By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 11, 2010
I did not know Fazeer Mohamed well. He interviewed me on First Up once and did a good job although he was rude to me before the programme began. I chalked that up to the incivility that some of our public and private officials/servants indulge in most of the time. It simply goes with the territory. However such incivility cannot take anything away from the frightening implications of Mr. Mohammed’s firing that took place last Saturday in spite of the inelegant excuse that it was a part of a cost-cutting exercise.
Unfortunately, that’s how the People’s Partnership (PP) has been working since it came into power. They seem to have little respect for the integrity of contracts and the normal/decent ways of conducting the public’s business. ‘Dey win and with victory comes the spoils. No man or woman is protected. First, they went after the CEOs whether they had contacts or not. Kaisha Ince at MEDCO; Ingrid Isaacs at CNMG; Maxie Cuffie at GISL; and Osley Francis at the Land Survey Office were among the first to go. Then, for good measure they axed 400 clerical and administrative workers at the Ministry of Education. No excuses offered; none seemed to be required.
Just so that they made sure that their brushes swept cleanly, they immediately removed Dr. Harold Robertson, the head of our consulate mission in New York, from office. Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, the same person involved in axing Fareer, was the responsible for Dr. Roberson’s removal. Although I am aware of the particulars of that incident I am unable to divulge it at this time. Rest assured, it is just as ugly and as racially explosive.
Andrea Chambers, daughter of former Prime Minister George Chambers and information attaché at the New York Consulate, suffered a similar fate. Three weeks after the PP came to power she received a letter from the Ministry terminating her employment. Using a subterfuge simile to what occurred in Fazeer’s case she was told that her position was no longer relevant to the needs of the Ministry although she possesses a BA in Foreign Languages; a MA in Public Administration; a Diploma in Global Affairs from NYU and is now perusing a MA in international relations at the City University of New York and worked at that office for several years.
The Consulate General in Toronto was subjected to a similar indignity. He was asked to submit his resignation although he is a civil servant with all of the legal safeguards that go with being a public service employee. The Ministry did not recognize that he could be reassigned but not fired, a fate that descended with alacrity upon Ashton Forde and Elvin Edwards who worked at the High Commission Offices in London and Toronto respectively.
Although massive firings took place (some would call it purging) took place at other offices, the public kept a respectful silence about these firings. Since most of the people involved were Africans they (we) did not find it tasteful to talk about them. Somehow we felt ashamed. We did no want to rock the boat. But when the firing of Fazeer took place that respectful face dropped. That which at first seemed racial became religious and therein lay the pinprick that was/is like to tear one of the fragile bonds that bind the nation.
There would not have been uproar if an African rather than a Muslim presenter was fired. Business would have gone on as per usual. But within a few days of his firing over forty Imams came together to protest the arbitrary firing of one of one of their own. Whether we like it or not this distasteful episode only reopened the Hindu-Muslim divide that has always been at the heart our national arrangement. When the PNM was in power that fissure could have been silenced or even evaded. The coming to power of the Hindus has exasperated a deep social tension that has always been at the heart of the nation’s polity.
The substance of the interview that re-ignited the tension was very plain to see. Fezeer asks probing questions. Because he is somewhat irreverent, at times he tends to come over as being rude. The questions he asked the Foreign Minister were entirely relevant to the nation’s business. They had little to do with diplomacy as they had to do with the direction of the nation’s foreign policy. Did the Minister feel that the Prime Minister’s statements that Trinidad and Tobago is not the ATM card for the region and the use of aid in the times of crisis would not be expended unless it redounded to the country’s economic benefit were in the best interest of the nation?
Immediately this legitimate question was turned into a religious test of feelings. Suddenly the interviewee became the interviewer. The only difference was this: the newly empowered interviewer’s question had absolutely nothing to do with the foreign policy of the nation. It had everything to do with the religious beliefs of the presenter and his disposition towards the prime minister. Do you have a specific problem with the prime minister? Do you subscribe to women in leadership positions? Do you subscribe to a woman being a Prime Minister of a country?
Fazeer came out of this encounter with grace, intelligence and open-mindedness. His response was in keeping with the best spirit of our constitution and reflected a determination to maintain T&T as an open and tolerant democracy. His response deserves to be a part of any primer on responsible journalism.
Within a few days several leaders of the Islamic faith got together to protect their interest. They complained bitterly that the Prime Minister had ignored their request to visit them; that her policies have been discriminatory against them and she did not accept an invitation to any of their Eid’s functions. The Prime Minister is the line minister responsible for CNMG, the institution that fired Fazeer. Therefore, the ultimate responsibility for Fazeer’s firing rests in her lap.
One waits to see what action she will take to remedy this situation. One also waits to see how long it will take Africans to come together to protect their interest. The Muslims are not brainwashed by the propaganda that the Hindu-based partnership represents all Indians. What would it take for Africans to realize that the partnership does not represent the best interest of all Trinidadians?