It was like déjà vu in reverse. Anchored by Fyzabad at one end and Oropouche East at the other, the Government front bench was a mass of sneering hecklers, jarringly out of sync with the public mood that had brought the Government into emergency session in Parliament on Wednesday.
Across the aisle, the Opposition was chanelling the public outrage of a people dumbstruck by the sheer scope of the allegation hanging over the government's head. Between tones of condemnation and anger, it repeatedly warned about the price to be paid for misjudging the public mood.
How incredible to think that just two-and- a-half short years ago, it was the United National Congress (UNC) chanelling public angst and outrage, cautioning a sneering, heckling People's National Movement (PNM) front bench about the anger out there and warning about the price that would surely have to be paid—as, indeed, it ultimately was.
Now, in 2012, by some mystery of psycho-political gymnastics, the act of crossing the parliamentary aisle of power had landed them in each other's shoes.
Meanwhile, out there, beyond the faux walls of the temporary Parliament, We, The People stood transfixed before the broadcast from The Parliament Channel. Even in a country where Reshmi Ramnarine was possible, a villainy of the scale alleged was simply too dastardly to even dare utter. Could it be possible for the entire machinery of Parliament, Government, Presidency and Judiciary to be so nefariously commandeered to the service of a few, in exchange for a financial debt owed?
And so, whether we were supporters of the Government, or of the Opposition, or of the expanding constituency of None Of The Above, we had gathered to listen, seeking clarity so that we may be guided to either exonerate or condemn.
But once again, truth proved itself to be the malleable plasticene of our age, turning and twisting until it slipped right through our fingers.
In a country most truthfully defined by the symbol of the mask, theatre had once again prevailed.
Called to account with his neck on the block, the Attorney General—as, later, would the Justice Minister—delivered the performance of his life.
The session had started off nervously and antsy with the government looking to buy time for the missing Attorney General. In lieu, the Prime Minister offered up a date for the budget, October 1. But it wasn't enough. A break had to be called. In the Speaker's chair, MP Nela Khan, an unknown face for many, stood like a flustered class prefect before her charges, although as the next ten hours wore on, she would grow in confidence and manage to keep her poise as a calming influence on an anxious day.
Then the Attorney General stood up.
What a difference a day makes!
Just the night before, with the Government's PR managers in damage control mode, the AG had appeared at a trumped up news conference, timed to deflect the potency of the other 7 p.m. newscasts, with live broadcast via State-owned C-TV.
What he said was hardly as important as his tone, body language and the beads of sweat on his upper lip. At that moment, he was a living expression of the terror in the room behind him.
By the next day, the defence attorney who had performed his way up from defender of rights to defender of the indefensible, was primed and ready to charge.
His presentation was simply spectacular in its speciousness as he re-framed the case to be answered by the government and located it in a parallel debate. Completely coherent, it was also completely beside the point- even as it served its purpose in rallying the side.
Later in the night, the cue would be picked up by the Member for St Joseph about whom the best that can be said, is that his performance as a politician should make us grateful to politics for having rescued the Bench from him.
In a matter of such importance as to push Parliament into an emergency session, one might have assumed that the Prime Minister would seize the moment to lead from in front. But the newly re-fashioned presider of formalities was to remain insulated from the frontline and carefully shielded from blame. Still, we learned a lot from the needling remarks that leaked into the AG's microphone as she egged him on.
The comments and quips, delivered in such stark contrast to the carefully coiffed image, were probably more revealing about the essential person than anything ever delivered from the hands of her speech writers.
By the time the debate had passed both houses of Parliament, the one question that would remain unanswered was the only one that had ever mattered: Why?
Why, at that precise moment in August, had the government pre-empted its commitments to the Parliament and moved to proclaim Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, 2011?
Even in offering himself up as sacrificial lamb in the Government's cause, the St Joseph MP had dodged the question, opting for self-flagellation in the name of the poor and long-suffering.
Esteemed QC Martin Daly, is right. Had white collar crimes been included in the schedule of exempted matters, last week's crisis would simply not have arisen. And, as the TNT Mirror reported in its July 27 edition—perhaps itself alerted to unfolding event seven months after the act was passed—one act of proclamation was all that was needed to open a loophole wide enough to swallow us all.
But, the questions still nagged: Were we all patsies in a grand, diabolical conspiracy by those in control of the apparatus of the state? Or were we simply victims of bunglers and sleepwalkers?
In due course, we will find out; no secret is worth the name in this place.
Either way, two things are worth cheering: the courage of the whistle-blower in an enveloping culture of acquiescence, and the dynamism of a public opinion with an instinct for survival, that recognizes the moment to throw off apathy and embrace its capacity for outrage.
In the land of maximum power, every victory of public opinion, however big or small, is to be celebrated as a triumph for us all.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies