Former UNC activist Richard Bickram tells the shocking story of a deliberate, planned and well-organised effort by the party to corrupt the 2000 general elections by the padding of votes in five marginal constituencies.
If true, Bickram's account is a damning condemnation of the former governing party and its attitude to the ethics and principles which undermine our democratic system. Indeed, if the details which Bickram has given to our Francis Joseph are factual, then they would rob the UNC of all moral credibility and render the presently-comprised party totally unfit to contest elections, much less to hold office in TT ever again.
The problem with Bickram's revelations, however, is the fact that they should have been aired in our courts a long time ago. The former UNC field officer for the Barataria-San Juan constituency is the State witness into charges of voter padding by UNC supporters and has been living in "safe houses" in different Caribbean islands under the witness protection programme since October 2000.
The painful question is: Why have these charges not been determined by our courts as yet? Why, after 20 months, they have not been placed on the list for trial? Indeed, we may even wonder whether, based on the apparently abundant evidence that Bickram has provided, all the persons allegedly involved in this extensive voter padding scam has been charged.
However, the vital issue, as far as we are concerned, is the undeniable right of the people, particularly the electorate, to know the truth. The voter padding question was closed to the Deyalsingh Commission of Inquiry into operations of the EBC so that this form of corruption could not be investigated in that particular exercise. So it has been left to our courts to settle this crucial controversy, but it now appears that the importance and the urgency of resolving these matters are lost on the people responsible for the administration of justice in our country.
In our view, this is sad indeed. One would like to believe that our court system does not operate in a vacuum, that it is sensitive to the needs and concerns of the society and, in fact, that it has a vested and compelling interest in the maintenance of our democratic way of life.
Apart from recognising the right of the citizenry to know the truth behind these charges, especially with another national election pending, one expects also that administrators of the system would themselves be horrified by these charges which go to the very root of our democracy. Tragically, this has not been the case.
In addition, we now learn of the plight of Bickram himself who has been languishing in "safe houses" in other Caribbean islands over the last 20 months. In his tell-all interview with Francis Joseph, the "mystery witness" said he has been existing like a zombie - getting up, eating, watching television, eating and sleeping - and has lost contact with his family and all his UNC friends. But, even worse, Bickram said he has been living in fear of his life and has virtually been abandoned by the PNM and the TT authorities who had been maintaining him while he lived in the safe houses.
Reduced to virtual poverty, Bickram has become so frustrated and desperate that exposing his plight to the public seemed to him the best option. The story of this state witness also amounts to a serious condemnation of the PNM and those responsible for administering the witness protection programme. If, as Bickram says, he has now lost interest in testifying in the voter padding cases, then, in our view, all our institutions have fallen down in their lack of commitment to our democracy. What a tragedy.
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