While like many West Indians I appreciated the spin bowling that led to the West Indies victory in the cricket World Cup last weekend I, again like many persons, am fed up with the continuous spin that some members of this Government engage in when defending their transgressions. The latest is this threat last Tuesday by the Minister of National Security to withhold crime statistics from the media and the public on the apparent basis that this would curb crime! Following the strong assertion by the Commissioner of Police that he was doing no such thing and even international sputtering on the matter, the Minister retracted. Then came the spin.
I wonder if the Government is so shrouded from real public response that its members are sublimely unaware of the growing distaste for this type of behaviour by right thinking people in the society. It may well be that being surrounded by sycophants and with former media personnel on the payroll who perform the spins they do not appreciate the reaction of the average person. Whatever the reason unless there is some drastic change in attitude the alienation will continue to escalate.
I make this strong statement not because I am a supporter or a detractor of the Government but simply because I have come to the personal realisation that we cannot continue like this if this country is not to descend into an abyss of corruption and stagnancy. In other words, I care about my country and I am sick of these bumblings week after week. I am also embarrassed when regional colleagues comment, as they are entitled, on threats to the media, to the administration of justice and constant marching by civil society. What is going on they ask? Democracy in action, I respond somewhat weakly.
To return to my initial comment on the latest incident: Speaking to the media on Tuesday last, Minister Warner said, "I decided with immediate effect that no figures of any kind would be given anywhere and murder reports are to be given quarterly as necessary and not daily as is the case". He continued, "I have also instructed the police not to reveal any figures for murders and this is done so as to take away from the Opposition's design to create mischief where none existed...''
Now how much clearer could that be? Of course the Minister was stepping out of line, talking out of turn and perhaps without thinking — but he was making a clear and emphatic statement. This was the same Minister who had just accused the PNM of committing a murder in Laventille — apparently so as to prove him, Warner, wrong for boasting that there had been not a murder in this hotspot for several days. What kind of wrongheaded thinking is that? Even if he did not truly believe the PNM party committed the murder the making of the assertion itself displays an ego that is out of whack.
We are fortunate in T&T that of late when we need strong public officials to stand up they do so. Such was the case with Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams who the very next day (Wednesday) emphasised that he (Warner) had no authority to stop the police from releasing crime statistics and it was their legal obligation to so do. The CoP made it clear that the Minister could give policy but not operational directions.
One shudders to think what could have happened if the police had rolled over in a desire to please the Minister and it is to his credit that Williams, who is still "acting" in the post, did not try to please. If he had that would have been not just an encroachment upon police powers but also would have taken us backwards more than 40 years when police operations were shrouded in mystery and thus easily vulnerable to political abuse. It would also have put paid to any real scientific research on crime and criminal behaviour. Above all it would have made a lie of watchwords of this Government: transparency and accountability.
In response to Williams' firm stand the Minister had no choice really but to back down and on Thursday he retreated to the position that he had intended to instruct the police of such but had a change of heart. He said, "I never told the acting Commissioner of Police or anybody in the Police Service anything about the statistics being revised or not being revised or saying that they shouldn't say…"
On further questioning the Minister responded, "I want to repeat again, I did not discuss with the police anything about statistics anywhere at any time. ... I did not do that because I know where my boundaries are.''
The only conclusion one can draw from the Minister's conduct is that on Tuesday he did not understand his boundaries (or possibly that he had any) but by Thursday, following public and international outcry and the Commissioner's response, he did.
The above scenario is typical of the kind of bumbling we have had in recent times in quick succession: it was the section 34 fiasco; the firing of Minister Volney; Collin Partap's interaction with the police; Therese Baptiste-Cornelis's speech and on and on. The population is numb but a slow anger is developing. The economy is stagnant by all appearances and instead of hope on that front what we have is bacchanal after bacchanal.
And what is the response of some members of the Government and its sycophants? Attack the messenger. In recent weeks the spite and defamation (obviously planned as evidenced by the admission by a UWI student last year) on Facebook, blogs, letters to the editor and radio call-ins have been the order of the day. These cowards cannot be allowed to rule the day and I hope members of the media in particular who have been under attack do not allow that to happen. There are still strong, independent women and men standing.
• Dana S Seetahal is a former