The Prime Minister, I can only guess, may have spent last weekend contemplating the future of her government.
As a senior counsel, the words of Sir Ivor Jennings should have been uppermost in her thoughts, as she reflected first on the events of the past week, then the performance of both her Attorney General and Justice Minister — and their continued presence in her government.
“Honesty and incorruptibility”, Sir Ivor wrote, “are the elementary qualifications demanded of a minister”. One of the foremost scholars in constitutional law, and a vice chancellor at Cambridge, the job specification for ministers Sir Ivor bequeathed must have come to life in the Prime Minister’s mind.
After pondering upon those two qualities, her mind may have drifted to last Thursday’s Express lead headline, which raised “A question of trust” about her Government’s performance.
As she contemplated, to use her own words, how to “move on”, she may have considered whether her Government still possesses “the first prerequisite of elective government — the mutual confidence of the electorate”.
The state of that confidence is yet to be determined, but last month we discovered that while the country was celebrating Keshorn Walcott’s Olympic Gold — along with the PM — and later our 50th Independence anniversary, others, with the stealth of dead-of-night cat burglars, abused our collective innocence by proclaiming Section 34 of Act No. 20 of 2011.
On reflection, the country should have been vigilant because of the restrained language of President Max Richards recently — at the opening of Parliament, then on Emancipation Day, and twice during the Independence celebrations.
Even last February, he seemed to have anticipated last week’s scandal, when he defined the difference between genuine mistakes and contrived ignorance to the “Do Right Champions”, a youth organisation.
“Integrity”, he said, “would require us to accept responsibility for our errors and not seek to blame others.”
Last week the scandal was variegated, but sad in all aspects. For instance, the country is still unclear on the Cabinet’s reasons for proclaiming Section 34 of the Act, on Independence Day.
Then, there is the DPP’s statement that the AG might have had Section 34 in his mind, when he decided against an appeal to the High Court’s decision in the Steve and Ish extradition matter.
Also the attempt by the speedy AG to shift the proclamation away from his office to the entire Parliament; then the Justice Minister, Herbert Volney, in a sleeveless errant, searched cluelessly to explain the assurances he gave both Houses last November.
Finally, Parliament’s decision to repeal the section, ignoring the positions of Senator Elton Prescott, and the “grave concerns” raised outside by senior counsel Reginald Armour.
But the saddest aspect was the intervention of the US government in the matter, which raised the spectre of the recent Jamaica-US government diplomatic fallout over the “Dudus” Coke matter.
Was it that intervention, rather than calls from the DPP and the Congress of the People that prompted the government to act that promptly?
Many persons believe that it was the US intervention — the second time in seven months — that caused the Cabinet’s move to a hasty repeal.
Remember last February, the US government, in a historic, formal letter, expressed its displeasure with the Partnership Government’s handling of negotiations for a petro-chemical complex in which the Saudi Arabian firm, SABIC appeared to have been unfairly favoured over US interests.
In addition, the PM must have considered the threat looming from CONCACAF’s decision to work with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and an international accounting firm to assess its financial operations during Jack Warner’s tenure as chairman.
The DPP’s statement was both unprecedented and revealing. We learned of his attempt last July to discuss Section 34 with the Minister, and receiving the response that Cabinet had already made a decision.
He explained the proclamation left out certain crimes, such as money laundering and offences under the Larceny and Forgery Act.
“This has the potential to disfigure the international visage of Trinidad and Tobago, especially since some of these offences and fraud tend to involve delayed detections and lengthy investigations spanning several jurisdictions”, he wrote.
The proclamation he saw as “opaque” revealing that it took him by surprise and that in his subsequent research he discovered no “sibling of, or parallel with” Section 34 (2) and 34 (3) of the Act in the entire Commonwealth.
A disfigured international image? Consider the implications of further US government intervention, the possibility of the IRS coming to town, then add the British government’s displeasure over the Government’s decision to cancel Off Shore Patrol vessels contracts.
Last week, it was announced while Trinbago is now locked in arbitration, the Brazilian navy received the first of the three vessels.
So the PM must consider now the future her two Ministers, and the further legal costs arising from their mess?
But first, she must be decisive— acknowledge her responsibility.
• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and management.