Warner’s trail of wrongdoing can’t be ignored

At one time the buzz surrounding contemptible Jack Warner’s remaining a member of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesar’s cabinet in Trinidad and Tobago, despite the abundance of unsavory stuff swirling around him, was that he had “the goods” on Bissessar and her crew, enough so to bring down her government if she cut him loose. The weight of Warner’s trail of questionable practices evidently reached critical mass for the prime minister with the release of a special investigator’s report earlier this year on the affairs of CONCACAF, the Caribbean regional football federation, which detailed a pattern of dubious behavior with respect to the federation’s finances. Relinquishing, as well, his parliamentary seat and post as chairman of Bissessar’s party, the United National Congress (UNC), after he was forced out of the cabinet last April, Warner was presumably fueled by some “I’ll show them” propulsion when he indicated he would run again for the seat he resigned, in the process announcing formation of a new party.

We don’t consider Warner’s winning of that central Trinidad seat, which he just did on Monday, to be quite the ethnic voting bombshell some have suggested. The constituency being predominantly Indo-Trinidadian and thus in the heartland of the UNC’s support base, Warner would not have won the seat back in 2010 had he not been aligned with the UNC. He was also, from all we’ve gathered, determined to be a Johnny-on-the-spot representative in dealing with constituent problems and reportedly spent liberally both from government resources and his own pockets in this regard. Of critical significance, too, in the Warner stratagem, he made a point of conveying a shared ethnic bond with constituents and frequently sported in public certain symbolic manifestations of an alleged conversion to the Hindu faith. Notably, some months ago when thousands took to the streets in protest against probably the most egregious of the current government’s many abuses of power (the scandal known as Section 34), then national security minister Warner was constrained to remark derisively that Afro-Trinidadians were the only ones protesting.

Warner, for the three years he was in the Parliament as a UNC member, took pains to craft a very pro-Indo image and one that was at times downright dismissive of what one presumed to be his own side of the ethnic divide. So the sweeping generalization made in some quarters that a Warner victory in the by-election is illustrative of some shifting in Trinidad and Tobago’s ingrained tradition of ethnic voting is somewhat flawed, given Warner’s political gyrations over time that have brought him to where he now stands.

It is very unlikely that any objective review of Warner — during his long tenure in FIFA or in activities concurrent with or following this – would conclude otherwise than here’s an individual for whom moral high ground is seemingly a non-existent concept. An individual who might be the personification of the definitive artful dodger. But in routinely designating a small slice of his personal pie for “good works” display, he has cunningly created a deflecting mechanism. The tactic assures that there would always be some few befogged and beguiled by the veneer of caring and/or benevolence and content to be blind to the slithery path that made it possible. It is, in the truest sense, finely tuned trickery.

Despite a song and dance about opting to work for his people, Warner’s departure from his cushy position in FIFA was hardly voluntary. Neither he nor Bissessar had earlier seen the need for him to leave the FIFA post in the clear conflict of interest created when he was named a government minister. Warner’s FIFA exit was obviously occasioned by an impending investigation into his role in the bribing of Caribbean football executives at a meeting in Port of Spain.

Questions have apparently remained unresolved over funds from FIFA entrusted to Warner for earthquake relief in Haiti, following allegations that the amount of the FIFA donation was considerably compromised by the time it got to the intended recipients.

Controversy endures also over the Centre of Excellence, a facility in Trinidad said to have been bankrolled by FIFA and supposedly intended primarily for football-related business. Warner contends the FIFA funds were gifted to him; FIFA has insisted otherwise.

Some Warner apologists have, in bizarre fashion, attempted to rationalize these and other bouts of dirty dealing with the claim that Trinis or black folk have not been the ones victimized. The people of Haiti and the members of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cup squad, denied for years by Warner their rightful participation fees until it was quietly settled recently, would disagree.

Warner compounds this boundless avarice with being coarse, uncouth, altogether unprincipled. In this period of extended farewell to saintly Nelson Mandela, it behooves Trinidad and Tobago nationals to recall Warner’s embarking on a trip to South Africa with then party leader Basdeo Panday during an election campaign to “hustle” Mandela for a photo op/endorsement. There are among us, he discovered, those who rejected such chicanery. The list of Warner poor-taste classics includes his telling a protesting hunger striker to “hurry up and dead”.

The notion that Warner’s by-election win magically makes of him a Puritan is fantasy. He is, as newspaper columnist Michael Harris once noted, “the prince of perfidy.” That’s not about to change. And there’s no consideration more critical for Trinidad and Tobago’s people in assessing this man.

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