Trinidad and Tobago Pay Final Respects to Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday paid final respects to 90-year-old Basdeo Panday, the country’s fifth prime minister, who died in the United States on January 1, where he had been hospitalized for treatment of an undisclosed illness.

basdeopMembers of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment carry the casket containing the body of former prime minister Basdeo Panday (CMC Photo)President Christine Kangaloo headed the official mourners at the near three hour state-funeral held at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts, in San Fernando, south of here and where the casket, draped in the national flag, was later carried to the Shore of Peace, Mosquito Creek, South Oropouche, where Panday was cremated under Hindu rites.

Panday, an attorney, trade unionist, economist, actor, and former civil servant, served as the country’s prime minister from 1995 to 2001. He was the first person of Indian descent to lead a government here  and was first elected to Parliament in 1976.

He served as opposition leader on five occasions between 1976 and 2010 and was the founding member of three political parties including the now main opposition United National Congress (UNC) .

President Kangaloo, who was among several persons paying tribute to Panday at the funeral service that was attended by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar, said the former prime minister was perhaps one of the”largest and most  colourful person” in the history of the Caribbean.

She described him as a “feisty fighter…who yielded no ground in his 90 years,” and who fascinated not only Trinidad and Tobago, but the region with his “wit”.

An emotional Mickela Panday, who gave the eulogy for her father, said it was never on the minds of the family members that when he left a month ago for medical treatment in the United States “that he would not return alive.

“You would never know he was not feeling 100 per cent,” she said, even “up until the last moment,” telling the mourners that from last Monday “our world…will never be the same again”.

Mickela, flanked by her three other sisters and who had to be consoled at times, said “he was our dad, but he did not belong to us”.

She described him as being “fearless, disciplined, hard working…like no one I have even known,” adding that her father was “a forward thinking visionary, always thinking outside the box.

“Age never slowed him down,” she said, recalling also that he was always willing to share advice with people, once he was asked for his advice.

In a statement read by Elizabeth Solomon, the recently appointed Assistant Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the 15-member regional integration movement, noted that for more than five decades, Panday dedicated himself to improving the lives of his fellow citizens.

“As politician and trade unionist he never wavered in his struggle for social and economic equity in Trinidad and Tobago. His skill at repartee demonstrated his considerable wit and his oratory embellished the Parliament and wider political discourse throughout his career.”

She said Panday’s contribution to regional integration is no less significant, noting that it  was under his leadership, and with his avid promotion and persuasive arguments that in 1999, Trinidad and Tobago signed an agreement with the Community establishing the seat of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the offices of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) in Port of Spain.

“The CCJ continues to provide the Community with the highest level of judicial excellence.” she said, adding that it was under Panday’s chairmanship of CARICOM that the Parliamentary Opposition was accorded official recognition within the CARICOM structure as recorded in the Consensus of Chaguaramas agreed to at the Seventh Special Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government held there in 1999.

“In a long and distinguished career, this multi-faceted personality persevered in pursuit of his goals and in so doing empowered many to achieve theirs. Basdeo Panday was truly a man who walked with monarchs and never lost the common touch. The Caribbean Community acknowledges his immense contribution to the development of the people of his country and the wider region.”

Panday is survived by his wife, Oma and four daugthers.