By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
May 28, 2006
The recent triple conviction of former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday for “failing to disclose a London bank account to the Integrity Commission” has not only caused a mighty dark cloud to descend across the horizon of TnT politics but has also spoken revealing volumes as to the real nature of ministerial performance on both sides of the political spectrum.
And to add insult to injury, some Trinbagonians randomly interviewed on television opined that the sentence imposed on Panday represented overt “cruel and unusual punishment” because Panday is a former prime minister and 72 years of age.
The fact of the matter is that every citizen is equal before and under the law of this land. No one is above or exempt from the law. Being an aged former prime minister must not make one sacrosanct and/or untouchable in the eyes of the law. Such a proposition is totally ridiculous. The sole parameter of the law is not the societal/political status or age but the innocence or guilt of the accused. The primary reason why Panday was found guilty is because he “was lying” during his trial.
More specifically, when he voluntarily choose to lie, Panday then automatically but unfortunately relegated himself to the level of a common criminal. Ergo, he stripped himself of his former prime ministership status.
The stark reality is that being a former prime minister and a trained lawyer are all the more compelling reasons why Panday must do the time for committing the crime.
Basdeo Panday should have been the perfect role model of truthfulness, honesty and transparency in public affairs. The truism is that he was not.
Indeed, adults always warn young people that they must be prepared to stand the brutal consequences of their actions – the same admonition must hold true for adults, regardless of their societal/political status or age. Irresponsible, conniving and unscrupulous politicians must not be exempted. In fact, they should top the list of exemplars.
The fact of the matter is that the sentencing law does not say that a magistrate should exercise the option of being lenient in the imposition of a sentence for a crime committed if the accused is a former prime minister and/or of a certain age. The law does not contain such a caveat and it should not.
This is circuitous reasoning and ridiculousness at their insane zenith.
One wonders whether such public opposition outburst would have been forthcoming if the reverse were true, namely, a former PNM prime minister or government minister with multiple years of public service receives a similar sentence? In this regard, let us bear in mind that Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, is now before a UN-backed court of law charged with 17 counts of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Taylor is charged for allegedly using, albeit stealing, state funds from the sale of diamonds to buy weapons for the Revolutionary United Front rebels during Liberia’s brutal civil war.
Now, are these same opposition voices arguing that Taylor, if found guilty as Panday, should not be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law because he is a former president?
Let us also bear in mind that Mexican Roman Catholic priest Rev. Cesar Torres confessed to killing his 22 year-old pregnant lover after he celebrated Holy Easter Mass in April 2006. Father Torres chopped up her body into pieces. Are these same opposition voices arguing that Rev. Torres, if found guilty as Panday, should not be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law because he is a former Catholic priest who gave multiple years of public service “in the name of the Lord?”
Let us face reality and not live in a world of wishful fantasy!.
The fact of the matter is that former ministers of both the UNC and PNM are now before the courts charged with corruption and bribery – those ranging from the Piarco Airport infamous seven to the PNM’s duet of Eric Williams and Franklin Khan.
The salient tragedy in TnT politics is that current politicians have miserably and unashamedly failed the people’s trust and confidence in responsible governance.
Immorality in public affairs has now become the accepted norm. It seems as though individuals no longer enter politics to serve and maximize the public good but instead they opt to maximize their own personal altruistic monetary gains by any and all means necessary.
In other words, public service has now become a cover/camouflage for the acquisition of private pursuits. In the long run, the people and country are the only entities that suffer.
This TnT reality thus begs the question as to whether a third political force is needed.
The Panday legal debacle should serve as the political wake-up call for the formation of a coalition of all concerned, committed and conscientious citizens to act.
Thievery, malfeasance, bribery, corruption and distrust are the hallmarks/common denominators of both major political parties. As a result, TnT needs a fresh, clean political slate. The time is now, more than ever, to bring new cooks and wares into the public policy-governance kitchen.
TnT needs a third political force that is pro-active, pro-people, non-racial, all ethnically inclusive and totally dedicated to a new, participatory democratic process and development model that seek to maximize the Gross National Welfare (GNW) of the people. Their modus operandi should be pressure politics a la well orchestrated and organized daily, massive public protest demonstrations against King Gyanendra of Nepal.
This third political force must send this very clear message to the ruling anti-people, reactive PNM government: WE, the people, brought you into office; we will take you out at the ballot box. Most importantly, this third force must present itself to the citizenry as a viable, potent, trustworthy, transparent, well-structured, well-focused and coherent alternative government.
As social commentator Versatile aptly cautioned in his 2006 rendition: “One thief doh like to see another thief with ah bag.” As such, this third force must assure that the people are the only ones to put their hands on this country’s revenue bag with the price oil now pegged at US$70.00 per barrel.
Now is the time for We, the People, to take our revenue bag out of the hands of PNM and UNC ministers.
The political evidence proves, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that under the sobriquet of ministers, thieves in both the UNC and PNM have had their hands on this country’s monetary/financial bag interchangeable every five years for far, far, far too long.
Their time must be brought to an end by the people. Enough is enough. We, the people, are just sick and tired of being sick and tired of the UNC and PNM. We, the people, are sick and tired of being bamboozled, hoodwinked and took by the UNC and PNM. We, the people, have had enough of their mammaguy, pappyshow and congosa. We, the people, can’t take no more.
Hard-working, innocent, tax-paying Trinbagonians, especially in East and Central Trinidad, are totally fed-up with untold years of absentee governance under the PNM and UNC.
The fact of the matter is that Laventille was a ghetto on 24 January 1956; Laventille is still a ghetto on 24 January 2006 – thus celebrating 50 long years of overt neglect, marginalization and “the exclusion principle” under the PNM.
This is further evidenced by the sad stark reality that in May 2006, this PNM government’s inhumanity to its fellow man policy forced the redundant/expendable lumpen proletariat(masses) of Trou Macaque ghetto, Laventille, to set old tyres on fire as a solidified show of protest over poor road conditions and inhumane water supply.
Ghetto people are people too, Mr. PNM government. The salient question is: When will this anti-people PNM government ring the humane bell for “the least of these” folks in Laventille?
Truth Be Told: The PNM government does not represent the People; the People only voted them into office. Why?-Time alone will tell.
The intractable but solvable tragedy in TnT politics is that in the massive abundance of oil revenue, “at least 40 per cent of our population is (still) living below the poverty line” while another “12.4 per cent of the population (exists) on US$1 (TT$6.30) a day and that a further 39 per cent (live, albeit survive) on less than US$2 (TT$12.60) a day.”
The bottom-line is that in financial-economic terms, Trinbagonians think they are living in heaven but in real societal-human-familial-individual terms, they are living in hell, 24-7-365.
In the final analysis, the current political party landscape in TnT suggests the following:
PNM is the Problem
UNC is not the Solution
We, the People, must provide the Resolution
Magnum Sunt Populi = Great are the People.
The People will and must always prevail.
Shem Hotep (“I go in Peace”).
Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.