Black Immigrant Daily News
PNM senator Richie Sookhai after he took the oath of office on January 17. – SUREASH CHOLAI
FORMER Greater Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce president Richie Sookhai had his political baptism last week when he was appointed as a government senator on January 17, filling the seat vacated by former government senator and Senate president Christine Kangaloo.
But Sookhai’s appointment to the Senate was a bolt out of the blue.
In accepting his new role as a government senator, Sookhai said he was doing it because he wanted to serve the people of TT. He did not rule out the possibility of that service possibly being as a future general election candidate for the PNM, government minister or parliamentary secretary.
“Once you take a stand. You are committed to a cause. I think you go into it all the way,” he said in an interview on Saturday.
Asked about the possibility of him being a future general election candidate for the PNM in either Chaguanas West or Chaguanas East, Sookhai said, “If asked to serve in that capacity, and I feel I could actually make a change or betterment for the people, not playing politics or politricks, I will go open-heartedly and offer myself.”
Chaguanas East was held by the PNM from 2007 and 2010 and is considered a marginal seat. Chaguanas West is considered a UNC electoral stronghold.
Sookhai was encouraged to step out of the private sector and into the arena of public service by the Prime Minister.
“I was given the opportunity by the Prime Minister himself to serve and as he (Dr Rowley) put it, ‘would you like the opportunity to serve your country’.”
He had no reservations about accepting it. with both hands.
“For me it was a natural progression, moving from the chamber…although its a point of advocacy…to a position now where you can actually influence changes. “
There are times in life when people make significant decisions on their way forward.
“I saw it and I said yes. This is my opportunity to serve (the people of TT).”
Asked about past and present political affiliations, Sookhai said, “I have never held a party card in any political party. But I can tell you as of right now, I am a longstanding member and a life member of the PNM.”
Sookhai has never participated in politics.
“Usually my views are a bit objective when it comes to policy.”
Sookhai said from his career in the private sector, he has always walked an apolitical path.
“In that way, I always thought that my voice and my statements held some sort of weight and credibility behind it.”
While being aware of the political dimension associated with being a government senator, Sookhai said, “I still consider myself, when I make my decisions, for the people of the country.”
He did see not himself ever being in a position to compromise his longstanding values for political gain.
“When I spoke to the Prime Minister, one of the things that attracted him to me, was that my voice was always apolitical. He held that in high regard and with that he said he likes my independent thinking. “
Sookhai said Rowley offered him some advice as he begins his career as a government senator.
“Be yourself. Be true to who you are and serve the people.
He acknowledged the diverse reactions to his senatorial appointment, including lukewarm reactions from the Opposition UNC.
Sookhai does not subscribe to the view that a person’s ethnicity or religion defines who they should associate with or how they could behave if they enter politics.
He described this as backward thinking.
“The PNM is steeped in history. It is an institution that is well-structured and has been a party that has been at the inception of this country’s history.”
Sookhai said, “It has certain structures in place for an individual such as myself who was elected to serve my country without any hidden agendas. For me, there is no hidden agenda in that sense.”
He doesn’t feel intimidated in any way by being in the political arena.
“I am a practising Hindu. I know my religion inside out. I literally study the religious texts. I am a vegetarian. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I am not a limer. I do socialise but I am not a limer. I have my norms and my values for who I am.”
Against this background, Sookhai reiterated he decided to step into public life and serve TT.
“There was no way that I considered race or ethnicity or any religious divide when entering into this arena.”
Sookhai said his family, friends and close professional associates all congratulated him on his appointment.
“I got congratulations blowing up at every sort of contact point that people had for me. It was positive. It was a breath of fresh air.”
Sookhai has been doing his homework, learning the Constitution and Senate Standing Orders among other things. Leader of Government Business in the Senate Dr Amery Browne has been guiding him through this process.
“Dr Browne has held my hand walking into this and he has really stayed by my side, in terms of guiding me.”
He said that Browne “has a lot more intentions for me for the future.”
Sookhai thanked other PNM members for helping him to transition into life as a government senator.
He was looking forward to his first long Senate sitting on Wednesday when it debates the Finance Bill.
Sookhai has no ministerial ambitions at this time, choosing to focus on his role as a senator.
But he said, “If I am offered anything, I am always there, able and willing to serve in whatever capacity.”