Sunday, December 17, 2017

Too late, Prime Minister

 Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar deserves only faint praise, if any at all, for the fact that Anil Roberts is no longer a Government Minister. According to the official line, it was Roberts who decided to resign and the Prime Minister merely accepted his resignation. She can thus take no credit for displaying strong and principled leadership that brooks no transgressions. 

Instead, in announcing last week the staggering results of an audit into the LifeSport programme, Ms Persad-Bissessar took no action on her Sport Minister and referred the report to the DPP, the acting Police Commissioner, the Integrity Commission and the head of the Public Service. Mr Roberts then spent the next five days blustering against the mounting tide of condemnation and criticism from concerned citizens.

It was these clarion voices of public opinion that forced Roberts to submit his resignation—or forced Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to instruct him to submit it. The latter seem more likely given the tone and content of Roberts’ resignation letter, in which he describes the public furore as “inexplicable” and “based on misinformation”.  Roberts even goes so far to state that the audit itself was unprofessional; by pointed contrast, the Prime Minister in her own statement on his resignation emphasises that “all sides of the story [were] heard through an independent audit”.

Mr Roberts’ letter proves, if proof were needed, that the country is well rid of him as a Government Minister. A line from his letter inadvertently serves as a fitting political epitaph: “I fully accept that politics has a morality of its own and that the truth is not always sought.”

His resignation, however, is only a first step in treating with the core issue—corruption in LifeSport and other Government programmes. Even in the unlikely event that incompetence, rather than corruption, was behind the many transgressions unearthed by the Express and listed in the audit, heads must still roll. If no one is fired or arrested, this will only encourage even greater acts of malfeasance, no matter which political party is in office.

 Where Ms Persad-Bissessar has gone further than her predecessors, such as Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning, is in removing errant ministers. However, given the many transgressions on her watch, from Reshmi Ramnarine to Section 34, her dismissals may rest more on political calculations than principled governance.

Even so, her actions have set a precedent which, hopefully, promises a better standard for future administrations. It is now quite clear that citizens are less willing to tolerate incompetence or corruption from Government Ministers and other officials. 

So, while politicians in the past may have escaped jail, future aspirants should note that the same people power on which they were elected is the same that would not blink an eye in getting rid of them.