There’s been no shortage of comment since Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s dramatic action a few days ago, in firing several colleagues, from both within the cabinet and elsewhere in her beleaguered government, in the wake of yet another scandal. The dilemma for many an observer of these latest palace machinations is: what rationale could there be for making a rash of changes in key government positions when the life of the government is but mere months shy of expiring. That is, unless there are plans already hatched to pull a 1955 re-do and prolong the current administration’s tenure.
Central to the plot on this occasion, and not for the first time, was the now departed attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, the biggest head that rolled. Under investigation for a serious witness tampering allegation, Ramlogan had virtually no chance of surviving, given what was now engulfing him — a situation made only more dire when a fellow cabinet member, the national security minister, corroborated the allegation against him.
So Bissessar knew she had to dump Ramlogan but, like so many times previously, she had difficulty calling a spade a spade. We don’t know if Bissessar has now gotten to keeping her own counsel or whether there’s some guru or spin master who designs plays for her, especially when she is forced to deal from behind the eight-ball. But one is curious as to what she thought she was doing when she began her announcement about the deck shuffling by referencing her oath of office, and the integrity it demands of her. And then proceeded to demonstrate, in the very announcement, how non-existent integrity has been among her administration’s players, herself included.
It seems pretty clear that Bissessar was loath to dispense with Ramlogan…at least exclude him from any formal role in government. Many believe that he was the key strategist and orchestrator for moves made by the government that registered negatively in the public arena or provoked serious questions or flat-out ignited anger and major pushback. Early in her administration’s term, Bissessar seized the opportunity to confer Senior Counsel status on Ramlogan and herself…which raised eyebrows but ultimately the two rode out that storm in a teacup unscathed. Even when an issue surfaced surrounding Ramlogan’s ownership or questionable dealings with two high-priced luxury vehicles, the hue and cry abated with little harm done in Ramlogan’s world.
But it was the PM’s hands-off attitude toward Ramlogan in the notorious power abuse episode known as “Section 34” that Ramlogan, and by extension Bissessar, have had difficulty shaking. Section 34 being a bit of legislative sleight-of-hand in 2012, when the government extracted one section of a criminal justice bill and rushed it to then President Max Richards for proclamation, the nefariousness of the strange move soon exposed as a maneuver intended to benefit two party financiers facing possible jail terms. When pressure from many quarters brought the Section 34 matter to a boil, Bissessar’s posture of righteous indignation was immediately seen as fabricated once she let Ramlogan slide and forced another minister to walk the plank.
And wouldn’t you know that it was repercussions from the Section 34 debacle that came back to bite Ramlogan in the rear end! Obviously seething over having no choice but ditch Ramlogan, the PM’s response was apparently two-pronged. First, handing down maximum punishment (dismissal) to the individual seen as most responsible for Ramlogan’s fall, National Security Minister Gary Griffith. But there’s also an impending election to run and win, facing what probably are declining odds. Well aware that it’s pretty much a lost cause identifying the government collectively with integrity or principle, Bissessar’s offer of herself as embodying those better angels seemed the only game in town.
It begins, after a while, to wear thin, this idea that even as top dog in a yard of mean, vicious mongrels, you are ignorant of, and consequently blameless, in the epidemic of hideous behavior relentlessly going down. This is the image of her that Bissessar insists the polity should unquestioningly accept — that the cascade of wrongdoing that has practically become her administration’s imprimatur has, in every instance, unfolded outside of her awareness. Which defies logic and common sense.
We believe the prime minister saw this most recent imbroglio as her personal call to arms for the upcoming elections, requiring her to not only unload Ramlogan and cause some grief for their “turncoat” colleague, but go into overdrive on the “integrity” kick. Only a bloodbath would send the message, never mind its not making sense as far as serious governance, given the timing.
Subterfuge may well impact as intended in a less challenging diversionary mission. A different ballgame here. There have just been too many opportunities along the way for Bissessar to truly stand up for integrity in governance. Eleventh-hour “gallery” sessions to whitewash a severely blemished trail figure to be simply too transparent to do the PM much good.