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Nunez-Tesheira to challenge Rowley for PNM leadership


Karen Nunez-Tesheira. –

FORMER People’s National Movement (PNM) government minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira says her decision to challenge the Prime Minister, her former Cabinet colleague and friend, for leadership of the party was not an easy one. But she believes she has no other choice because of the challenges facing the people of TT today.

Newsday spoke with her on Sunday after she was interviewed on WYZE 95.9 FM on Saturday evening. She told the host she was challenging Dr Rowley for the post of political leader in the party’s internal election on December 4.

Nunez-Tesheira told Newsday she is eligible to be a candidate in the election as she is a lifetime member of the party.

On why she chose to do so, Nunez-Tesheira said this was not too different from what happened in 1997 when Rowley challenged then PNM political leader Patrick Manning (now deceased) for the party’s leadership.

Rowley’s challenge to Manning happened after the PNM lost the 1995 general election. Manning retained his post in the 1997 internal election.

Nunez-Tesheira also recalled that Rowley challenged Manning’s leadership as prime minister after he was fired from the Cabinet in 2008 after raising questions about corruption at the Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott).

In both cases, Nunez-Tesheira said, “I can’t recall anyone challenging his commitment to the party.”

Anyone challenging for the PNM’s leadership is not someone who is opposed to PNM.

Nunez-Tesheira is not forming a slate to rival any by Rowley. For her, the only key post in the election is the political leader’s post.

Based on her own observations over time, Nunez-Tesheira said believes the PNM’s leadership is heading in the wrong direction.

“If we continue along this path that we are going, I don’t know where TT will be.”

Nunez-Tesheira recalls Rowley was one of the first people to welcome her into the PNM’s ranks in 2007, and gave her considerable support when she was a political neophyte.

She considers him to be her friend.

But as a leader, Nunez-Tesheira said Rowley has been a disappointment.

“If I was a Cabinet minister, I would be shivering in my boots because he is intimidating.”

She also believes Rowley has a level of irritation and contempt for certain things.

“I think he believes because he made it as poor black young man from a single-parent (home), I think he seems to be intolerant of those who have not done it.”

Nunez-Tesheira said times have changed from then to now.

“He cannot look at the circumstances we see in the urban communities where there is a recruitment drive among the vulnerable young men and women who see no way out of their poverty, except to be accomplices in what is an underground economy.”

She said leaders need to be more empathetic and focus-driven “on creating opportunities for people to come out of poverty.”

Asked about the level of support she could expect from PNM members, Nunez-Tesheira believes there are many who silently agree with her – that it is necessary to change the party’s leadership.

“I guess it would be very intimidating for anyone to want to challenge him on any level.”

She believes government ministers who are senators would be particularly reluctant to criticise Rowley since he has the constitutional power to remove them from the Cabinet and the Parliament.

She said if any of these people support her, they may do so silently as they could be risking their own political survival.

She said she has spoken to party members who never voted in internal elections before, but who are now promising to vote for her in this one.

Nunez-Tesheira is concerned about what she sees as a lack of implementation in many areas of government policy.

“When you have a government that is very weak on implementation, what’s the point of telling what you’re going to do if you don’t do it?”

Prime Minister and PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley. –

She believes Rowley’s style of leadership as PNM leader and prime minister has caused some people to lack trust and confidence in the party and Government’s ability to address their concerns.

Nunez-Tesheira is unfazed at the prospect of leading a PNM executive comprised of Rowley loyalists, if she defeats him on December 4. She’s also not worried about the possibility of being a PNM political leader outside of the Parliament while Rowley continues to lead the party inside the Parliament as prime minister and as Diego Martin West MP.

She said such a scenario would allow her to focus more directly on strengthening the party. She also said as finance minister she was able to “have a perspective of how government operates.”

Nunez-Tesheira was confident of working with people in the PNM’s leadership because many of them were there when she was finance minister and D’Abadie/O’Meara MP from 2007 to 2010.

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She believes her track record as a minister and understanding of how government works will be assets she can use.

She does not believe any claims made against her in the past would affect her chances of winning.

Referring to the collapse of Clico and CL Financial in 2009, Nunez-Tesheira said no wrongdoing has ever been attributed to her.

“Certainly if they had anything that they could throw at me, they would have done it already.”

She added, the Colman commission of inquiry report into Clico and CL Financial was never released, either in its entirety or any part which related to her role as finance minister, in the last 12 years.

“I am not going to do what other politicians say, ‘Take it to the police.’ Take it to the public. I want to hear what they have to say, because I know you have nothing.”

Nunez-Tesheira promised to remain a PNM member and not align herself with another party if she loses to Rowley.

“No. I would not do that.”

She said she maintains a deep loyalty to Manning.

“Not for him as a person, but what he stood for and his politics.”

She said she is no political grasshopper.

“I don’t think the country has a space for more than two parties.”

While the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) have a space in Tobago’s politics, she said Trinidad’s political space is already occupied by the PNM and UNC.

While acknowledging there is public despair in TT and people want a change, Nunez-Tesheira believes the PNM can still make that change.

“I am saying to them, you don’t have to go far. The party (PNM) is a good party. It’s the leadership and those at the top which have caused the problem we are having today.”

Nunez-Tesheira said this a common phenomenon when a political leader has overstayed his or her time.

“If you move the leader and you have a good party for what it stands for, and you have a good leadership team, there is no limit to what a country or any organisation can achieve.”