Saturday, January 20, 2018

Never a dull moment with Warner


controversial: Jack Warner

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Jack Warner is a man who stirs emotions.

Loved by many, hated by some—or it could be reversed—he is no stranger to controversy and the past year has been a testing one for him.

As Minister of Works and Infrastructure he was polled as the best performing Minister in Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's Government.

However, Warner's glory faded to some degree as he found himself embroiled in bribery allegations last year with former Asian Football Federation president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

The proud jefe of international football was forced to resign his position as FIFA vice-president and president of CONCACAF and Caribbean Football Union.

At the start of 2012, this cloud hung over Warner and the distance between him and the Prime Minister was obvious. Warner was out in the cold—he did not have his way, it seemed, as in January he was forced to write to Persad-Bisssessar and former minister of finance Winston Dookeran requesting that funds be released for the operations of the Programme for the Upgrade of Road Efficiency (PURE).

Persad-Bissessar had commissioned an audit into PURE following allegations of irregularities.

Warner's hands were tied—works were stalled and the man who once had the Prime Minister's ear had to now pen letters asking for money.

Warner wins UNC election

In March, the ice melted.

Warner contested the chairmanship of the United National Congress (UNC) and defeated attorney Ashvani Mahabir by a landslide.

He received 12,656 votes—the highest number cast in the election.

Warner had said he was not surprised and performance beats old talk any day.

"What the results show is that the racial bogey is on its way out. Gone are the days when Indians would vote for an Indian and Africans will vote for an African, that is out. People did not look or judge me by the colour of my skin or my hair, they voted on performance, not race," he said.

Warner said the party's new executive would work on changing the perception that the UNC was run by a cabal.

"We have to make sure we change that perception, I think that is one of the things we have to discuss as a new executive," he said.

By April, back in the good graces of the Prime Minister, PURE was back in business and some $300 million was approved by the Cabinet for 166 projects across the country. Jack was back and moving at pace with infrastructural works under his Ministry.

Warner appointed National Security Minister

In June came the biggest shake- up in the People's Partnership Cabinet when Persad-Bissessar named Warner as her new Minister of National Security, replacing Brigadier John Sandy.

The Prime Minister expressed confidence in Warner in curbing the escalating crime rate, describing his as an "action man".

But Warner started off his new role on a rocky road as his first order of business was to instruct the police and army to demolish the protest camp site of the Highway Re-Route Movement.

Warner himself, together with former minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap, was on site at dawn to oversee the demolition exercise.

While he faced criticism from the Opposition People's National Movement (PNM) and even the Congress of the People (COP), Warner remained unfazed and had the backing of the majority of the Cabinet—including the Prime Minister.

"I have said before and I do reiterate again that I did not advise the Honourable Prime Minister nor the Cabinet before of my action and that I am prepared to rise and fall on the basis of such action," Warner declared as the criticisms poured in.

$M for crime fight

In August the heat turned up and Warner was pressed for a crime plan as the murder toll continued to rise.

Cabinet approved $289.6 million for crime-fighting initiatives. Warner announced that the new plan would see the hiring of more manpower, modernisation of the response technology, and more police vehicles.

In the plan, Warner said that $60 million would be spent on the full-time establishment of 5,000 special reserve police officers (SRPs) in varying ranks to be determined in consultation with the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP).

Warner's deputy fired

Later in August, the Prime Minister fired Partap as Minister in the Ministry of National Security, leaving Warner to run the Ministry on his own.

Partap was pulled over by police after leaving Zen night club and taken to Belmont Police Station, where he refused to take a Breathalyzer test—until Acting CoP Stephen Williams intervened.

Partap claimed that he called Williams because of a confrontational situation with the police.

Warner was critical of Partap's actions and issued a release which stated: "The Ministry conducted its own investigations which reveal that there was no evidence of any confrontational situation."

Warner described Partap's request for Williams to come to the Belmont station as "injudicious, unnecessary and inappropriate".

Warner and Section 34

The Section 34 fiasco took centre stage in September. Warner was present at a meeting with the Prime Minister and former justice minister Herbert Volney, following which Persad-Bissessar fired Volney and named Tobago-born attorney Christlyn Moore as the new Justice Minister.

In an interview, Warner told the media that the Government would not fall because of Section 34.

"This Government will not fall or lose an election based on Section 34, because we did the responsible thing of going back to the Parliament and correcting the error. In my humble view, the two major issues in this country at this time are crime and health. We have to deal with those critical issues, as well as the infrastructure of the country. Once we deal with those then I have no other problem," he said.

Warner lashes out at media

Later in September, Warner knocked the media, saying that media workers with an "axe to grind" against the Government should first be beyond reproach themselves.

"If you are going to attempt to expose people then be above reproach," Warner said.

He accused the media of pushing an agenda, claiming that some were "compliant" with the PNM.

"(Opposition Leader Dr Keith) Rowley is being propped up by a section of a compliant media," he charged.

He took issue with reports of Express investigative reporter Asha Javeed, noting that she had left the Guardian and moved to the Express and "you know her history...where she lives and so on..."

Warner bans and unbans crime statistics

In October, Warner again grabbed headlines—this time for his decision to ban the police from releasing crime statistics.

His move came after a man was murdered in Laventille, ending a 30-day ceasefire in the area.

Warner had described the killing as a "PNM Murder" and said the crime statistics being released were fuelling more crime.

Within 24 hours Warner back-tracked on his statements and issued a release explaining that the PNM murder comment was "inferred to a select few front line opposition members of Parliament who have continued to make negative statements which may have the effect of nullifying the gains made over the last month, instead of looking at ways in which we could work together to ensure the statistics remain in check".

Warner also apologised for stating that statistics will be withheld.

"The issue is not about withholding the statistics—it is about the management of the sensitive information that many times is released along with the statistic that always has the potential to inflame additional crime—particularly when treating with the issue of gangs and the 'gang culture'," he said.

Where are the Indians?

At the beginning of November, Warner again was the centre of attention as he raised the issue of race.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley together with trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) marched through the capital city demanding that Volney and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan be removed from office for the Section 34 fiasco.

Warner called a news conference at the National Security Ministry to say that police checks had estimated the march at a maximum 10,000 people and not more than 20,000 as the media had reported.

He also said that some 90 per cent of those who marched were PNM members and supporters and that the protest failed to get the inclusive movement they had been seeking.

The participants, he said, were mainly of one ethic group as he asked: "Where were the East Indians in the march today? Where were the mixed faces? Where were the white faces? And most of all, where were the young people?"

Warner: Kublalsingh should hurry up and die

Also in November, Warner was criticised, including by COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, for his statements with respect to environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, who went on a hunger strike in protest over the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin.

Warner, at a public meeting in Debe, claimed that Kublalsingh was fooling the nation and was eating hearty meals at night.

He also said that Kublalsingh was killing himself and he should do so quickly.

Warner also knocked Kublalsingh's political supporters, saying: "Every single one of them has an axe to grind against Kamla. Their presence, kissing Kublalsingh's hand and patting his forehead, has nothing to do with the highway. They see him as a stepping stone for their own political agendas and aspirations. Not one of them is fasting with him.

"And while it is all right to try and lobby support for your views, blackmail is wrong. You cannot threaten to kill yourself if you do not have your way. It is undemocratic and selfish. It is criminal," Warner said.

"My advice is that when he (Kublalsingh) goes to his secret homes in Maraval and Vistabella, he has a hearty meal. I am even advised that last week he was lying on the back seat of his vehicle eating a doubles. And it was not even a Debe doubles. What does Kublalsingh want? And therefore I ask you, what is the Government to do?"

I've never seen the Prime Minister drunk

In the midst of the Kublalsingh hunger strike, former Government minister Verna St Rose Greaves publicly disclosed that the Prime Minister was not in control of her Government and had a problem which was perceived to be one of "substance abuse".

Commenting on concerns of his former colleague, Warner said: "I have never seen the Prime Minister drunk in my life. In the past two years I have been in Government, I have no evidence whatsoever of that."

Warner claimed he was misled by former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj into stating on a public political platform that the PM had fallen on a statue of Gandhi while on a trip to India because she was drunk.

He charged that detractors had no evidence of wrongdoing against Persad-Bissessar and so had decided to attack her character instead.

Warner said he made the error of repeating the rumour on a political platform without investigating, but when he realised it was an untruth, he apologised to the PM.

He also disclosed that he had no files against the Prime Minister.

I can't tell you

This month Warner was in the spotlight once again—an exclusive Express report stated that he had failed to declare a $611,126.23 credit union account to the Integrity Commission.

Responding to media queries on the issue, Warner said: "I can't tell you. I have an accountant, he will tell you."

Which was just another quotable quote from the Minister who seems to go out of his way to baffle anyone who questions his credentials.