In addressing the nation, the Prime Minister correctly emphasised that all parliamentarians-Partnership, PNM and independents—agreed to Section 34 which threw the gates open for corrupt persons in this country to walk free. She apologised on behalf of her administration and fired Herbert Volney. It is not enough, the Government should have resigned, but more of that anon.
We have an inescapable duty to the children to examine every aspect of the fiasco. According to legal experts, legitimate expectations created by repealed Section 34 will set many corrupt individuals free. This will completely destroy the most outstanding attempt of our nation to fight corruption; an effort that came when the PNM and Patrick Manning returned to power in 2001.
Some background here. Corruption had been rampant in the UNC administrations from 1995-2001.
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and Ralph Maraj protested. Ramesh was fired and the other two resigned from the Panday Cabinet. The trio's actions precipitated the general election of 2001 that produced a tie which brought the PNM to power through President Robinson's decision based on 'moral and spiritual values'. The PNM remained in power for nine years thereafter.
For the first five years, PM Manning and his Attorney General John Jeremie led the charge and investigators unearthed corrupt practices in unprecedented fashion. It was historic in this country where the corrupt always walked free. A former prime minister, several government ministers and senior officials of the previous UNC administration were brought before the courts. Today, these are the same people who stood to be freed by Section 34 which was supported by parliamentarians of the People's National Movement. What devastating irony! In allowing schedule 6 to exclude corruption offences, its own Opposition played a key role in destroying an unparalleled success of the People's National Movement.
The PNM, beset with corruption issues since O' Halloran, had an opportunity, through the excellent work of that Manning administration, to exorcise this 'jumbie' and wear a glorious, golden feather forever in its cap.
But Section 34 dumped this achievement in the dustbin of history.
What a shame! Such an enormous loss for the PNM!
A jewel ripped from its crown! This achievement, if embraced by its new leadership, could have engendered the rebirth and return of the PNM to power.
The Opposition supported Section 34 on three occasions in the House, fully aware of its implications! But according to Keith Rowley, support was based on a promise from the Government that regulations and infrastructure would come before proclamation. Whaat?!!
Thundering heavens, after two- and-a-half years, nobody on this planet trusts this Government! But you jeopardised this outstanding achievement of the nation and your party on a promise from a gang which has broken all records in breaking promises; an administration that you yourself, with persuasive vehemence, have painted as the most untrustworthy in this nation's history?! Come on!
And for the records, even if the Government had kept its word, corrupt individuals would still have walked free. Regulations and infrastructure, like establishing courtrooms and registries, staffing and equipment, appointing Masters and establishing Criminal Procedure Rules, merely deal with the implementation of the law, not the law itself. They provide no opportunity for changing it.
Such opportunity was during the debate and the committee stage of the Bill's second reading and when it returned from the Senate. Then the Opposition should have adamantly insisted that schedule 6 include corruption and white-collar crime. They should never have let this one go.
And if the Government didn't budge, the PNM should have raised almighty hell in and out of Parliament and ripped the Government apart for wanting to favour financiers and friends. They could then have led marches throughout the country with unquestionable moral authority. This is their role as guardian of the people against a marauding administration. Why the PNM didn't stop the government in its tracks will remain one of the mysteries of our time. It boggles the mind.
This is all particularly galling for citizens genuinely concerned about a better country. Another triumph of turpitude as the spreading swamp land permeates the upper reaches with little hope of stopping it. Observe how our guilty politicians, particularly UNC and PNM, will return to the embrace of their tribes, free from questions about their role in diseasing the society.
UNC supporters will do nothing to further jeopardise their party's hold on power; whilst the PNM, sensing it could regain office, would try to sweep their own enormity under the carpet. Both are holding political rallies this week to point fingers at one another, when each should be looking in the mirror.
For the country, another golden opportunity squandered. It is unspeakably disheartening. This was the turning point for our nation. Had the law put guilty senior politicians and officials behind bars, any thief in government, present and future, would think thrice and more before putting dirty hands in the nation's coffers.
The obscene gorging from the public trough, perennially plaguing this nation, would have significantly lessened if not stopped. The people would have grown optimistic and alert, keeping politicians under scrutiny, confident that vigilance could protect the treasury; that the law also reaches the high and mighty. The world would no longer point an unwavering finger at us as a corrupt society. Our citizens would hold their heads high everywhere.
This would have been our best achievement yet. It could have been the beginning of a cultural leap for we would have at last declared seriousness about constructing a civilisation in Trinidad and Tobago.
And it would have been a PNM achievement for our nation. But it was tragically destroyed, when PNM parliamentarians failed to protect it. Party members and patriots must demand answers.
Ralph Maraj is a former