Pennelope Beckles-Robinson

People’s National Movement newly-selected Arima candidate Pennelope Beckles-Robinson says she received no special favours by the party in order to be screened.

Beckles-Robinson was chosen by the screening committee over incumbent Anthony Garica, after she was screened virtually having returned home last week from the US on an approved exemption as the borders remain closed.

She remained in quarantine yesterday but said in the next two weeks she will be donning her PNM jersey and will be out walking Arima in her bid to being the area’s next MP.

Speaking about her nomination yesterday, Beckles-Robinson said, “This is something I’d contemplated and I sent in my consent letter to be nominated a good time ago—it’s good to be home.

“I’ve been at the UN for some time and I believe I’ve developed some additional skill sets I feel I can bring to bear in assisting the development of Arima and our country.

“For example, in this current COVID pandemic period, the area where I lived in New York—New Rochelle—was one of the first areas where cases occurred and which was quarantined.

“There was an outbreak in a Jewish church…my daughter couldn’t go to school…so the impact of the pandemic and its global nature—extending to T&T even—were all very clear to me. Being in what was called Ground Zero of the pandemic in the US, we were able to learn what to do and what not to do.”

On concerns that she got an exemption to return home for the screening due to her position as Government’s UN ambassador, Beckles-Robinson said, “There were no special favours for me.”

However, she refused to answer more questions on this issue, saying she’d speak more on it when she completes her quarantine.

Nor did Beckles-Robinson want to address speculation in the PNM that the fact the Prime Minister announced her as the candidate meant that succession planning may be in play in the campaign choices.

On whether she’s willing to serve in a PNM Opposition if election results come to that, Beckles-Robinson said, “What you’re going up for in elections is to become a representative—an MP. That’s first and foremost. My objective is to assist PNM in winning the election to form government.

“I’m looking forward to this campaign so much. I’m very happy to have another opportunity to serve the people of Arima. When I served last as an MP it was a great experience for me—it’s an area that’s very dear to my heart.’’

She added, “I look forward to working with the executive, councillors and neighbouring corporation and doing my best to improve people’s standard of living. I thank the screening committee for the confidence they’ve reposed in me and I greatly acknowledge the work of Mr (MP) Garcia and all who’ve been instrumental with PNM in Arima in the term.’’

Addressing the screening team’s selection of Beckles-Robinson yesterday, Garcia said, “The party’s structures are in place and we have to abide by the party’s decisions. I abide wholly and completely by the decision—I have no problems with that.”

On whether he’ll be assisting Beckles-Robinson’s campaign, he added, “I hold life membership in the PNM. Wherever and whenever I’m needed, I’ll certainly render assistance to the best of my ability.’’

Arima executive members said they expected Beckles-Robinson would begin campaigning shortly.

Beckles-Robinson, 59, was Arima MP for 10 years from 2000 to 2010 during the Manning administration’s tenure.

Last Sunday, the PNM screening team headed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley selected Beckles-Robinson over Garcia, who was recommended by the Arima executive

Beckles-Robinson returned home last week after receiving an exemption from Government to enter T&T’s closed borders and immediately entered quarantine. She was screened by the screening team via Zoom platform from her quarantine location.

She was one of three Arima nominees, including incumbent Garcia and Dr Hillary Bernard. When nominations first came in last month, Garcia had 11 executive votes, Bernard 7 and Beckles-Robinson 5. Garcia also had support from 8 party groups, Beckles from 6 and Bernard 2.

At Sunday’s screening, Garcia, Bernard and Beckles-Robinson were screened in that order. However, Arima’s executive was asked to vote for a candidate via secret ballot. PNM officials confirmed Beckles-Robinson got nine votes, Garcia six and Bernard four.

The T&T Guardian was told screening team leader Rowley eventually announced Beckles-Robinson as the chosen candidate.

Beckles-Robinson, originally from Borde Narve Village, South Trinidad and a law school graduate, is T&T’s outgoing United Nations representative. An attorney, she entered Parliament as a PNM senator in 1995, was Arima MP (2000-2010) and a minister in four ministries in the now-deceased Patrick Manning administration. Beckles-Robinson was also T&T’s first female deputy House Speaker and was also a PNM lady vice-chairman.

Beckles-Robinson unsuccessfully challenged Rowley for PNM’s leadership in 2014 when the PNM was in Opposition. When he won general elections in 2015, he appointed her UN Ambassador. In 2019, she helped the PNM campaign in some East areas for Local Government polls.

Contacted for comment on Beckles-Robinson’s selection yesterday, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said he didn’t know the rationale for placing her as a candidate.

“It may be a gender aspect move and also because she’s younger than incumbent (Garcia). We don’t know for sure that it’s succession planning—there was never that love between Rowley and Penny. But the choice is a plus for PNM moves to unify the old and new PNM—the Rowley and Manning sides,” Ragoonath said.

The screening team on Sunday also elected alderman Roger Munroe for the Toco-Sangre Grande seat and attorney Marvin Gonzales for Lopinot-Bon Air West.

It was the third try for Toco-Sangre Grande and Lopinot-Bon Air West and Arima’s first screening. The PNM now has 40 of its 41 candidates, the party confirmed yesterday.