I find myself liking Gary Griffith, our minister of National Security. Not in the sense of my blood or spirit taking him; no, it doesn’t. Not because he has made a noticeable dent in the crime rate; no, he hasn’t. Not because he has made our coasts safe from, and unwelcome to, drug smugglers; no, he hasn’t. Not because he is cleaning Laventille, Morvant and southeast Port of Spain of gangsters and bandits; no, he isn’t.
So why am I liking him?
He is part of a government which was installed on the hope of a new inclusive direction but which has gone on to prosecute an agenda of opportunistic tribal triumphalism —in plain daylight and in my face. So why should I be liking him?
He is part of a government that has surrounded itself with scandal after scandal, especially those involving financial corruption for the benefit of friends and family. So why should I be liking him?
And this government has betrayed the thousands of swing voters who kicked the People’s National Movement (PNM) out of office in hopes of more evenhanded, meritocratic, democratic governance. So why should I be liking him?
Now, I don’t know if Griffith embraces the United National Congress (UNC) agenda of exclusivism, but he is a minister who seems to be cut from a different bale of cloth where financial corruption is concerned. The government’s LifeSport programme has been yanked from the Ministry of Sport into his, and he seems bent on cleaning it of gangster-controlled projects and other forms of corruption.
The thing that is impressing me is that he does not seem to care whose toes, inside and outside the government, he steps on.
As an example of this attitude, his statements on contracts for cutting grass in certain recreation grounds are as good as any. Asha Javeed of the Trinidad Express reports him as saying that the contracts are ‘the key to unraveling how millions of taxpayer dollars were spent’, and quotes him as saying, inter alia:
‘Giving one person tens of thousands of dollars in a brown paper bag with claims of handing it over to invisible participants because they have no bank account has to be a sick joke. If that is not a sign of financial mismanagement, questionable activity and incompetence, then I don’t know what is.’
‘Jump high, jump low, no desperate PR spin with advisors to ministers openly making adverse statements about me, or paying people to assemble in front of Parliament, or senior officials of the Programme getting a handful of people together to state that there are no ghosts when it is supposed to be over 1,800, but then claim that their life is at risk because of the same Programme that they claimed was so pure, would deter me from cleaning up the Programme.’
‘Read my lips—there would be no room for ghosts, financial mismanagement, or persons of interest in LifeSport. I would ensure that no gang leader has access to State funding. I also do not believe in the practice of paying people not to commit crime. If you sleep with the Devil, there is a price to pay, and I have no intention for our citizens to pay that price. This is not a witch-hunt. But I am not going to have any criminal acquire State resources and funding to fuel crime.’
Cut out this statement and frame it, dear reader, for it is full of amazing phrases and statements.
Amazing words: ‘invisible participants’, ‘a sick joke’, ‘a sign of financial mismanagement’, ‘desperate PR spin’, ‘no room for ghosts, financial mismanagement, or persons of interest in LifeSport’.
‘I would ensure that no gang leader has access to State funding.’
‘Read my lips—there would be no room for ghosts, financial mismanagement, or persons of interest in LifeSport.’
‘But I am not going to have any criminal acquire State resources and funding to fuel crime.’
Nobody else talks like that in the government.
Now Griffith uttered these sentiments against a background in which sports minister Anil Roberts said that LifeSport was doing well, that its removal to Griffith’s ministry was tantamount to a graduation, and that we should await the findings of an audit by the Ministry of Finance.
It is clear that the attitudes of the two ministers are diametrically opposed. One accommodates; the other rejects. One was willing to sleep with the Devil; the other is not. One doesn’t talk about crime and corruption in the programme; the other is incensed into speech.
He has a clear attitude against corruption. That’s why I am liking Griffith. And to think he is not a member of any of the parties in the government!