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Raffique Shah


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A wild ride to elections

By Raffique Shah
February 1, 2015

For all its bountiful blessings—natural resources that allow us to live reasonably well, a mixture of races that dwell in relative harmony, a people that laugh more easily than they cry—this is a cussed country that moves with consummate ease from one political scandal to another, a society that has grown to accept a level of lawlessness and boorish behaviour that permeate it from top to bottom, from captain to crook.

If we do not get our weekly diet of corruption and conspiracy, we might roll over and die from boredom. We derive our sustenance from tracking murders and other serious crimes by the day. But it’s the political pepper-pot that garnishes the fare.

The current issues that occupy our attention are little different from what did five years ago when Patrick Manning, Calder Hart and some obscure “prophetess” took centre-stage, or months later when Reshmi Ramnarine was propelled into the spotlight when, as a clerk, she came perilously close to commanding the nation’s security apparatus.

Five years on, not one person who was said to be looting the Treasury or getting away with murder has been charged anything. In fact, we are is such a sorry state, the few culprits who were charged with corruption in the Piarco Airport scandal more than ten years ago remain free and would more than likely grow older and die before they face any trial.

The “prophetess” vanished in thin air, Hart is thumbing his nose at us from America, and Manning has the temerity to offer himself as a candidate for election for the twelfth time.

Meanwhile, the crime-busters who trumpeted their resolve to lock up every wrongdoer of yesteryear are themselves mired in wrongdoing which, many insist, is ten times worse than anything that went before.

What a mess.

In the latest imbroglio, people are wagering big money over whether or not Attorney General Anand Ramlogan will resign or be fired before the dust settles. I am not a gambler, so I shan’t put my chichi on the table. But I will surely suffer shock if he succumbs in this scandal. True, several other ministers and senior officials have resigned or been fired for wrongdoing, which is a welcome change from the earlier political culture.

If it does happen, Ramlogan’s departure under this cloud of controversy could prove to be fatal to his political career as well as to the UNC’s chances in the upcoming elections. This is the dilemma that the Prime Minister faces as she wrestles the issue at hand.

Any which way she chooses, her party is in serious trouble. If she fires Ramlogan, the electorate will ask why she appointed him to such high office in the first place. If she retains him and the matter under investigation points to him being culpable, that could well be a death-blow for the UNC.

From early o’clock in her stewardship, many people questioned her choices for certain key Cabinet positions as well as for state boards. Several of these selections returned to haunt her, maybe none more so than having the beleaguered Jack Warner as her second in command, as her choice to act as PM when she travelled abroad.

Long after Warner’s name became synonymous with serious scandals in FIFA, he was literally calling the shots in Cabinet, The PM defended him until the stench that hovered around him became oppressive, and even then, she allowed him to resign rather than fire him. By then, the damage had been done.

Warner remains a ghost that haunts the UNC (so many of them clung to his coattails), although now he is a mere shadow of what he was when Basdeo Panday breathed political life into him many moons ago.

While Ramlogan did not have the baggage that Warner did when he was made AG in 2010, the aura of office seems to have intoxicated him. He initiated legal actions against several state boards’ directors who had served under the PNM administration and, from the sanctum of Parliament, was vociferous in his attacks on perceived enemies of the ruling coalition.

Now that he faces allegations of wrongdoing of a serious nature, the PM will be in a quandary over how she deals with him.

The other issue that grabbed the spotlight was when House Speaker Wade Mark, adopting his customary sanctimonious stance, all but implicated the Judiciary in a bid to stifle debate on a matter that was not sub judice.

How he could have interpreted a letter from Finance Minister Larry Howai as an official communication from the Judiciary, defies explanation. But Wade is known to have missed the mark many times during his political career. And his apology to the House did nothing to redeem the office he holds.

As these issues engage the attention of the population, the sad reality is that however they may be resolved, we know they will not be the last such stench emanating from the stateroom that is Cabinet.

We can expect more scandals to erupt, embroiling other ministers and high officials as the battle to retain power intensifies. It will be a wild ride from here to elections day.

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