Tuesday, January 23, 2018

While I was away…


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Permit me to begin by offering my thanks to those readers who have been kind enough to indicate that they missed my column over the past few weeks and in particular my views of the many developments which took place over that period. In deference to these readers, and perhaps others as well, I would like to offer some comments on what I consider the most interesting and significant of these developments.

Clearly the most significant and controversial of these developments was the Government's proclamation of the now infamous Section 34 of the Indictable Proceedings Act. So much has already been said and written on this issue that it makes little sense to repeat it all here.

What is however worth repeating is the fact that in a country where mendacity and malfeasance have become endemic it takes a particularly egregious act of corruption to excite the level of opposition and condemnation such as Section 34 has done. And when we think about it there is no doubt that the Government's action in causing Section 34 to be proclaimed took public corruption to a level never before seen in this country.

What the Government in fact did was to use the entire Parliament, the legislative process and the Office of the President as pawns in a cunning and unscrupulous game of subterfuge designed simply to allow two persons, charged with massive fraud against the state, to walk free without a trial.

The sheer audacity of the Government's action in this issue is simply mind-boggling. And yet I have to say that I was not completely surprised. Some months ago I had given my assessment of this Government when I wrote that "For this Government has no concept of right or wrong, no concern for history and tradition, no standards of ethics or morality to which they ascribe. For them …there are no sacred cows. For them, nothing is off limits."

Given that assessment nothing this Government does will ever completely surprise me. The depth of their venality is limited only by the range of their imagination and the only certainty is that before the sands of their time in office runs out, we shall be made to bear witness to even more egregious acts of corruption.

Another development which occurred while I was away and which I believe merits some comment is the attempt by Minister of National Security, Jack Warner, to ban the release of crime reports and statistics by the Police. The country is indeed fortunate that Acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, was having none of it.

Mr Williams is reported to have responded that "The matter of dissemination of information to the public is one which I believe the police service has a legal obligation to fulfil, and we will in fact be fulfilling our legal obligation," The acting Commissioner went on to say that banning the release of crime information "is not a matter which the minister has authority to instruct the commissioner of police on…"

With that definitive rejection by the acting Commissioner of such odious instructions the matter was apparently put to rest. But we the citizens would be remiss to forget it. For it is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that Mr Warner has attempted to extend the reach of his authority beyond its constitutional limits. He had done so previously when he called out the soldiers to intervene against the peaceful civilian protests being waged by the highway Re-Route Movement.

We would be wrong to ascribe Mr Warner's repeated attempts to breach his constitutional limitations simply to his zeal, as a "man of action", to deal with the crime issue. When he was appointed Minister of National Security I argued that Mr Warner would find that the problem of crime was not amenable to the kind of quick fixes that have become his stock-in-trade and suggested that the appointment really placed him in a no-win position in which his reputation as an "action" minister was certain to be severely tested if not irredeemably shattered.

In part this is the reason for Mr Warner's wild excursions into areas of authority where he does not belong. But only in part. Because we also have to understand that

Mr Warner is not moved by any issues of constitutional rectitude He does not understand and does not care to understand the constitution. He does not understand and does not care to understand democratic ideals and principles.

He is motivated only by his overweening ambition and will do anything that he is allowed to do to get his way. For this reason he is to be considered by far the most dangerous person in this Government. He is a danger to of our treasury and our fragile democracy.

There were other developments which occurred while I was away about which I would dearly love to comment not least of which was Mr Jamal Mohammed's fascinating use of the term "insignificant Muslim coolie" to describe himself; but in the space I have left I want to turn to what I consider to be by far the most significant development of the period.

Upon my return to the country the development which most astounded, surprised and genuinely excited me was to find that a protest coalition had been formed in opposition to and condemnation of the Section 34 fiasco and that front and centre of this coalition was the PNM.

I hope that my readers recognise the enormity of this development. In my memory not since Dr Williams led the famous march to Chaguaramas in 1960 to protest the occupation of those lands by the Americans, has the PNM ever aligned or allied itself with any other parties or groups to take political action.

Indeed not even three years ago former prime minister and PNM political leader, Patrick Manning was still stridently trumpeting what has been the PNM's war cry for well nigh 50 years, "The PNM stands alone and falls alone."

By the time you read this column the promised march of the coalition against Section 34 would have taken place. Whatever happened in that march, the presence of the leader and supporters of the PNM among the other parties and groups which would be marching, quite possibly constitutes the single most important development in our politics, not only while I was away, but for decades past.

Next week I promise I will have much more to say on that development. In the meanwhile I am glad to be back.

—Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad

and the wider Caribbean.