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Basdeo Panday

Basdeo Panday- (born May 25, 1933) was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1995 to 2001 and has served as Leader of the Opposition from 1976–1977, 1978–1986, 1989–1995 and 2001–2006. He was first elected to Parliament in 1976 as the Member for Couva North. He is the Chairman and interim party leader of the Opposition United National Congress. In 2006, Panday was convicted of failing to declare a bank account in London and imprisoned but as of March 20, 2007, that conviction has been quashed by the Court of Appeal. He was granted bail on April 28 pending the outcome of his appeal due to his health condition and the poor state of health facilities at the Arouca prison. On May 1 he decided to resign as Chairman of the United National Congress, but the party's executive refuse to accept his resignation.

Basdeo Panday is married to the former Oma Ramkissoon and has four daughters Niala, Mickela, Nicola and Vastala, one from his first marriage to (Norma Panday)(née Mohammed) who died in 1981. In 2006, he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Early life

He was born in St. Julien Village in Princes Town, to a Mr.Harry "Chote" Sookchand and Kissoondaye Panday, who were both first-generation East Indian Arrivants to Trinidad. Kissondaye's mother, along with her mother, came on the trip via Fiji (they had missed the boat going back to Fiji, so they took the one to Trinidad instead). Sookchand's Uncle, Joseph Hardath Dube was the General Secretary of the East Indian National Association, and was responsible for enrolling Panday in Presentation College, San Fernando. Before the college enrollment, Basdeo attended New Grant Government and St. Julien C.M. School.

He was the first of three boys, the others being Rabindranath and Subhas Panday, another lawyer and presently a Member of Parliament. In Presenation College he did well in his work and received a Senior Certificate. He also was a football player and was said to be " a Tricky Dribbler in the Left Center field" and "prone to one-manship".

In 1957 he was accepted into Lincoln's Inn, London (Law), the University of London (Economics) and London School of Dramatic Arts (Drama). Whilst in England, Panday worked as a labourer on a building site, a clerk at the London County Council and an Electrician in order to sustain himself through University. Prior to studying and working in London he worked as a sugar cane weigher for a year at Caroni Ltd., a primary school teacher at Seereram Memorial Vedic, Chaguanas, Ste Clement Vedic, Barrackpore and as a civil servant at the San Fernando Magistracy, where he took notes for Magistrates Churchill Johnson and former President of Trinidad and Tobago, Noor Hassanali. He was also an actor and played small parts in several films, most notably " Man in The Middle", with Robert Mitchum. He also performed on the London stage in several plays, one being "The Bird Of Time" in 1961.

In 1965, Panday was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to pursue a Post-graduate degree in Economics and Political Science at the Delhi School of Economics and Political Science in India. He postponed the scholarship and returned home to practise law in Trinidad because of family commitments and the changing political situation in Trinidad.

Political career

Upon his return to Trinidad, he entered politics and ran unsuccessfully for Parliament as a candidate for the Workers and Farmers Party in 1966.

His most prominent debut into local politics was as early as 1973, when he forayed into the politics of one of the most prominent unions of the day, the Trinidad Islandwide Cane Farmers' Association (TICFA). He was faced with antagonism from the then leader of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Bhadase Sagan Maraj and the leader of the Union, Mr. Rampartapsingh, who had succeeded Mr. Maraj. These were the favourites of the then Prime Minister, Eric Williams, for he was concerned about the "left-wing radicalisation" of the union membership.

It was in this context that Basdeo Panday came to the fore. Basdeo Panday was able, through backdoor negotiations with the then union leader of TICFA, and then subsequently with the then Prime Minister, Eric Williams concerning the wages and salaries of sugarcane workers, to claim control over the union as the undisputed leader of TICFA. In May 1973, he became the President General of All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers' Trade Union. In 1975, he spent two weeks at the Golden Grove Prison for leading a march with Trade Unionists which was deemed illegal.

Basdeo Panday's ambitions did not stop there. Exploiting the fractural divisiveness that existed within the then opposition of the Democratic Labour Party, Panday formed an alliance with other union members, George Weekes and Raffique Shah. The three formed the United Labour Front and in 1981–1986, he was the Opposition Leader.

He co-founded the National Alliance (with A.N.R. Robinson Political leader of the Democratic Action Congress,Lloyd Best of the Tapia House Group, to fight the 1981 elections, and later co-founded the National Alliance for Reconstruction with Robinson and Karl Hudson-Phillips Political Leader of the Organisation for National Reconstruction. Following a convincing electoral victory in 1986 he was made Minister of External Affairs and International Trade. Panday acted as Prime Minister in 1987 while Robinson was out of the country. In 1988, Panday, along with Kelvin Ramnath, John Humphrey and Trevor Sudama were expelled from the party after a disagreement with A.N.R. Robinson. It was claimed by them at the time by them all that A.N.R. Robinson was high-handed and authoritarian concerning with dealing with them and decision.

He then founded the Club for Love, Unity and Brotherhood (CLUB 88) which became the United National Congress. In 1992 their candidates won more seats in that year's election than the then NAR. On such a basis, the members of what was to become the UNC, argued this in parliament to become the opposition members (newcomer Hulsie Bhaggan defeated political heavyweight Winston Dookeran for the Chaguanas seat), but the party only won 13 of 36 seats nationally. It improved this margin to 17 in the 1995 General Elections elections. It could not form the majority in parliament to form the Cabinet,so ,with the support of the two seats held by Robinson and the NAR, Panday was appointed the country's first Indo-Trinidadian and the first Hindu Prime Minister. A.N.R. Robinson became the first Tobagonian to become president.

Under the leadership of Mr. Panday the UNC went on to win the 2000 election but internal strife in the party forced another election in 2001 which resulted in a tie.

Legal problems

On May 31, 2005, Panday, together with his wife, Oma and former UNC MP Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh (chairman of Northern Construction Limited) were arrested on corruption charges. The State alleged that the Pandays had received TT$250,000 on December 30, 1998 from John and Galbaransingh in exchange for giving Northern Construction a construction contract for the Piarco Airport Development Project (PADP). Panday refused bail and chose to remain in prison for a short while.

Panday, Mrs. Panday and John were placed on TT$750,000 bail, while Galbaransingh was placed on a $1,000,000. This was called a punitive bail both by supporters of the UNC and by former Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj, a sometime political opponent of Panday. On June 7, 2005, bail was reduced to TT$650,000. A day later, Panday accepted bail after being jailed for over a week.

Ironically, the evidence for the charges laid against him was the product of two administrations, one of which was Panday's, and, in this administration, the evidence of the charges was due to investigations done by a U.S. private investigator hired by the Ministry of legal affairs when Basdeo Panday was Prime Minister.The law's amendment, under which Basdeo Panday was charged, also was a product of the Basdeo Panday administration.

On March 20, 2007, the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction against Panday for failing to declare a London bank account.

The three Court of Appeal judges agreed that there was in fact a real possibility of bias by Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls in his April 24, 2006 ruling, which found Panday guilty on three counts of failing to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999, respectively, contrary to Section 27 (1)(b) of the Integrity in Public Life Act 1987. Information that surfaced later on, linked Chief Magistrate McNicolls to a multi-million dollar land deal and a company associated with one of the main witnesses in the Basdeo Panday trial. This information, along with the fact that Chief Magistrate McNicolls refused to give evidence for the criminal prosecution of the Chief Justice, which caused that prosecution to fail, were the main arguments used by Panday's lawyers in his Appeal Court hearing.

2005 — present

In September, 2005, Panday nominated Winston Dookeran (St. Augustine M.P.) as his successor as political leader. Panday himself was nominated for the party Chairmanship. On October 2, 2005 both Panday and Dookeran won their posts unopposed (see United National Congress). Since appointing Dookeran to succeed him, the UNC has been divided with many members calling for Panday to hand over power absolutely to Dookeran in the form of the Leader of the Opposition. Panday has since failed to do so, and with the Opposition MPs split 8-8 on the issue, Panday has remained as the leader of the Opposition.

In February 2006, Panday invited estranged former Attorney General, Ramesh Lawerence Maharaj back into the UNC. This led to divided opinion inside and outside the UNC and saw the revocation, by Panday, of the appointment of Senator Robin Montano, a vocal opponent to the return of Maharaj. Following this came the resignation from the Senate of Roy Augustus. Panday replaced Montano with Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, a loyalist and CEO of the UNC and Augustus with former Trinidad and Tobago sprint star Ato Boldon. Boldon stated that he was first invited to become a senator by FIFA Vice-President and Deputy Political Leader of the UNC, Austin "Jack" Warner.

Now in the twilight of his political career, he has been re-called as co- leader of the United National Congress (Now United National Congress-Alliance)with Austin "Jack" Warner after unsuccessfully contesting the elections. He is currently serving as the Leader of the Opposition yet again.

In 2007, the UNC Alliance lost in the general elections. Many critics blamed the newly formed party Congress of the People of 'splitting the vote'.

In a move that sparked controversy, Basdeo Pandey was suspended from parliament in April because he was not sure if he was going to use his laptop computer during a debate. When asked by speaker of the house if he intended on using the laptop for the debate, Mr Pandey replied "I do not know." Pandey argued that in a debate, one is never sure if they will speak and if they would need the use of a laptop. The speaker created more controversy when he announced the next day that Pandey would be suspended till December.

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