The government of Trinidad and Tobago led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will have been in office three years come May. All things considered, whatever Bissessar’s administration has undertaken on the plus side for the country has been eclipsed big time by the cascade of negative headlines that have roiled the prime minister and her crew, beginning rather early in their term. Somewhat of a constant in the underside of the narrative has been the man holding the national security portfolio, Jack Warner. And, faithful to the script, Warner is again front and center in the latest brouhaha, inseparable from the dark cloud that came with the package – something Bissessar and her colleagues knew as well as just about everyone else.
Warner’s Achilles heel, in the latest imbroglio as often before, is the long association he had with FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, where he had become a known power player. Holding a vice presidential post in FIFA when the Bissessar-headed People’s Partnership assumed the reins of government in 2010, no way should Warner have been allowed to become a cabinet minister without relinquishing his FIFA role. In any government beholden to principle, so strong an appearance of conflict would have made simultaneous serving of both masters a matter not for discussion. The government’s resort to language about “seeking legal opinion” was a tell-tale sign, if ever there was one, and Warner’s continuing his FIFA gig while heading a government ministry probably held surprise for very few when it became a done deal. When Warner departed FIFA, not of his own volition (as he dared, unabashedly, to declare), but under allegations of bribery, it only underscored the morality issue for the ruling team, Warner by then hardly singular among government figures raising eyebrows. But with respect to Warner, it was left to the prime minister to make the plot an even bigger “theater of the absurd” blockbuster by announcing a cabinet reshuffle that made him minister of national security.
The current flare-up of controversy surrounding Warner again has to do with alleged questionable activity during his FIFA tenure. A recent Reuters news report quoted sources which named Warner’s son as a “cooperating witness” in an investigation by the FBI into alleged unsavory goings-on within FIFA. Which has only fueled speculation, anew, about Warner’s continuing to be a government minister – why has he not either stepped down voluntarily or been dismissed by the prime minister. Nothing in the Warner profile familiar to the public would suggest any readiness on his part to step down on his own. As for Bissessar wielding the axe, the buzz has been that Warner has the sort of goods on her that buffers him against any such move. And that in turn feeds into the whispering that, from day one, has not abated about personal conduct issues ascribed to the prime minister. Bissessar’s inaction on Warner so far would presumably be really put to the test if whatever is currently circulating around him becomes the kind of heat in the face of which a continued business-as-usual strut could be a bit of a challenge. So it goes.
Although the fat lady may not yet have sung regarding what Warner did or didn’t do that was none too wholesome, there’s no secret about the caustic tone he seems all too ready to show off in the course of functioning in the public arena. It was what has sadly come to be seen as a typical performance by him when he commented about an activist on a hunger strike against a government project, that the man should just hurry up and die. Even so, as we said, Warner is by no means a lone face of perfidy in the Bissessar government. One of the banner instances of governmental skullduggery was what came to be known as the Section 34 matter, where the administration surreptitiously rushed one section of a crime and punishment bill to the country’s president for him to sign. Once it was revealed that the stealth move to get this section of the bill proclaimed was a time-sensitive action apparently designed to get off the hook political cronies of the government possibly facing jail time, the public backlash was fierce. Huge crowds took to the streets in protest against the brazen abuse of power, albeit that the now departed President Max Richards made no converts as to his diligence in office when he was snookered into signing the egregious measure. And Bissessar’s sacrificial firing of the justice minister over the scandal was evidently seen largely as an appeasement ploy that never had traction.
Early in the government’s term, an ongoing drumbeat about nepotism in the ranks had probably its most dramatic big-screen projection in the infamous Reshmi affair, in which an inadequately credentialed young woman was being readied to assume one of the top-echelon security posts. Between Reshmi in the early phases and Section 34 in the latter part of 2012, the government’s trail has been strewn with abuses of all forms and proportions, a common characteristic being, worryingly, an indifference to, as the calypsonian once said, “how it go look.”
In elections in Tobago a couple of months ago, what seemed a strong message was delivered, with voters electing not a single administration-backed candidate. But If past performance is any guide, it’s a message that won’t likely be heeded.