he was not sure from whom further instructions were to come.

Carlos John, the new Infrastructure and Local Government Minister, and Kamla Persad-Bissessar both said they could not say if anything went wrong.

"I haven't a clue," said John, when asked to explain why his colleagues had not been sworn in.
"I am yet to be briefed."

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