Saturday, December 16, 2017

Under attack


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The recent statements by former Minister Verna St Rose Greaves which suggest that the Prime Minister has a substance abuse problem and may not be in control of her administration has earned the ire of supporters/members of the Government on the one hand and have been used by others on the other hand to support their previous claims that this was in fact so. Prior statements by former prime minister Basdeo Panday and even Minister Jack Warner when he was part of the Ramjack faction of the UNC have been cited in support of these allegations. Even former prime minister Patrick Manning on the campaign trail in 2010 alluded to the suggestions.

Some persons who are supportive of the PM have condemned the statements and queried if the PM were a man whether the question of excessive enjoyment of liquor would even warrant mention in the national media.

It is interesting to note that those who have previously condemned the PM for this alleged "weakness" have themselves been the subject of various attacks and allegations whilst in office. Who can forget that Mr Panday himself was charged when he was Opposition leader with five offences under the Sexual Offences Act. The charges were laid around November 1994. One of the offences I recall was for attempted rape (although the newspapers would continue to term it "sexual assault") where the virtual complainant was said to be an employee of the party. Panday remained in office, both as an MP and as Leader of the Opposition. The position adopted by the UNC was that the charges resulted from political victimisation. Mr Panday became prime minister on November 9, 2005 with the charges still hanging over his head. They were subsequently dismissed a week or so afterwards by a magistrate.

It was no doubt the fact of Mr Panday being so charged that led to one of the opponents to his slate in the 2010 UNC internal elections claiming, "he (Mr Panday) has a weakness for sweetness".

As regards Mr Manning, some may recall that on the eve of the general elections in 2002 Angela Nelson, a South Carolina-based woman claimed that he had fathered a child, Destiny, with her some two years before. Her letter to the press with these claims resulted in a letter to the media being issued by Mr Manning's attorney describing her allegations as "politically instigated and motivated and published at this time in a desperate attempt to influence the outcome of the general elections''. The PNM issued a statement saying that the allegations were "spurious" and were part of a "viciously concocted" plot to tarnish the good name of Mr Manning by the Opposition UNC. Interestingly in 2008 in defending his friend fellow PM of St Vincent, Dr Ralph Gonzalves, who was then the subject of rape allegations himself, Mr Manning reminded the media of Ms Nelson's accusations. This led to her writing another letter to the press in March of 2008 endorsing her 2002 claims.

As history has shown Mr Manning and his party went on to win both the 2002 and 2007 general elections despite the allegations. Even subsequent revelations of his associations with a so-called prophetess and his attempt to present Benny Hinn, the American televangelist (who would later term Mr Manning a "foolish man") with the laying of her hands on him by a prophetess, failed to dim the public view of Mr Manning's capacity to run the country.

Now we have accusations being levelled at our current PM to the effect that she has (what would have been termed a problem with alcohol a decade ago) what is now referred to as "substance abuse" problem. The PM has responded to the suggestions with a simple denial. Other ministers such as Anil Roberts have termed them "vile" and "untrue". Both he and the AG have termed the attack as motivated by spite because St Rose Greaves is no longer in office as a minister.

What is the truth of these allegations? And indeed what was the truth behind any of the allegations against Messrs Manning and Panday? Apart from the very few who might be said to be "in the know" the rest of us are in the dark. The more important question really is, if a PM likes to drink or is promiscuous or is a religious nut, if the actions do not amount to criminal or morally reprehensible conduct, should they be placed in the public domain?

If the answer to that question is yes the next issue is—should it affect the right of the office holder to continue in office? If anyone presumes to say yes then one would have to question whether the Constitution should be amended to include these issues of morality as a factor that would disentitle a Member of Parliament (from whose numbers the PM and other ministers are selected) from holding office. If this happens I dare say quite a number of sitting MPs may not qualify.

The whole debate really revolves around perpetual questions such as how much privacy should a person in public life enjoy? The next obvious question is whether private vices that are not criminal should be bandied about in public. The ultimate question, of course, is do we expect our leaders (other than those of the church) to be wearing halos?

My take on the entire issue is once an individual is not doing an illegal or grossly immoral act, as long as she is performing her functions and serving the country well that should be the end of the matter. The country as a whole is not an arbiter of morals or behaviour and the public should not seek to be. If this were so then we will soon have no one willing to enter public life.

• Dana S Seetahal is a former

independent senator