By Raffique Shah
September 27, 2009
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog
It is depressing, to say the least, watching men and women who hold high offices, eschew discourse in favour of diatribe as they engage each other in matters of national interest. The latest salvo fired by Attorney General John Jeremie as he responded to statements by the Law Association, is a case in point. Clearly, the AG believes he and his colleagues in government are being targeted by political opponents, which is why he must descend into the gutter to snipe at the “enemy”.
Really, such behaviour is unseemly, as my stiff-upper-lip instructors and lecturers at Sandhurst used to say. It’s not that the premier military academy lived up to the tenets it supposedly held sacred. As far as we cadets were concerned, there were two languages taught at Sandhurst: English and Obscene! I graduated with an “A” in the former and an “A-plus” in the latter, as my friends and foes would attest to.
Having admitted to being no saint, I can now preach to Jeremie and other hysterical politicians on their conduct in public. What they say or do in their private lives is not my business, nor should it concern others-except if it impacts on their public lives. For example, if public personalities are closet-homosexuals or deeply religious persons, of what relevance is that to you or me? If, however, they steal from the public purse in conducting their private affairs, then that becomes our business.
Recently, in the UK, several members of Parliament and the House of Lords were found to have “padded” their expenses, thus robbing the public purse of large sums of money. They should have been charged and jailed. Instead, most of the culprits were simply asked to return the loot, which I think was unjust. Had ordinary British citizens committed crimes of a lesser order, they would have been charged and possibly jailed.
The issue that prompted harsh exchanges between the AG on the one hand, and the Law Association and other prominent attorneys on the other, is an affidavit filed by Yasin Abu Bakr in a court matter in which the State is seeking to recover some money from Bakr for public property damaged or destroyed during the 1990 attempted coup. In his affidavit, which was struck off the records by all courts that heard the matter, Bakr claimed that he had cut a deal with PNM leader Patrick Manning (as distinct from Prime Minister Manning) during one recent general election.
According to Bakr, in exchange for his organisation helping the PNM marshal votes in marginal constituencies, Manning promised, should his party win the elections, it would withdraw court action seeking to levy on Bakr’s empire-like properties. For those with short memories, Bakr had made a similar claim with respect to assistance he had rendered to the UNC in the run-up to the 1995 election that Basdeo Panday’s party won. In fact, the plot thickens. Prior to 1995, and afterwards, the UNC had actually fielded Muslimeen candidates in local government elections.
There is more. During a by-election in which Indera Sagewan ran for the UNC, the NAR’s Selby Wilson stormed off the platform when enquiries he made about the presence of two Muslimeen men were not adequately addressed. So Bakr allegedly helped the UNC, the PNM and who knows how many other politicians and parties in various elections. My question is this: why, if he wielded such decisive influence, didn’t Bakr and the Muslimeen contest the elections? Why give power to politicians you could not trust when you could yourself have taken power-via the polls? Chavez did it. Why not Bakr?
Be that as it may, Justice Rajendra Narine resurrected the controversial affidavit when he ruled in favour of the State in the properties matter. AG Jeremie insists the judge was wrong in asking the Commissioner of Police and the DPP to investigate Bakr’s claims. The Law Association disagrees. Could these two not meet in private and debate their differences, rather than engage in jammette-like exchanges in public? It’s what one would expect of professionals, of cultured intellects.
But the gutter-like behaviour is not confined to this issue or these gentlemen-if I may so address them. The PM is not averse to “pelting stone” at anyone who dares disagree with him. Yuh don’t want smelter ah building three (and with your money, eh!). Loosen your belts-we are not in recession. Wait keep it tight things still touchy! You dare question the kinds of friends I keep? I love my Hart!
And in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that is already tenuous to keep together, ministers carry their Christian crosses the way Christ did on that fateful day however many years ago. How, then, can they criticise Muslims who cover themselves from head-to-toes, or challenge the Imam who, last Sunday, asked his flock to not mix with non-Muslims? Or question Hindu children and their adult backers who insist on planting “jhandis” in public places?
Intolerance is the order of the day, whatever we may say to the contrary. Reasoned debate has given way to downright diatribe that reeks of a George Street stink-drain or whore-littered alley. What an unholy mess.
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