A free pass for false ‘papers’
Even though the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago list fraud as an offence, it appears that a certain kind of fraud is in practice legal, once it is committed against State entities by persons in favour with the Government of the day.
Last week, an investigation by the Express revealed that Dayanand Birju, a deputy manager at the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT), had falsified his university degree. Previously, AATT deputy chairman Kurt Adjodha resigned after his qualifications were queried in Parliament by the Opposition. And there have been several similar situations at other State entities. In all cases, none of the persons who had misrepresented their qualifications were charged with any offence, with resignations being considered sufficient penalty. Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz, who is the line minister for the AATT, echoed this mindset when asked about the Birju matter, saying that he considered the scandal to have “sent a message, that if found out, you will be very embarrassed”.
This is an astonishing perspective. First, Minister Cadiz’s phrasing implies that wrongdoing is wrong only if discovered. Then he assumes that embarrassment is sufficient punishment, which is ironic coming from a politician, since many in that profession continually demonstrate by word and deed that embarrassment holds no terrors for them.
AATT officials have sidestepped all queries about the Authority’s response. At the very least, this hesitation smacks of political timidity. More importantly, treating the issue as trivial exacerbates a perspective that a country can progress without qualified persons occupying positions of authority — an unholy combination of contempt for “book sense” and the principle that political loyalty is the best qualification.
Contrary to what Minister Cadiz asserts, the messages which these incidents have so far sent are (1) that qualifications and competence don’t really matter; and (2) that lying about one’s qualifications is a trivial offence. Indeed, Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s administration demonstrated this perspective early on in 2011 with the short-lived appointment of clerk Reshmi Ramnarine to head the Strategic Services Agency, and then again seven months ago when the Government approved the continued presence of Hafizool Ali Mohammed on the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt, after it was revealed that Mr Mohammed had blatant inaccuracies on his CV.
But such a laissez-faire attitude towards qualifications is supported by the wider society, with prominent individuals flaunting “PhDs” acquired from institutions with no accreditation, and becoming wealthy and even nationally recognised. That so many people accept this shows a counter-productive view of education, where the emphasis is on acquiring the “piece of paper”, rather than the knowledge and skills which the paper is supposed to represent.
This is the very definition of a Third World mentality.