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Coverte pochambre

By Martin Daly

 There seems to be a pot of something boiling in the Attorney General’s chambers.  It could be a pot of briefs now being boiled, like long time cloth diapers, to look clean. On the other hand it could be a pot of conspiracy water being prepared by vengeful PNM interests to scald a diligent Attorney General.

How will we ever know which it is?  The issue of prisoner damages claims will become another emailgate because the principals in the issue will gambage around the evidence.  Why has the former solicitor general left it to speculation whether she signed the “draft” letter of exoneration of the Chambers from an allegation of unethical business practices?

Without being unmindful of her courage in writing to the Prime Minister about the matter, the former solicitor general is not now in relation to the matter she raised merely a private citizen.  It relates to her time in office for which she remains accountable.  Moreover, one might expect plainer talk from the rank of Senior Counsel, particularly in answering one simple question: Did you sign the letter?

Perhaps the former solicitor general may be wary given the Prime Minster’s strange step of putting a complaint into the hands of the head of the very department complained about for his “investigation”.

It must be strongly emphasised that the concerns about prison damages litigation have emerged from sources additional to the Solicitor General’s correspondence.  Other principal sources are the judgment of Master Sobion-Awai containing the grave finding that there were cut and paste claims, as well as the assertions of the Prison Officers’ Association.

From the aggregate of these sources, these questions arise: Is there one or more external Counsel chosen for briefs by the State in civil law matters who also act in prisoner damages claims against the State?  Who chooses the external Counsel?

Are some of these damages claims fabricated?  Real or fabricated, are these claims properly defended?  Who are (in the former solicitor general’s words) “the key office holders taking action to support unethical business practice”?

Similarly with the alleged re-establishment of the Flying Squad there was gambage over what is confidential.  Domestic violence is frequently secret but it is still wrong, as would be any attempt to organise a covert police force.  In the words of a wise judge, secrecy cannot be dignified by calling it confidentiality.

I have asserted that the public interest in key operations of the State may trump confidentiality.  In order to prevent cover up, it frequently becomes necessary to expose confidential documents.  Whistle blowing is now encouraged. Codes of practice and legislation protecting whistleblowers recognise the necessity of preventing cover up in the pursuit of good and open governance.

It would be a violation of our Constitution to set up an alternative police service.  In the case of the alleged new Flying Squad therefore the basic questions, which require an answer in the public interest, are: Was such a squad being organised, by whom and by what authority?

I have on occasion described the robustness of my single parent mother, Celia, when relevant to the subject matter of one of my columns.  When there was political scandal, even in the colonial days before investigative journalism, and there were no consequences, my mother would fan her nose and say what sounded like “couverti pocham”.

Much later I came to learn the double meaning.  In Cote Si Cote La(the Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary) the learned author has placed this entry:  “Coverte pochambre Patois-Covert, potty, bed chamber.  A huge flat sugary cake big enough to cover de pocham (overnight utensil under the bed).”

Sadly there is no generally accepted public standard which our politicians must meet. Instead coverte pochambre is the standard political response to any suspicious or tainted conduct. Celia would be fanning her nose non-stop these days.

Take another topical, but also perennial, sore, namely procurement legislation. Sometimes I ask myself whether I am being too cynical because I believe that there is a silent understanding beneath the declared rules of the political game that members of every Government or their satellites must make some money because that is the accepted norm; but then I see in last Tuesday’s edition of this paper Reggie Dumas’ assertion, so in accord with my own thinking, that: “After all, the influence of political investors is such that I do not expect the PNM, if in office, to behave any differently, whatever its protestations and promises  in opposition.”

Of course we deserve to be stuffed to moral death with coverte pochambre because we are suffering from the societal deficiencies that come with the exclusive pursuit of dollars and perceived status.  Realisation is dawning that it is we, the people, who have permitted all institutions and communities to be swept away and all reform to be stymied in exchange for a Hyatt fete ticket, a Bus Route pass or a position for a relative.

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