Turning a blind eye to Warner-gate

For the second time we have found it handy to invoke, in this space, one of those Trinidadian witticisms that made it into the vernacular a few years ago, its acclamation and application immediate and widespread. Maybe because the shelf life of “How it go look?” had long run its course by the time the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar began in 2010, an awareness of actions and their consequences is far less keen than it should be for the government. Indeed, it’s fair to say that indifference to “how it looks” has become routine practice for the ruling party. And certainly one of the dramatic manifestations of this is the continued presence in Bissessar’s cabinet of a very tainted Jack Warner, the infamy magnified by his being named recently as minister of national security.

Warner’s assignment to his new post was announced in a cabinet reshuffle the other day. Because he is a former FIFA big cheese, whose murky and controversial trail, in that connection, has garnered international headlines, what does or doesn’t happen with Warner transcends the Trinidad and Tobago political landscape. And this too might give pause, one would expect, to how the prime minister treats with the undeniably toxic quality Warner’s inclusion in the cabinet represents. Hewing defiantly to the path of hubris, however, Bissessar made like Warner’s towering accumulation of questionable conduct was no cause célèbre. And his retention as minister of works, after his pirouette and resignation from FIFA last year in the face of what looked to be a sure-fire dose of trouble, has now morphed to Bissessar “handing him unrestricted access to private lives and public institutions,” as Trinidad Express contributor Clarence Rambharat observed.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this affront to morality in public affairs is that Bissessar could pull it off obviously because she was convinced enough of the citizenry was on board with the fluff about Warner being the “hardest working” minister and that this superseded whatever else he brought to the dance in the way of transgressions (which definitely weren’t of the traffic ticket variety). Warner’s Johnny-on-the-spot grandstanding as works minister, clearly designed to de-fang those allegations of impropriety, had the desired effect on John Public (in sufficient volume, at least) for him to bask in performance glory, the trappings of service delivery coming with the package. Folks one would assume to know better went for this razzle-dazzle, offered testimonials about how early Warner got to work each morning, and thought all of this better than fair exchange for excusing a raft of wrongdoing attributed to the man.

When Warner parted company with FIFA last year, he grandly declared it was so he could devote himself to serving his country. Nothing in Warner’s past suggests that he wouldn’t still be a football power figure if he could, precious few, one would think, buying anything but saving his bacon in the face of a bribery scandal as reason for the resignation. The bribery allegations, leveled at himself and Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, stemmed from a meeting of CONCACAF, the regional football federation, last year in Port of Spain. Warner would say of the charges, that FIFA was hanging him out to dry, since handing out gifts to attendees at such gatherings was common FIFA practice. It was immaterial, apparently, that the “gifts” in this instance were envelopes stuffed with cash, meaning that an estimated $US 1 million had been brought into the country illegally.

Both prior to and since Warner got into government, making news of an unflattering nature seems to have been an ongoing feature for this guy. There’s the still unresolved issue of monies allegedly owed to Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cup Soca Warriors. There’s the issue of funds donated by FIFA and the Korean Football Association for earthquake relief in Haiti, which reportedly went through Warner and which gave rise to claims that Haiti did not receive all of the allocated monies. There’s a campaign finance matter still awaiting court judgment. And that’s hardly the full story. The point here being that any head of government who gives succor to a member of her governing crew around whom there’s instance after instance of malfeasance, or the appearance of it, would be considered, under normal circumstances, absolutely in violation of the public trust. Bissessar’s heralding of Warner as some indispensable talent exemplifies government unapologetically out of control. Worse, that among citizens there could be voiced the view that Warner is perhaps best suited to be the national security overlord is in truth a lament, a sobering commentary on the degree of societal dysfunction in the country.

National security in Trinidad and Tobago has assumed dimensions where, by now, it probably has outstripped the capacities of any individual portfolio holder. An inter-ministerial approach might well be a model worth exploring in confronting the challenges this area poses. Be that as it may, Warner’s being installed in the role, whatever its design, is, in the words of one football veteran very familiar with the Warner odyssey, “an insult.” Referencing the People’s Partnership coalition that forms the government, Rambharat in the Express commented: “For those who stand for goodness, civility and good governance, Warner’s new appointment without exoneration is an act of Partnership thuggery.” We couldn’t agree more.

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