It was a thorough scolding — and twice, to boot! In both his Independence Day message and his address at police headquarters, President George Maxwell Richards' words took me back to the severe rebuke I received in fourth standard from assistant headmaster, Alfred Lala.
More than 50 years later, I still tremble as I recall that moment. Mr Lala, however, did not send me to the "naughty boys" corner where the brooms were stored, but one can surmise at this moment that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet are probably feeling that way – the discomfort, that in front of the nation, they were sent to the corner by the President.
His message, particularly on our 50th Independence anniversary, carried a stinging resonance, but one should note that in earlier weeks the President had been extending exhortations.
At the opening of Parliament in July, the President was more nuanced in his observations and warnings to the Government on the issues of equality of opportunity, fairness, even-handedness and transparency. He later went on to hint at what he saw as an impending abuse of civil rights.
But this time the President was more open. In what could be interpreted as directed at the assurance that National Security Minister Jack Warner gave to the nation on July 4 that he, Mr Warner, had "the answer" to crime which would be revealed within "two to three weeks" in his crime plan, the President told his listeners: "There is no magic wand or any switch-off button that can cause crime to disappear. All our systems must come under close scrutiny to see where we have gone wrong and where we ought to change course."
Perhaps the old-time ways should be restored and indulgences thrown out, he said, adding that such matters could be remedied only by serious application. The Police Service, he said, had an "interesting year", but its members should not be daunted by "the public games", and neither should they adopt a "business as usual" approach to policing.
More significant was his call to the authorities to understand that "independence and integrity" were important to policing. "Some of the solutions to the challenges… have their genesis in a commitment to integrity, which brooks no interference in the rules by which the Police Service is guided", the President warned.
In his Independence message the President was equally censorious, reminding us that the promise for a new constitutional arrangement between Trinidad and Tobago was "one of the major areas of brokenness". At present, "scepticism resonates in the whole country" -- but all answers must carry honesty.
"We must be committed to integrity in every aspect, not the least integrity of our word," he said further.
Last week, I tried to recall whether there was ever a presidential censure of a government that explicit and with such severity. The explanation, I believe, was in what the President saw as the clouding of our reality by the euphoria of celebrations. In 50 years, there have been achievements, he said, but they run the risk of being eroded by other forces.
Prof Richards' comments I found reassuring. The holder of that office stands constitutionally as the final arbiter of good governance, and when the holder is prepared to go beyond the established impartiality of presidential protocol to call out what he sees as ministerial excesses there is comfort.
Last week, we saw the raw abuse of ministerial power by Collin Partap, the former minister in the Ministry of National Security.
But such behaviour is now considered normal among ministers, a source maintains. "That is how they behave; their power is loose and unchecked… they are now boys and girls gone wild.
"Look at Minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin's shopping spree. Look at Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan moonlighting at a private hospital. Those are just a few which the press reported, but there are many more, so the President is right; ministers have gone wild, drunk with power," the insider said.
Before Partap's detention there was a traffic accident involving Sport Minister Anil Roberts, who allegedly was driving an unauthorised vehicle; in another accident, a woman was struck on Carnival Monday by a vehicle allegedly driven by Trade Minister Vasant Bharath; then there was another involving Works Minister Emmanuel George in the South Quay area. In none of these instances were charges laid.
Then there are reports of claims from Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma totalling nearly $90,000 for taxi fares during a trip to London; then Minister Devant Maharaj was said to have been allocated three "official" cellphones – one of which was used allegedly by his girlfriend.
So what happens after the public embarrassment of a presidential censure? How does a government rebound after the "naughty" corner?
Or are they all "too harden" to listen, Max?
• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has
since followed a career in