By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 18, 2020
If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.
I thought the expeditious manner in which the Prime Minister and his party handled the coronavirus pandemic rescued their fortunes and gave their supporters reason to believe the PNM would focus on the needs of ordinary people, albeit by circumstances rather than by choice.
Then the unravelling came. Without even being pushed, the Minister of National Security uttered the most unbelievable statements of his career and, by extension, the Government in which he serves. Inexplicably, he continues to do so in the face of evidence to the contrary.
In any serious country, he would have wrecked the fortunes of his Government, although Donald Trump seems to be crushing that convention into sawdust. The PNM may win the next general election but it has forfeited its respect and confidence in the eyes of many citizens.
These are the gory details. A Venezuelan delegation, led by Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, comes into the island, conducts its business with our Government, and leaves like a thief in the night. A brief public statement was made that a meeting was held, without disclosing details. Naturally, questions were immediately raised by disbelieving minds following which the minister said the delegation came to discuss the effects of the coronavirus on Venezuelan refugees.
Since the country closed its borders in late March, the public health coronavirus regulations gave the Minister of National Security the legal right to authorise any person, ship or aircraft carrier to enter T&T. When asked about the details of the meeting, Minister Young responded: ‘We did not know the type of plane, we did not know the rest of the delegation and, at our level, meaning the Cabinet Ministers accompanying the Prime Minister, that is not an unusual occurrence’ ( Express, May 14).
Did I read that correctly? Members of my Government attend a meeting with the leaders of a foreign government. They do not know the members of the foreign delegation and their portfolios, nor the matters they are going to discuss. They merely accompany the Prime Minister as carnival decorations.
How does one prepare for such a meeting? Apparently, the members who accompanied the Prime Minister know nothing, say nothing, contribute nothing, nor can they even appreciate what is being said since they are merely playing parts that have been assigned to them, without knowing what the play is all about.
It did not take long for the truth to emerge. In a letter dated March 20, 2020, Gary Joseph, acting permanent secretary in National Security wrote to Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews indicating that Young had granted Rodriguez and her delegation permission to enter the country.
The letter read: ‘Permission to enter the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago: Please be advised that the Minister of National Security has conveyed an exemption to the current travel restriction to the following members of the Venezuelan Delegation expected to arrive and depart Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, March 27, 2020.’
The delegation consisted of VP Rodriguez, Asdrubal Chavez (former president of Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and currently president of PDVSA); Juan Vincent Santana Migliacion, vice president of gas, PDVSA; Manuel Antonio Jimenez Herrera, director of Administrative Management, National Assembly of Venezuela, Major Kenny Diaz Rosario, Alexandra Bastidas, and Major Sanchez.
Imagine my disbelief. My delegation goes to meet these powerful people and, as Young explains: ‘Ms Rodriguez came (to Trinidad). There was no question or asking of what you were coming to discuss with us.’ ( Express, May 14). Subsequently, the Prime Minister said there was no ‘pre-arranged agenda’ but he met with Rodriguez and Chavez only.
It might be a little thing, but why say that to your citizens when your transactions can be discovered so easily. If the Leader of the Opposition with limited resources can discover revealing information, don’t you know that the US government with its sophisticated spying equipment will discover your activities?
To butter up the US, Young assures senators: ‘Trinidad and Tobago’s relationship with the US continues to be a strong one, and is grounded in the principle that the US is one of this country’s most important allies’ ( Express, May 14.) This raises the question: If the US is an important ally, why participate in a potentially dangerous activity that is likely to have disastrous consequences for your country, especially when the present US government acts mercilessly against any country or individual that goes against its will?
There is a thin line between bravery and stupidity. Rather than admit his stupidity, Young continues to blame his fabrications on the ‘mischief of certain persons in T&T’ ( Express, May 14). Citizens indulge in mischief; members of government are the paragons of virtue. You must believe them no matter what your commonsense tells you.
A simple apology by the Minister will go a long way to restore his moral and ethical standing in the society.
Young is young (no pun intended) and can learn from this tragic blunder if he acknowledges his mistake. Abraham Lincoln, a former US president, warned: ‘If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.’
Politicians should keep this advice in mind when they deal with their publics. It can go a long way to restore confidence in our democracy.
Next week I will continue from where I left off last week.