Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Take those reins and lead

Keith Subero logo43

Mark Fraser

“True leaders,” Warren Bennis the renowned US management theorist, once defined as those leaders who “are privileged to find treasures within others, and able to put those treasures to good use”.

Depending on where you sit the Prime Minister may have appeared in the events of last week as such a lofty figure, whose decisions were in search of those treasures among us or — alternatively — a vacant leader desperately floundering in wave after wave of scandal.

Over the past months, the PM’s government has been increasingly embattled; the charges are now so wide-ranging and severe that some critics summarise its performance by using Lenin’s famous phrase of “state banditry” at work.

Her challenges have ranged from Petrotrin’s mismanagement of the La Brea environmental crisis; warnings of impending bankruptcy at T&TEC; bid-rigging in the Beetham wastewater recycling project; to the First Citizens-IPO scandal; and the public embarrassment that a ghost Flying Squad operated on her government’s watch. Late last week, Caricom governments slapped down her proposals for entry into the Caribbean Court of Justice, and then her Attorney General lost the Tobago Milshirv legal battle.

All of this has been compounded by the AG’s earlier claims that the leak of the official documents on the ghost Flying Squad was tantamount to treason and an attempt to subvert her government.

And as if that is not enough, there was the letter of August 30, 2013 from the former solicitor general, Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell to the PM requesting a probe into allegations of an “unethical business venture” within the office of the Attorney General.

In the classic style of the whistle-blower, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell bypassed her line minister, the AG, and wrote “under confidential cover” to the Prime Minister, suggesting possible breaches of professional ethics and perversion of justice in prisoner litigation against the State.

She also expressed her concern that there might be a conflict of interest among “certain key office holders”.

What did the PM do? Ms Donaldson-Honeywell’s “confidential cover” was blown, when the PM forwarded the letter to the AG to address the same concerns she raised.

On February 5, the matter emerged in a judgment delivered by Master Patricia Sobion-Awai, who wrote that there was “obvious copying of another person’s witness statement” in prisoner Jamal Sambury’s case argued by attorney Gerald Ramdeen.

The statement was “dishonest and calculated to mislead to award increased damages”, Sobion-Awai said.

In a procedural appeal on February 17 — so far unreported in the media — the matter came up again before Justices Allan Mendonca, Gregory Smith, and Maureen Rajnauth-Lee argued by Ramdeen, instructed by V Debideen, while the State was represented by Lee Merry, instructed by K Mark and B Basdeo.

Had his client been fabricating his case, Ramdeen stated, he would have objected to an independent medical assessment.

Justice of Appeal Rajnauth-Lee: “Is this your way, Mr Ramdeen, of justifying the fact that the witness statement is word for word?”

Ramdeen: “No my Lady, I am not saying that...”

Rajnauth-Lee: “I think that is where we ought to go at this time.”

Ramdeen replied that the right way to deal with the application would be the verification of his claimant’s witness statement through cross-examination.

Rajnauth-Lee: “No, no, no. We pass that stage. As I understand it the Master said this is word for word. This is an abuse of process. I am being deceived. I didn’t get the impression that you had an answer to that.”

Justice Mendonca: “Mr Ramdeen, you are challenging the Master’s finding as to the abuse? What she said it is incredible that people could experience… a similar event in identical words, and that is what it is. That is a clear finding as to the abuse that that was plagiarism, to use a neutral word.”

Justice Smith: “To my mind it is implausible that two persons could experience separate events, involving different persons in such identical manner. When you look at the sheer grammatical errors, phrasing and sequences, the similarities were so startling that the only reasonable conclusion was that the claimant copied and presented as his own, sizeable portions of the witness statement of Jamal Fortune (another prisoner).”

Smith observed that the Master’s comparison of witness statements was not challenged; Mendonca added that the base findings were an abuse of process.

Justice Smith: “It is significant that the claimant offered no explanation for this obvious copying and use of another person’s witness statement. In the absence of that I conclude that the copying was done deliberately and in an effort to mislead the court….”

The Appeal Court on the same day dismissed the appeal and cross appeal, making no order for costs.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court Registrar referred the matter to the Law Association, but this is just one aspect. There are still unresolved issues contained in Ms Donaldson-Honeywell’s letters; and the AG’s intention to hold his stakeholder consultation, while investigating his own office, for the second time.

At this time Prime Minister, “true leadership” demands: (a) you appoint an Independent Special Prosecutor (b) initiate investigations immediately into the allegations against Commander Garvin Heerah, Director, National Operations Centre, whom the Police Complaints Authority claims established his personal ghost Flying Squad Unit.

POSTSCRIPT: Dana Seetahal, may you rest in peace.

* Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and management.