During her recent motorcades, the Prime Minister gave out thousands of delicate ceramic teacups. While she rode and waved, crime raged on, like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Her Minister of National Security Jack Warner promises plenty police stations, officers, and vehicles. It is of itself no crime plan. It is the PNM and UNC anti-crime garbage being recycled, while the boss lady hands out fake china bearing her painted-on smile.
Teacups and crime aside, not even media mogul Rupert Murdoch could rival Minister Warner's latest machination. On the heels of Warner's about turn on Mayor Louis Lee Sing's version of the meeting with so-called gang leaders, the Sunday Express (August 26) reports that Warner wants control of the daily Newsday and weekly T&T Mirror newspapers. Such a deal would be unprecedented, uncomfortable, and from Murdoch's standpoint, enviable.
In 2011 Murdoch's UK News of the World newspaper folded under pressure, admitting it published several stories using privileged information gathered from illegal phone hacking, and payments to police and public officials. In the local political minefield, any politician with direct access to tons of privileged information can do some damage. If that politician has unrestricted access to newspapers, the damage can be irreversible. And, if that politician is a minister with no cogent anti-crime plan, the combination of privileged information and publication resources can create a lot of distractions and mischief.
What is clear is that even as Minister Warner has time for personal business pursuits, he does not have an anti-crime plan. At best, Warner proposes to take the country back to 2000. In Brian Kuei Tung's 2000/2001 budget statement, he described the investment in manpower, machinery and more police stations. In 2000 Kuei Tung fell into the trap of treating these elements as the plan, "the part of our crime fighting programme with the most immediate impact". Then, like now, there was really no plan.
The idea back then, as it is now, was not to root out criminal behaviour from top to bottom, starting at the top, but to lock up criminals, starting at the bottom. In 2000 Kuei Tung proposed an increased police presence with over 700 new officers on foot, mobile and highway patrol, and a new Rapid Response Unit. He also spoke about 12 new police stations, two new divisional headquarters and 200 new police vehicles.
Between 2003 and 2010, the PNM read from the same playbook. In 2003, the PNM proposed five new police stations, a police station repair programme, and over 100 new vehicles; in 2004 they laid on the "Special Security Commission to act as a Think Tank on crime prevention and detection"; and in 2005, it was 2,050 bulletproof vests and 630 police safety vests; 100 new vehicles; the intake of 744 new officers and the creation of 118 new posts on the staff establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
Now, Warner proposes the same old things, and like the PNM and UNC of the past, offers no reason for again going down the failed route. It's more new police stations; vehicles and other equipment; and manpower. And, PNM-style, it's the usual meetings with the so-called gang leaders, the usual Warner-style turn-around which has Mayor Lee Sing flat-footed and Warner dribbling the facts in the other direction, and the usual Partnership spin, which will label Warner's proposed newspaper acquisition as a private matter.
Of course, the ownership of newspapers by serving ministers of government is not unusual, even locally, with media businessman Ken Gordon once serving as a government senator and minister. In 1924, the UK House of Commons devised guidance for ministers with interests in newspapers, to operate as an addition to the already well-established principle that ministers would not participate in their private commercial interests while serving in government. Warner's disclosure suggests that the principle is not well established in the Partnership.
This is just another mind-boggling development in Minister Warner's political career. In the past, businessmen-turned-ministers placed private business interests into a blind trust, distancing themselves. Of course, this Government has its own rules: the Minister of Sport allegedly still works privately as a swim coach and the Minister of Health was carrying on his private medical practice. From the outset, Warner was granted special privileges, retaining his FIFA responsibilities, payments and opportunities to travel on FIFA business, while holding political positions as party chairman, Minister and Member of Parliament.
There are serious risks in this specific proposal. The biggest public interest risk in newspapers being owned or controlled by a Minister of National Security, is that this Minister has not distanced himself from his private commercial interests and appears to be still involved. If it persists, there will be the temptation for his journalists to use the Minister as a primary source of inside information and vice-versa, temptation by a loquacious Minister to use his newspaper business for a predictable list of political and personal purposes.
Whether or not it is ever used, Minister Warner's private newspaper interests will potentially have direct access to the State's power of information, including national security resources to spy, snoop and stalk. Could you imagine the salacious headlines under the Warner brand, fuelled by the type of information crossing the desk of the country's Minister-at-large? A tantalising prospect, especially when you consider that amongst this Minister's personal advisers, there are seasoned media men. Who, but the UNC's party Chairman, could conceive of putting the power of information-snooping and media-scooping into one politician's hands?
This disclosure that he is still dabbling in private deals suggests that fighting crime is not taking up enough of Minister Warner's time. His recent anti-crime measures were predictable PNM and UNC fare, and will fail. And just as predictable, the PM and AG will applaud Minister Warner's anti-crime fortitude, label his newspaper plan as private business, and declare the raging crime as a storm in the PM's delicate little teacup.
* Clarence Rambharat is an
attorney and a university lecturer