As the four political circuses of the UNC, PNM, ILP and COP now traverse the country full of noise and supporters, any outside observer could be forgiven for marvelling at our apparently secure democracy in Trinidad and Tobago. But four recent examples of ineffectiveness in law enforcement provide an alarming reminder of our fragility as nation and society.
Firstly, we now know that the police and the Integrity Commission can go no further into the e-mail investigations, the Deputy Police Commissioner saying he has done all he can and the Integrity Commission now asking the Prime Minister to persuade Google to provide her with information. So this critical investigation into possible criminal conspiracy in the Cabinet or enormous irresponsibility from the Leader of the Opposition has run aground, with our law enforcement in a state of impotence.
Then we had a statement by Sophia Chote SC, a former temporary judge, that “the rush by police to charge murder suspects has led to a situation where faulty files lacking critical information are being submitted to the DPP for charges to be laid”. As a result the DPP cannot go forward. Ms Chote also said another factor which has hampered investigations, resulting in cases being thrown out, is that there are no qualified attorneys in the Police Service who practise criminal law to advise police during investigations.
Thirdly, the chairman of the Integrity Commission recently pronounced that the commission is a “toothless tiger”! He is supported in this view by Dana Seetahal SC, who thinks the commission is hamstrung by the very laws that empower it; that its powers are limited and its processes cumbersome.
And to top it all, after setting up, at huge expense, a Commission of Inquiry into the July 1990 attempted coup, the work is incomplete because the commission lacked the power to summon key witnesses including the very leader of the insurgency. A similar situation had developed with the inquiry into the CL Financial disaster when Lawrence Duprey, head of the conglomerate, ignored a summons to appear and got away with it.
Behold our fragility behind the great show we always put on with Carnival, Independence Day parades and election campaigns, one of the latter now in its fullness of froth and frivolity.
Thousands of people have been murdered over the last 20 years and a mere handful have been charged and convicted because of ongoing investigative inadequacies in the Police Service. The July 1990 attempted coup resulted in the invasion of Parliament, a prime minister and other MPs being held hostage for days, 16 people killed including a Member of Parliament, mayhem in Port of Spain with stores being burnt and looted, and the man who spearheaded this violation of our society refused, with impunity, to attend the official Commission of Inquiry into the incident.
At the core of the CL Financial collapse is financial adventurism, colossal irresponsibility that devastated thousands of ordinary citizens and cost the taxpayers $20 billion, but the head of the collapsed institution refused to attend the official inquiry and we could do nothing. Billions of dollars have been stolen from the treasury over the past 50 years and we have set up an Integrity Commission without the teeth to pursue the thieves and bloodsuckers who steal food from the mouths of the poor.
Will any of these issues be tackled in the present competition for power that pretends to be a local government campaign? No, because all parties are implicated, all are responsible for the fragility of this nation. Every prime minister and Cabinet since Independence must answer for the weakness of law enforcement in this country. Why, after budgets totalling hundreds of billions, is our Police Service so deficient that they can’t conduct proper investigations? What is the use of a toothless Integrity Commission? What kind of law sets up commissions of inquiry with no severe penalty for ignoring a summons to appear before them? With all the trappings of nationhood we remain laughable with pervasive lawlessness of all kinds, at all levels.
No wonder a strong society has not taken root here. No one feels safe, none trusts this place for the protection every citizen needs. People come together as a society to pool strengths for individual and collective security, developing, in the process, tradition and law for security, progress and fulfilment. Our problem is that we never welded together as a nation. We were thrown into this place by forces of history, and after a century and more of the major races living here, we still haven’t gelled into a society that can generate a level of anger that make leaders tremble and have them ensure the security for which we elect them.
Even in India, a wave of public disgust with corruption has recently resulted in a minister being sentenced to five years in jail for siphoning public money. But here, after thievery of massive millions from the Treasury for 50 years, no public official has ended behind bars.
This Government still stands, still crowing in our faces in this campaign, after it perpetrated a coup worse than 1990, manipulating Parliament to overturn the law and free party financiers. After half a century of tragic waste, mismanagement, inefficiency and corruption, it remains true that the main criterion leaders must satisfy for the vast majority of citizens is to be of the right race. But, as we should know by now, racial solidarity could never provide security in this small cosmopolitan country. Instead, it weakens the polity which has never discovered its inner power which ultimately is our best protection against evil or misfortune. We continue as a fragile nation amidst the various circuses circling.
• Ralph Maraj is a former