By Raffique Shah
May 31, 2015
If, in what may be described as normal countries, a week in politics is a long time, in abnormal Trinidad and Tobago, a week can be likened to a lifetime. Last week, most scribes and commentators in the media engaged in heated exchanges over the latest bacchanal in the Integrity Commission.
Today, few remember what that furore was about or who the protagonists were.
The arrest, overnight jailing and legal action to have Jack Warner extradited to the US to face multiple fraud-related charges have, like a tornado, flattened and re-shaped the political landscape in a very fundamental way.
It’s not that those who closely monitor politics and corruption (some might argue that that’s redundancy) were taken unawares by the US Justice Department dragnet that spread from tiny T&T to shiny Switzerland last Wednesday, netting some very big fishes.
In fact, several investigative journalists-notably Mark Bassant and Lasana Liburd in Trinidad and Andrew Jennings in the UK-had all but written the script for the Mafia-style swoop that made headlines across the world.
In our case, though, Jack-in-the-box had an almost shattering impact.
Here was a man who straddled the country like a colossus, a veritable Prime Minister, albeit acting, a powerful Minister of National Security, and before that an emperor overseeing the Ministry of Works, being carted off to prison like a two-bit thief.
Until he resigned from Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet in 2013 (note well, he was not dismissed), he was seen as the most powerful person in the PP Government, some say even more powerful than the PM herself.
Never forget that on victory night in 2010, when she savoured the fist sip of power, before thanking God or the people or anyone else, Kamla thanked Jack not once or twice, but thrice.
I always wondered about that: did she thank him for conducting a campaign unparalleled in the nation’s history?
Was it some obeah he performed that delivered an overwhelming victory?
Or was he pivotal to raising the tens of millions of dollars that the PP spent, money that flowed like water during that campaign and ever since?
We may never know the truth.
The Prime Minister remains estranged from it too often for us to believe her, and Warner’s threats to “reveal all” remain hollow: not tonight, not any night.
What we do know as fact is that Warner’s rags-to-riches story is a very curious one, and allegations of irregularities against him pre-date his entry into politics.
From as far back as 1973, when T&T’s star-studded football team flogged Haiti on the field for a place in the 1974 World Cup finals, but lost the match through two officials who were later banned for life, the TTFA executive, on which Jack sat, did not file a protest.
And if that could be written off as a fluke, what of the fiasco of 1989 when, even if we had beaten the USA on the field, we risked being disqualified because of a dangerously overcrowded stadium and the vulgar over-selling of tickets for the game?
All of these misdemeanours took place before Jack and Basdeo Panday became tight as…’er, bosom buddies, and the latter plucked him from the murky fields of football and elevated him to the murkier arena of politics.
We know what followed: a safe UNC seat, riding partners on a FIFA executive jet to South Africa supposedly to have Nelson Mandela endorse the UNC (he did not), money flowing like water in a losing effort in the 2007 elections, and, as always happened with anyone who got close to Panday, estrangement, fight, cuss, break-up.
We also know the sequel, the making of Kamla, the joining of forces in 2010 that brought together my one-time comrades in labour and back-in-time brothers of the Black Power movement embracing so tightly, not even dollar notes could come between them.
There was one big, happy Fyzabad family that promised to deliver the nation from all evils-except that that never happened.
When things started falling apart, Jack still found refuge in the House of the Rising Sun (“…it’s been the ruin of many a man…”).
2011: US dollars being parcelled and shared like “parsad” at the Hyatt: bring me the evidence.
Strike Squad players denied their bonuses from 2006: let the court decide.
Australia football body asking for accountability for half-a-million-dollar donation: deafening silence.
More dollars for earthquake-stricken Haiti disappear: dem reporters wicked.
But there is something called “karma”, not to be mistaken for Kamla, which strangers to Hindi might find confusing.
Today, Jack is being called to account, and although the process between indictment, extradition, trial and a cell in some US jail is lengthy, it’s almost ineluctable.
Strangely, I feel sorry him even though I’ve never met the man.
I guess it’s because I know what prison is, which is why I’ve always counselled those who walk on the wayward side to “make jail when yuh young”.
But Jack will not be the only person who, having supped with him, will pay the Devil. Others who portray themselves as pious even as they raid the Treasury, will also pay. Karma, boy, Karma.