The rot is deep in Trinidad and Tobago. It starts at the top. Today the entire parliament—government, opposition and independents— stands revealed and disfigured.
We should be very concerned about the surreptitious proclamation of Section 34 but we should be even more alarmed about the actual passage of the legislation several months ago. Proclaiming it prematurely merely hastens the freedom of those accused of corruption. It is the passage of the legislation which first guaranteed that freedom to come sooner or later.
The Attorney General confessed: "whether the act was proclaimed three, four or five years from now, the outcome would be the same": persons accused of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and other offences, could be set free. So whilst this incorrigible government is further discredited by the secret proclamation and should resign, the rest of the parliament—opposition and independents—is equally disgraced by agreeing to the legislation in the first place. They should go too.
So don't be fooled by the theatre. Faked indignation all around! But they could jump high or bend low, they could march to Mars or write to Timbuktu, none can escape the fact that every parliamentarian—government, opposition and independent—stands guilty of having supported Section 34. All should hang their heads in shame, all fall on their knees and beg forgiveness of the people whom they betrayed.
This was no blunder. They all knew what they were doing — that Schedule 6 did not include serious offences like corruption, fraud and money-laundering. Yet they agreed. How could they? Didn't they see, like Pamela Elder SC, that "corruption is also a blood crime, since it bleeds the country financially" and consequently cheats everybody, particularly children and the needy?
We must be extremely careful. Money-driven politics corrupts a society and its institutions: parliament, police, cabinet, the judiciary. If that develops here, our democracy is done. And if the people do nothing, we do not deserve the name of citizen.
We must recognise that Section 34 posed one of the gravest dangers to this country since Independence. Whenever it was proclaimed, yesterday or next year, our society could have collapsed. Individuals accused of stealing over a billion dollars would have walked free. The population would have been maddened in the extreme and with most dire consequences. Parliament was playing with fire.
Imagine the scenario, which could still occur: for days, after each case, those accused of stealing hundreds of millions, former ministers and high officials, about 15 individuals emerge from the courts in full view of the cameras, smiling broadly, exultant, triumphant, some with fists punching the air, others speaking arrogantly to reporters, some smoking cigars, dismissive, cynical; all entering expensive, shiny, chauffeur-driven cars, rich and free, driving off to continue guzzling champagne and leaving in their dust, a population hurt, humiliated, hungry, bewildered and increasingly furious. Trust in the state would have completely evaporated, our social fabric rendered combustible. One incident would have sparked eruption, collapse of law and order, and frightening chaos. Our darkest abyss awaited us.
And our beloved parliamentarians—government, opposition and independents— would have caused it when they agreed to Section 34. Our very own Parliament would have maimed this country for generations hereafter. This will remain an "unerasable" shame in the nation's history. Our entire Parliament succumbed. Months before our golden anniversary! What a gift to the people!
This treachery must be examined. We know why the Partnership wanted the legislation. But what was in it for the PNM? Why, fully aware of the implications, did the Opposition give its support, without which the bill would have failed? Who or what influenced the PNM, after its first concerns? Did the Opposition forget that as guardian of the people, they must 'against the murderer shut the door, not bear the knife themselves'?
Keith Rowley must answer these burning questions instead of fuming and foaming, producing hot air to hide guilt. The PNM leader has been particularly pathetic. For almost two days he said nothing after the matter surfaced. Only when he could no longer duck, did he jump on his high horse to protest louder than everybody, hoping to avoid scrutiny. Such transparent sanctimoniousness, railing against the proclamation but studiously avoiding the passage of the Act to which he had led his Opposition parliamentarians. He could have at least done like Helen Drayton and apologised.
But apology would not have sufficed. According to one editorial, "given that certain PNM financiers have their own legal challenges" what could be the party's reason for supporting the government but "an agreement that you scratch my back and I scratch yours." Jeesus! Such infestation of the Parliament? Was there collusion between Government and Opposition, Kamla and Keith, to deceive the nation?
The only way to clean the incipient Augean stables is to dissolve this dishonoured parliament and start afresh. The people must demand it. They must also ensure that political parties not allow any present parliamentarian to face the electorate. The President should never reappoint any of those independents who ignominiously supported Section 34, months ago.
Extreme? Absolutely not. Surgery is essential. See our grave danger, the nation rotting at the upper levels and the body becoming increasingly diseased. Behold our champagne elite: Prime Minister, Attorney General, Ministers, Opposition Leader, Independents, other MPs and Senators, entrusted with our care but enacting section 34. And on receiving the unusual proclamation request, couldn't the President, like his predecessor, have used the power of delay to make his disgust known, or consulted his lawyers on his options?
There is no one to save us but ourselves. Our parliamentarians have perpetrated a great darkness on the country. Fire them all. Back to the polls!
• Ralph Maraj is a former