Least of the looters

By Raffique Shah
August 20, 2019

Raffique ShahIf the arrest of ex-Minister Marlene McDonald, and her indictment on fraud and misbehaviour in public office charges did anything for the morale of citizens, it was to restore confidence in some investigative units of the Police Service, and underscore the independence of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Before a battery of lawyers, other judicial officers and supporters of the People’s National Movement swoop down on me for seemingly violating the legal principle of presumption of innocence until otherwise proven, let me assure them that I am fully conversant with the law, and I am not suggesting that Marlene is guilty of any of the charges she faces. In fact, I empathised with her when I learnt of her health woes and the extended detention she endured before she was allowed bail. And as she herself said, she will have her day in court. “I will be vindicated,” she added.

For her sake, I hope so.

What I’m focusing on is the fact that in this matter the police and the DPP have effectively dealt with the perception that politicians and other holders of high office are beyond the reach of the law. When, a few months ago, Attorney General under the People’s Partnership government, Anand Ramlogan, and UNC senator Gerald Ramdeen were arrested, interrogated and charged with fraud-related offences, talk on the street and on social media was that they were targeted because they belonged to the opposition United National Congress.

Well, Marlene’s arrest has put paid to such notion, she being a senior PNM official and minister at the time of her arrest. The police and the DPP are saying: you do the crime, you face the music, and maybe you do the time—whatever political party you belong to, however high the office you hold or held. Which is how justice should be dispensed and how the law should be applied.

Bearing in mind some of the offences Marlene has been charged with date back to more than a decade, legitimate concerns can be raised over the sluggish pace of investigations. It cannot be that the police officers are deliberately dragging their feet on scores if not hundreds of allegations of corruption. It must be the information they need to build a case that warrants charges is difficult to access on a timely basis, or they suffer with manpower shortages that frustrate them. Whatever the impediments, they need to be rectified.

Let’s throw our minds back to the close-to-twenty-years-old Piarco Airport corruption charges against several ex-ministers, party financiers and businessmen. I believe the matter is in the closing stages of the preliminary inquiry, whereupon the magistrate will decide whether or not any or all of the accused will stand trial before a high court judge, which could take another 10 or 15 years.

By then, many of the police investigators will have retired, and the accused, who were not young men when they allegedly committed the offences, might pass on to the Great Beyond. If that happens, and I’m not wishing it on them, they would never have had the opportunity to clear their names or do the time.

Either way, justice will not have prevailed. Marlene and Anand have just joined the queue, along with a few lesser-known businessmen and public officials. How long they will remain in the purgatory of being on remand is uncertain. Luckily for all the so-called white collar crime accused, they are out on bail, carrying on with their lives as normally as is possible with such clouds hanging over them.

Spare a thought for scores of innocent prisoners who are rotting in jail as they await trial because their charges are non-bailable, or worse, their families cannot afford to secure bail. Note well I specified innocent prisoners.

In a related issue, I did a double-take last week when I heard Minister Fitzgerald Hinds express surprise over extortion rackets that are rampant in certain crime-infested communities. He was speaking in Parliament—maybe it was a re-run of a debate on one of the new anti-crime Bills. I was shocked that he was surprised because Mafia-style extortion, namely gangsters demanding “protection” money from contractors and/or business operators in much of the East-West Corridor is virtually factored into their bids or cost of doing business.

I have written about it before. I have several friends, mostly small contractors, who have, for many years, been victims of the racket. It’s simple “subtract-math” (or add-math, depending on one’s perspective: you get a small contract from, say, WASA, to effect repairs and restoration in any such district, and even before you mobilise manpower and equipment, you are approached by the gang leaders who demand up-front payment and jobs for their members who will not work.

Take it or leave it—no negotiations! You resist or make reports to the police, you will never be allowed to work there, you may be killed, or you fold up and get out of business. Such extortion now extends to weekly “taxes” on small businesses ranging from your once-friendly neighbourhood “mini-mart” or grocery to small restaurants. Note, these heartless criminals target almost exclusively small businesses, never the big establishments that can afford firepower as defence.

I, who do not traverse or live in a high-risk area (my wife and I were robbed at gunpoint back in 2002) know of these criminal activities, so I was surprised that Mr. Hinds was surprised. The phenomenon of the “box-drains millionaires”, which spread like a virulent cancer during the People’s Partnership term of office, was similar, though not identical.

Party hacks and their muscle-men who knew little or nothing about mixing concrete, far less gradient of drainage systems, were awarded lucrative contracts, with kickbacks to senior officials factored in. They became millionaires, box-drains criss-cross the country, many of them flowing in the wrong directions, and the flooding continues…

In the overall scheme of corruption, in this country where billions of dollars disappear into private hands and accounts every year, Marlene may well be the least of the looters—if she is found guilty.

5 thoughts on “Least of the looters”

  1. Finally it appears as though the PNM controlled DPP office is waking up to its duty, its oath of office and the public perception of some people remains untouchable. The police has always wanted to act on the advice of that office. Calder, Joan Yuelles, Pena, the many “cost over run” project reeking of corruption. For the first time in 56 years of nationhood, the public is beginning to believe again.

    The PNM is preparing its election campaign by sacrificing poor Marlene as a pig to be slaughtered. Her sacrifice will result in the arrest of several Opposition parliamentarians along with those involved in the airport inquiry. The police officers working in the anti corruption department are strongly pro PNM in their world view. Expect several indian businessmen to be arrested and jailed just in time for local government election, then some more before General Elections.

    Keith Rowley $90 million fake oil appears to be in nirvana. So to his emailgate scandal which should have seen him arrested and interrogated in regards to the source of these emails. The lie detector should have been placed on him. Landate, $20 million housing money, clever heights, $90 million fake oil, emailgate, etc. My advice to the anti corruption squad, take a close look at Rowley cousin accounts.

    We all await the big guns of justice to send investigators abroad to full recoup stolen tax payers dollars.

  2. Value judgments in terms of degree when evaluating crime and criminals contribute to the acceptance and normalization of illegal activities in T&T. There is no such phenomenon as “least” or minimal fraud or corruption.Fraud and misbehavior are precisely what these terms define: illegal activities.
    Describing Marlene as “the least of the looters” implies degree of criminality and implicitly minimizes her corruption.This postulation should never be accepted by the legal institutions or the country.This widely popular mode of thinking and acceptance is why we are in this sorry state today.

  3. Lt Shah. The lawyers have a strangle hold on the justice system in this country. More crime more fees.

  4. “The phenomenon of the “box-drains millionaires”, which spread like a virulent cancer during the People’s Partnership term of office, was similar, though not identical.“

    It was only under KPB that wealth distribution entered the golden age of TnT. Prior under Manning and now Rowley only the 1% enjoyed the privilege of raiding the treasury. Today no schools have been built or completed as the wealth has been securely stashed in the PNM privilege club. Dem people in the south should get Nuttin.

    It must be noted oil drained out of the south and billions of dollars obtained went to develop north. What has north produced in terms of wealth except a high amount of “loochos” drawing big salary as the P.M. said if they don’t get their money they vex too bad.

    Regional Corporation Funding.
    Port-of-Spain – $251,753,700
    San Fer­nan­do – $143,337,100
    Ch­agua­nas – $86,460,500
    Diego Mar­tin – $109,300,000
    As noted PNM constituencies are well funded. They savour the fat of land. They have no box drain millionaires in those constituencies. Instead the money is syphoned off into PNM sinkholes with nothing to show. What exactly is the funding formula for these regional corporations?

    In Chaguanas the lack of funding according to the mayor “He said the re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture al­so in­cludes elec­tric­i­ty bills and ve­hi­cle main­te­nance. Bood­han said out of 79 ve­hi­cles man­aged by the Ch­agua­nas Bor­ough, some 36 are not func­tion­al.”

    The short man has increased the national debt considerably, borrowing and borrowing. The Port of Spain media has turned a blind eye to his mischief. Manning shut down Caroni and gave the rum stocks to Angustura. The Italians are selling Trinidad rum for $3,000 a bottle. Rowley killed the energy sector and hired his own lawyer to run things.

    Yes folks the emporer have no clothing. And no one seem to care because he is a PNM emporer.

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