An attorney-at-Law, served as the Seventh Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for the period May 24, 2010 through September 7, 2015. She is currently in her twenty-fifth year of consecutive service as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Constituency of Siparia in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar is currently the Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC) political party and the Leader of the Opposition.
She was the first woman to serve as Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs, Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago as well as being the first woman to serve as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth. She was elected Political Leader of the UNC in January 2010 and was re-elected in December 2015. Many members of the general public and her close associates affectionately refer to her as Aunty Kamla.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, the great granddaughter of an indentured labourer, was born on April 22, 1952, in Siparia, a rural village in Trinidad, at a time when the country was still under the control of the British Crown. Her father was of Brahmin Hindu origin and she grew up together with her family following the traditions of this religion. As a child her entire family was baptized in the Shouter Baptist faith and so she also grew up in the traditions of this religion. Whilst growing up, she was an avid reader which she remains to date. Her hard-working, dedicated parents made education the central focus of their children’s upbringing. One of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s most well- known mantras is education is the only passport out of poverty.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar began her education at the Mohess Road Hindu School followed by the Erin Road Presbyterian School and the Siparia Union Presbyterian School. Her secondary education took place at the first and only Presbyterian co-ed institution at the time in Trinidad, Iere High School in Siparia.
She then broke tradition by pursuing her education at the Norwood Technical College in the United Kingdom, where she married her husband, Dr. Gregory Bissessar to whom she has been married for nearly forty years. While in England pursuing studies, she worked with the Church of England Children’s Society in London.
She thereafter continued her education at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (Hons.), a Diploma in Education and, pursued studies for a Master’s in Education.
On completion of her studies in Jamaica, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar entered the teaching profession. Her career history can be described as people-centered and one that has always focused her energy within the public’s eye. She taught as a high school teacher, both in Jamaica (at St. Andrew High School) and Trinidad and Tobago (at Lakshmi Girls College).
At the age of twenty-five, she became one of the youngest university lecturers at UWI, Mona Campus and also lectured at the Jamaica College of Insurance. She later taught at the UWI campus in St. Augustine, Trinidad. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to attend New York’s Columbia University to pursue doctoral research but opted, instead, to study law.
Her experiences of racial discrimination and social inequity of minority women in the United Kingdom and the black power movement raging through the Jamaican and the wider Caribbean led her to pursue a career in law inspired to achieve social justice and equality for all. She earned a Bachelor of Laws (Hons.) from the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados and it was during the time of her studies there that her only child, Kris, was born. Thereafter she earned a Legal Education Certificate (LEC) from Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad where she won prizes for the Most Outstanding Student and for Best Overall Performance.
In continuance of her lifelong pursuit of education, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar earned an Executive Master’s in Business Administration with distinction from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in 2006. She is the proud grandmother of two, Kristiano and Sophie.
In 1987, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar entered the political arena at the local government level as an Alderman for the political party National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in the St Patrick’s County Council, now the Siparia Regional Corporation, for the years 1987 through 1991. At the same time, she practiced law as a private attorney. She was moved by the great numbers of poor persons suffering from economic and social discrimination and especially moved by the plight of many women and children who bore the brunt of violence and poverty in the traditionally male dominated society.
In 1994, she became an Opposition Senator for the UNC and in the 1995 General Election she was elected as the MP for Siparia for the UNC who formed the then Government. In her first term in office as an MP, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar served as the country’s first female Attorney General and also served as the Minister of Legal Affairs, the Minister of Education and acted as Prime Minister.
During her two-year service as Minister of Education, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was instrumental in establishing Universal Secondary Education, removing the dreaded Common Entrance Examination, replacing it with the more modern Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA), and establishing some thirty-two new secondary schools in the country, amongst other major achievements. Of these secondary schools, one was the first ever government assisted Hindu Boys College (Shiva Boys), another was the first ever Pentecostal High School.
While in Government, she achieved many other milestones in her other portfolios. Cabinet accepted her recommendation for the establishment of a Family Court in Trinidad and Tobago. She took part in writing Parliamentary papers and holding consultations to enact the Equal Opportunity and Integrity in Public Life Acts. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was also responsible for the partial computerization and launch of the automated Companies Registry.
These are but a few of the accomplishments she achieved during her first incarnation in Government.
In 2002, the UNC went into Opposition and Mrs. Persad-Bissessar continued to be elected and serve as the MP for Siparia. In April 2006, she became the first female to serve as the Leader of the Opposition, a position she held until November 2007.
On January 24, 2010, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was elected the Political Leader for the UNC and on February, 24, 2010 she became the Leader of the Opposition. On May 24, 2010 she was re-elected MP for Siparia and became the country’s seventh, and first female, Prime Minister. She led a coalition of five parties, the People’s Partnership, to victory in the 2010 General Election. In September 2010, she led her coalition to win eleven out of fourteen regional corporations in the Local Government Election, more corporations than any other political party in the modern era.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar came into office with a vision to put people and country first, and to ensure that every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago was given the opportunity to achieve their dreams. During her term as Prime Minister, she engaged in people centered development and sought to make Government services available throughout the country, particularly in formerly neglected rural areas. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar served as the seventh Commonwealth Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth of Nations from May 26, 2010 through October 28, 2011. She further served as Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM from July 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013.
Some of the most successful programmes and initiatives of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s term as Prime Minister include, the creation of the Children’s Life Fund to assist poor children to access life saving medical treatment in foreign countries, providing laptops to every single secondary school student, raising the pension and minimum wage, settling hundreds of government wage negotiations, the building and repair of hundreds of thousands of meters of roadway, the completion of nearly one hundred new schools, increasing the percentage of persons accessing tertiary education, providing running water to most of Trinidad and Tobago and passing legislation to prevent illegal spying, protect citizen’s privacy and legislation to protect children.
A book of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s speeches throughout the years, Through the Political Glass Ceiling was published in 2010 and a pictorial history of her political ascent, Kamla Trinidad and Tobago’s First Woman Prime Minister, was published in 2011.
She served as Prime Minister until September 7, 2015 after which date, she became the Leader of the Opposition.