Friday, December 15, 2017

No hand at the wheel

Sunity Maharaj52

Sunity Maharaj

Mark Fraser

 From the Prime Minister’s own lips we now have an insight into just how she came to lose control of her Government and end up presiding over a cabinet with the highest turnover rate ever.

“I received a letter. The Honourable Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Cabinet and the Government and has the responsibility for those areas in his portfolio. It was passed to him; I was advised certain discussions took place and I was further advised there was another letter—which I have not had sight of in which (Solicitor General Donaldson-Honeywell) expressed her satisfaction with what has been happening. I have not seen the letter; I read it in the newspaper.”

Really, Madam Prime Minister?!

An explosive letter is sent to you over the head of the Attorney General and under the hand of the Solicitor General laying out her concerns about a serious matter with the potential to pervert the course of justice in litigation against the State—and that is how you dealt with it? You send it right back to the very AG whose own role should have warranted investigation, and then you accept that everything is alright without even asking for evidence? At no stage did you contact the author of the letter? Were you really willing to accept that the SG’s concerns had simply evaporated after discussions with the very AG over whose head she had felt compelled to go over to you?

It should be no surprise, then, that two months later, with her desperate attempt to interest the PM in a matter of grave importance involving the possible swindling of State funds in legal matters, that the Solicitor General should throw in the towel and resign on personal grounds. If this is not a case of dereliction of duty by the Prime Minister, it is hard to see what could be.

One can only imagine the courage it took for the Solicitor General to write to the Prime Minister knowing that she would have to contend with the Attorney General, a man of legendary intemperance, seemingly willing to make enemies of anyone brave enough to cross his path.  

I do not know Ms Donaldson-Honeywell, but as the daughter of a former PNM stalwart she must have known how easy a target she could be in an administration where challenges are routinely dismissed by declaring one’s accuser a PNMite. Just look at how the AG has conjured up, out of thin air as far as I know, a whole PNM affiliation for Kirk Waithe of Fixin’ T&T. I have known Kirk for seven years and have come to accept the unbridled energy force that he is: obsessive to the point of annoyance and inclined to see the world in the simple and stark terms of black and white. But Kirk is a rare Trinidadian with a compulsion to walk the talk of love for his country. In his essence, he is what we should all aspire to be: patriots willing to put our resources of energy, time and money behind what we say we stand for.  

In tossing the Solicitor General’s six-page crie de coeur back to the AG, the PM showed a complete lack of interest in the circumstances that could lead such a senior public official to appeal to her office. Worse, she put the SG in an untenable position, leaving her at the mercy of the very AG whose actions she had called into question by inference. In the circumstances, she must’ve concluded that she had no recourse left but to resign and go quietly.

Were it not for the leaking of her letter to the PM, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell and her deep concerns about the possible perverting of justice occurring within the Government itself would have passed into history. Now that the issue is out in the open, the PM can no longer hide her failure behind bureaucracy. True, the AG is the legal adviser to the Cabinet and the Government. But in any matter where his role may be under question, common sense and logic would dictate that it would be inappropriate for him to lead or even be part of the process of investigation. It is simply shocking that the Prime Minister had no protocol for handling what, in essence, was a complaint about the operations of the Office of the AG.

At the very least, she needed to have followed up by calling in the Solicitor General for further questioning and for evidence related to her concerns. If satisfied that the matter warranted further investigation, she should have had it pursued to a conclusion either through the probe team as suggested by the SG or some other way. This was a serious situation in which the PM needed to take command and she failed.

It is not too late for the PM to resurrect the SG’s letter. The follow up letter of resolution to which she referred has recently surfaced from the AG as an unsigned letter purportedly from Ms Donaldson-Honeywell. The PM not only needs to verify the authenticity of that letter from Ms Donaldson-Honeywell herself, but to thoroughly investigate the consequences to the former SG of having sent her letter to the AG. In doing so, the PM should not be naïve about the level of fear that exists throughout the public and private sectors about the repercussions of standing up to  power.

As she moves to rectify her omission, she might also wish to consider why her AG has been making such a mountain out of the PCA’s molehill and examine the cast of interests that have been coming forward to attack the PCA. As the plot thickens, the PNM’s Faris Al-Rawi might also ask himself why he was chosen to be the recipient of the leaked PCA document. Smoke and mirrors, Mr Al-Rawi. Smoke and mirrors.