AT the best and worst of times, in a season of joyful Carnival mood or terrifying criminal activities, Trinidad and Tobago seems ever ready to present something to laugh, or at least smile, about in manifestations of its political culture.
Currently, when focus is on a second by-election that comes soon after the October 21 local government elections, we are about to witness the sharp contrast between July’s by-election for the Chaguanas West constituency and a now fierce three-way battle for the St Joseph constituency.
Against the backdrop of claims about financial corruption, triggered primarily by the findings of a probe authorised by the Ethics Committee of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Associations (Concacaf), Jack Warner — the once most visible and controversial cabinet minister of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar — scored a landslide victory in what had long been viewed as a fortress constituency for the United National Congress (UNC).
Warner had created local political history by being the first politician who, having won that constituency for the first time under the banner of the UNC, retained it at the by-election with a second landslide — this time under the banner of an overnight party, which is still in formation — the Independent Liberal Party (ILP).
Then, Warner’s popularity for faithful service to his Chaguanas West constituents was enough to trounce the UNC of which he was chairman, a post he felt compelled to give up in view of Concacaf’s public release of the wide-ranging corruption charges against him.
The opposition People’s National Movement, under the leadership of Dr Keith Rowley, had then found itself in the unenviable position of a cockroach in a cockfight.
Now comes the by-election for the St Joseph constituency, secured for the UNC as a marginal constituency at the 2010 general elections by former judge Herbert Volney, who had failed where Warner had succeeded in Chaguanas — in serving his constituents.
The fundamental difference in this election is that both the governing UNC and the Opposition PNM will unleash their respective forces in a battle for victory, knowing that Warner would be out to undermine their respective strongholds with his ILP candidate.
So, the battle lines are drawn and more than the UNC, it is the PNM that cannot afford to lose this by-election. Not on the heels of the local government election and with speculation about Dr Rowley’s leadership capacity in a general election.
For now, and consistent with the mood with which I started this column about a people’s capacity to influence laughter or smiles at the best and worst of times, I wish to briefly engage readers’ attention with two issues involving the Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago (IC):
The IC has been too often involved in controversies, some of its own creation. Now we are being told by the Commission’s chairman, Ken Gordon, recognised regionally for his expertise in, among other things, public communication, that this high profile constitutional body is a “toothless tiger”.
Really? Why then did Mr Gordon endure such agony to remain as chairman of this “toothless tiger”? It was revealing to learn from him why there needs to be crafted legislative measures to empower or — to adopt his concept — “give teeth” to the Commission. When does he expect this to happen?
At present there is this curious scenario of members of the Commission requesting Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to give permission, in writing, to Google, the Internet search engine, to release information relating to what has emerged as “emailgate”.
Surely the concerned commissioners would be aware of the controversies that arose over “emailgate” when Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley had what was reported as a “private meeting” with Mr Gordon. To his credit, Mr Gordon subsequently recused himself from any further involvement by the Commission pertaining to the so-called “emailgate” affair.
The Deputy Police Commissioner, Mervyn Richardson, has already teasingly made public his wish that the Integrity Commission would have “more luck” than he had in securing the release of information from Google with respect to “emailgate”.
The commissioners of the “toothless” Integrity Commission seem to have a moral obligation to inform the public of their rationale in requesting the Prime Minister to authorise Google to release highly confidential information and what, if any precedents exist for so doing.
Bye for now.