Our problem with MP Carlos John is his failure to recognise the right of the public to know. It is certainly not enough, in our view, for the member of Parliament for St Joseph to decline to respond to questions about a $200,000 deposit he made into Oma Panday's London bank account by saying that his lawyers have advised him not to speak about it. As an elected representative of the people, Mr John is a public figure, an ex-Minister of Government, who should be setting examples of transparency, accountability and democratic conduct for the rest of the country. This is not simply the standard that we expect MPs to maintain but also the nature of the responsibility which they themselves must acknowledge, accept and publicly undertake.
The fact is, Mr John has not been charged with anything. He himself has admitted that he co-operated with the Police when they visited his home seeking certain documents, the copies of which he willingly provided. Reports are that the Police inquiries concerned the payment to him of $500,000 by businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh. Again, Mr John refuses to comment on this report which must now be the subject of widespread speculation.
We find Mr John's silence in these matters quite disappointing. He will neither confirm nor deny the reports of deposits of large sums of money, one that he made to the wife of the ex-Prime Minister and the other which he is supposed to have received from contractor Galbaransingh.
In our view, Mr John's obligation to present the facts relating to these transactions to his constituents and the general public far outweighs any concerns he and his lawyers may have about them. Mr John must hold himself accountable to the people who elected him to public office as part of a primary and binding contract. To do anything less may be considered a betrayal of the oath he has taken to "conscientiously and impartially discharge the responsibilities to the people of Trinidad and Tobago".
We have expressed the same kind of dismay at the refusal of former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday to explain the number of large deposits in pounds sterling made to the London bank account held by his wife and himself. Mr Panday's initial response, that the money belonged to his wife, must be seen as a transparent attempt to evade the issue.
This newspaper is becoming increasingly alarmed at the erosion of our democracy effected by persons in public life who seem to have little or no regard for the fundamental right of the people to know. As we understand it, the people and their interests are sovereign in a democracy and governments and other representatives are elected for the sole purpose of serving them. Frighteningly enough, we now find ourselves in a battle, 40 years after becoming an independent nation, to maintain this basic principle of democracy, the sovereign right of the people to know. This is the basis of the quarrel we recently had with the Integrity Commission regarding its investigations into the finances of ex-PM Panday.
It is also at the root of our concern with respect to the account given by Richard Bickram, the State witness, about the voter-padding plan hatched and executed by the UNC.
Bickram, kept for the last 20 months in secret safe houses on various Caribbean islands, is still waiting to testify in cases of voter padding, the evidence for which he has given to the police. We insist that the public has a right to know whether Bickram's shocking story is true or not. But it seems that even the institutions which should establish that truth is just as unconcerned. Heaven help us.
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