Sunday, February 18, 2018

The AG’s new role

The statement that “people must continue to hold their leaders to higher standards” is quite familiar. 

But when Prof Peter Blair Henry, the young and handsome Jamaican who is Dean of New York University’s prestigious Stern School of Business said it last week, its truth resonated with freshness as though it had been just minted.

At 45, Prof Henry is the youngest person to hold that position at the school. He is also NYU’s William A Berkley Professor of Economics and Finance. He has served on President Obama’s transition team and sits on a presidential commission.

I came to know of Prof Henry at the business school’s 2012 graduation in New York, so last week, for personal reasons, I made a special effort to attend his engagement at The UWI’s Arthur Lok Jack School of Business.

What was my “takeaway” from the professor’s rap session? Notably, among the many aspects are points from his first book, Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth, in which he gives the Third World a whole new positive face.

 In spite of their historical disadvantages, he said, Third World societies, had shown three identifiable qualities—discipline, clarity and trust—which have been enabling their turnaround, the “rise of the rest of the world”.

After mulling over Prof Henry’s statement I too concluded that, at this time, we must demand higher standards from our leaders.

So let’s start. In the latest episode in the political soap opera series, it appears that the role of the Attorney General is now re-defined to be that of “hysterical victim”.

In the wake of the Sunday Express story on the New Flying Squad Investigative Unit report, the AG created the image of himself as the unfortunate target, bombarded mercilessly by a phalanx of opposition voices. 

So on April 15, the AG claimed Express investigative reporter Anika Gumbs had a “personal vendetta”, “continues to lick up his government”, and that the story was “tantamount to treason and a subversion of the State”.

On April 16, the AG blamed “PNM agents, in every institution in public life”, for leaking sensitive information. He said he was concerned that politics, “blatant and glaring”, was seeping into the media without any measures to strike a balance. Another newspaper wrote he was on the “warpath” because of “a conspiracy to bring down the government”.

On April 17, now using a blunderbuss, the AG attacked Police Complaints Authority (PCA) director Gillian Lucky, describing the PCA as “a runaway horse” which was responsible for the leak. Since then, Ms Lucky appears to be the main object of his ongoing political tantrums.

On the same day there were some not-so-subtle threats to the press in his reminder that “the right of freedom of the press was not absolute…”

But by April 20, the AG was required to answer questions in another matter. It involved claims by former solicitor general, Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, that the State, through the AG’s office, had been paying out millions, in an “unethical business venture” involving lawyers.

The Express revealed that in August 2013 Ms Donaldson-Honeywell wrote the Prime Minister asking her to investigate “breaches of professional ethics” in the matter which involved “key office holders”.

In a clearly-articulated statement, the AG defended his office, affirming that “the insinuation of corruption was baseless and ridiculous”. 

By April 22 the AG, maintaining his course, broadened his scope to include the NGO Fixin’ T&T, accusing its head, Kirk Waithe, of being obsessed with him and describing the group as “a branch of the PNM”.

It is clear that to appeal to UNC devotees there is now the victim syndrome mask.  But in reality the AG is now the party’s point-man, more of its terminator, who is required to defend the party against all dark elements and missteps as the rest of the cabal undergoes stress-inoculation training.  

Should questions arise, e.g. the AG’s role in Section 34, there will be the response of the victim. Should others arise about the payment of $53 million in legal fees to six lawyers there will be claims of attempts to subvert the Government.

But according an Express report on December 2, 2013, between June 2010 and October 2013, Allan Newman, QC, was paid $14,474,613.54; Gerald Ramdeen—$10,443,423; Fenton Ramsahoye, SC, $7,750,096; Avory Sinanan—$6,568,225; Kelvin Ramkissoon—$5,924,631.80; Seenath Jairam, president of the Law Association—$4,478,847.50; and Jagdeo Singh—$3,728,832.97.

Sources told the Express that, in the past, attorneys were selected by the Office of the Solicitor General. That practice, however lapsed and all decisions are now made by the Office of the AG.

Just higher standards at the bar, I guess. 

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