By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 16, 2010
I did not vote for the People’s National Movement (PNM) during the last national election. Like so many, I became so disenchanted with the positions and attitudes of the former Prime Minister that I could not, in good faith, support the party which I always supported and of which I am a member. I did not vote for the People’s Partnership (PP) either. Theirs was merely a throwing together of disparate elements whose only objective was to remove the PNM. They had no plans for the country, except for a provision of computers for our students and a promised old-age pension of $3,000 which they repudiated the first day they walked into office. They informed an eager population that it really was not a promise: it was a misprint.
The revelation that the former Prime Minister enhanced the capabilities of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) confirms the wisdom of my decision. Although this unit was “designed” by Patrick Manning and the PNM (1991-95) a UNC administration under Basdeo Panday (1995-2000) bought the equipment and selected the personnel to run this outfit while Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the Attorney General. If she did not know about this unit then it was dereliction of duty. In her capacity as AG she had every right to know or should have known about it. The SIA was not entirely the making of the Manning and the PNM. The UNC and the current Prime Minister were also willing culprits in its implementation.
A modern state must have a capability to detect the activities of those who wish to undermine the state. No one would have objected if a secret apparatus had detected the activities of Raffique Shah and Rex La Salle in 1970 or the movements of Abu Bakr and his men before they struck Parliament with such decisive force in 1990. A serious state must have a mechanism to detect and/or to deter those who wish to destabilize it.
The US spends $80 billion (US) annually, ten times T&T’s national budget, on intelligence gathering among its 16 intelligence agencies. It even hires private contractors to assist in intelligence gathering. James Clapper Jr., the new director of national intelligence, oversees the budgets of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. I am sure President Barack Obama does not know exactly who these agencies spy upon and everything they do.
It is entirely possible that the President may not have been a target of the intelligence network. He might have been speaking to a target (“someone of interest” in their jargon) and his name was picked up. Several names may have been picked up under similar circumstances which may account for the diversity of names on this infamous enemies list. Neither President Obama nor Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar should use their intelligence apparatus to go after political enemies or friends. However, we should not use the political hysteria of the moment to introduce legislation that is so draconian that the cure it is likely to be worse than the crime it’s supposed to fix.
There may also have been a touch of paranoia in Manning’s use of this network. Spying on the judiciary must have occurred—or certainly rose in intensity—when he attempted to remove Sat Sharma from his position as Chief Justice. Frustrated at every legal turn, Manning came to believe that the judiciary was a part of a judicial coup to overthrow him or at least to subvert his rule. He had to be on top of things. There may not have been any interest in Sharma’s wife and son. They might have been caught up in the sting as it were.
Manning was also obsessed with the activity of the media which he was convinced did not like him and the PNM. The role of the Newsday prior to the May elections and its transformation into a full-scale rag for the PP today after the election supports the latter position. People were leaking stories to the media. He wanted to know where the leaks were coming from and who the culprits were. In no way does this justify the violation of the privacy of law-abiding citizens but by then Manning had become a law unto himself. He was willing to use any means to achieve his despotic ends.
Manning’s quest for total power led him to call the election in May 2010. His being Prime Minister was not good enough. He wanted to be monarch of all he surveyed. His becoming Executive President was the primary vehicle to achieve his end. At least that is how he saw it. Consumed by a drive to control everything around led him to act in ways that were inconsistent with a developed society that his party sought to achieve and the transformation of T&T into a modern state by 2020.
Few persons would disparage such goals. Having no plans of their own, the PP readily adopted PNM’s development plans. They have continued CECEP; GATE and ETCK Camana Park. They stopped the Aluminum Smelter Plant and abolished the property tax. To the degree they have disparaged PNM’s prudent management of the economy they are now forced to respond to IMF’s assessment of our economy that predicts a dire future for our country over the next year. Inexplicably, the usual press conference that takes place after such missions are concluded did not take place.
One wonders what aspects of the IMF findings and recommendation the PP government wants to hide from the public. The Minister of Finance should share this information with the public to whom it belongs. While the Prime Minister is incensed about the secrecy surrounding the intelligence operations of which she claims she had no knowledge it is important that she shares the IMF Report of which is in her possession with the nation.
Secrecy and the breaking the law take place in different ways and under different guises. It can be the product of hubris (as in the case of Manning), the deliberate withholding of national information (as in the case of the IMF Report), or the outright removal of citizens from various positions and boards in contravention of the law.
Kamla may have scored a coup in exposing Manning’s extravagance to the nation. She needs to follow the law in small things as well (as in releasing the IM Report) and thereby set a proper example to the nation.